M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 2 of 3

Margueritte said to her little ones, “Thank you, and please make sure they actually cross the river and leave.”

“How many minutes?” Oswald asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t have a stopwatch.  Just as long as they leave.  And thank you again.”  She clapped her hands and the little ones vanished.  Her armor and weapons also went away, and she became clothed again in her many layers.  They were not as warm as the fairy weave, and her gloves were not as good, but they looked normal.  She had to breathe on her hands against the frost.

“So that was the next attempt?” Relii had come out of the barn with the others to watch.

“Yes, but he changed his mind before anything happened,” Margueritte said.  “I think our sorcerer was afraid for his life.  He got told by a greater power to stop picking on me.”

“Abd al-Makti,” Relii guessed.  “I thought it might be him.”

“Clever girl,” Margueritte said.  “But I cannot figure why, or who he is working for.”  She turned to Geoffry.  He spoke right up.

“Sigisurd told me, but I didn’t believe her,” he said.

Margueritte nodded.  “And keep it that way.  Don’t make more out of it than it is, and don’t be afraid to question even what you see.”  Margueritte breathed on her hands again.  “Relii and Sigisurd, please help our wounded men.”  She pointed.  “And check on the others to see if they are really dead.  Watch out for the Saxons who may just be too badly wounded to escape.  Geoffry and I need to go inside and check on the others.”

“Lady,” Sigisurd said, and curtsied the way she had seen Tulip curtsey.

Geoffry asked a question as they walked up to the door.  “So, are you a witch or a sorceress?”

Margueritte hit him, not too hard.  “I keep telling everyone, I am not a witch,” but when they went inside, she found the guard that Gunther the chief left and forgot about.  He had the children cowering in the corner, seated with their backs to him.  Ingrid, Aduan and Rosamund were in chairs, and Horegard lay on the floor where he bled from a stomach wound.  She had to do something.  “Gunther has abandoned you.  If you hurry you can catch him.”  Margueritte put out her arm to hold back Geoffry while the man looked at her.  He decided.  He looked like he might kill the hostages before he went in case she was not telling the truth.

Margueritte’s hands went up and a blue electrical charge escaped her fingertips and struck the man.  He jerked violently and just missed striking Rosamund’s face before he could no longer hold on to his sword.  The sword clattered to the ground as the man dropped to his knees.

Margueritte called to Oswald and Oswald’s friend, Ridgemont, and they appeared.  “Please take this one to Gunther.  No message.  I just don’t want this one to miss the boat and have to swim home.”

“Very good,” Oswald said, and they hustled him out the back door and then ran faster with the man than humanly possible, but no one other than Margueritte saw, and maybe a few of the children.  Geoffry got busy helping his sisters get their father up on the couch.  The man started getting delirious and had lost a fair amount of blood.

“Let me see,” Margueritte said, “And no screaming.  I am going to go away, and another person is going to stand in my shoes, but she is a physician, and she will do what she can to help.”  Margueritte pointed at Aduan.  “No screaming,” and she immediately went away so Doctor Mishka could examine the wound.  Aduan let out a small shriek, but she was the only one out of them all, including the children.  “Now let me see.”

Mishka had her bag with her, or she supposed in the current day and age it should still be Greta’s bag, but Mishka came because Greta was not a surgeon.  Doctor Mishka practiced all too much battlefield surgery in the first and second world wars.  She began by spreading an anesthetic cream to deaden the area before she looked.  “The wound looks clean,” she said, and got out some thread and a very fine needle and a hemostat.  After Ingrid and Rosamund got hold of Horegard’s hands, it took twenty-one stitches, and then iodine, which stung, and an anti-bacterial spray, and the cleanest cloth Aduan could find.

“I know it is asking a lot, but you must try to keep him off his feet for a few days.  Does he toss and turn in the night?”

Rosamund took a minute to realize Mishka was talking to her.  With Horegard tended to, she got a good look at the Doctor for the first time.  “Uh, some.  Not much.”

“Well, be careful with that, and keep him off his feet.  I will give Margueritte something when I leave that will help him rest and sleep, but only if he needs it.  Now some other men are wounded.”  Doctor Mishka stood and walked toward the front door, but she went away, and Margueritte came back before she got to the door, because Margueritte thought to say something.  “Oh, and it would be best if you did not talk about Mishka.  That is something that is best not to be public knowledge, if you don’t mind.  I am trusting you because you are family.”  She went out.

###

It turned out Grandma Rosamund blocked Mishka completely out of her mind and credited Margueritte with saving Horegard’s life.  Horegard, who was kind of out of it at the time, believed her.  Aduan knew better, but she, Geoffry, Sigisurd and Relii all discussed it and decided that Margueritte had been wise to tell everyone to keep it a secret.  Ingrid also knew, of course, but it seemed the blue lightning Margueritte produced from her fingertips much more than the appearance of Doctor Mishka that bothered her.  She felt sure that Margueritte was a witch, but then Margueritte saved her life, and her father’s life, and apparently, everyone else’s life as well, so she said nothing.  She and Margueritte were never that close to begin with, and Ingrid was not surprised her stupid brother would marry a witch, so nothing really changed between them.  What the children saw and understood remained to be seen in the years to come.  So, nothing much changed, except Geoffry and Sigisurd started spending time together.  If it was another day and age, Margueritte would have said they were dating.

###  

Count Adelard, Herlindis, Boniface and fifteen men at arms showed up about mid-March.  They did some rearranging, as the Count and Herlindis moved into the room with Relii.  Boniface got the eighth room by himself, and Sigisurd made peace with old lady Oda in the servant’s quarters.  Margueritte said Sigisurd could stay with her and the children, but Sigisurd pointed out that Roland would be due in about two weeks, and they should have their own room.

Poor Rosamund fretted about where she could put Charles, the mayor.  It felt like a visit from Royalty.  Boniface offered to share his room, but Rosamund liked to fret about it, and Horegard said it would not do to have the mayor and a bishop in the same room.  It started to look like Geoffry might have to sleep on the couch, and Margueritte could not help the comments.

“Separation of Church and State, huh?  Too bad you don’t have a convertible sofa.”

Boniface became anxious to begin his work in Saxony, but Margueritte delayed him.  She talked about church lands, and in the end convinced him to wait for Charles by practically promising Charles would be land generous to the church.  When Charles finally arrived, and his twelve thousand men tried to camp without destroying every nearby field, he got very mad at her.  He readily roomed with the bishop, but he would not talk to Margueritte for three days.  Margueritte would have been very upset by that if she and Roland were not so busy catching up on things.

Roland explained to Charles what Margueritte told him; that if Boniface went into Saxony just before Charles started his campaign, it would be like suicide for the bishop.  Charles understood that.  In fact, he argued that before gallivanting off into new territory, Boniface should first set about organizing the disorganized and overlapping Frankish church.  He tried to convince Boniface to go first to Paris, where Charles promised to meet him soon and talk about land donations to the church.  Boniface felt reluctant, until Margueritte reminded him that the Franks were his distant cousins as well, perhaps not as close as his Saxon brothers and sisters, but cousins all the same.

In the end, the matter got settled when Margueritte’s brother, Tomberlain rode up to the farm with twenty men from the Breton border, which Sigisurd imagined was on the other side of the world.  The message was not good.  Father had gotten sick; like he went dead on the whole right side of his body, and Elsbeth, Mother, and Jennifer were all worried sick.  They don’t know what to do, and Mother can’t raise Doctor Pincher or anyone.”

“Who is holding the Fort?” Margueritte asked.

Tomberlain looked put on the spot, though Margueritte did not mean that.  “Sir Peppin is there, and Owien is in your old room, plus the north end of the mark is covered now, thanks to Charles, and Michael is doing well in the south, and the Breton are not going anywhere after all the mess they made with the Curdwallah hag.  Everyone is safe if that is what you mean.”

“No, I’m sorry.  It isn’t your job, and you have held the fort long enough.  You deserve a chance to be here with Charles and Roland.  It is my turn to hold things together back home, but from the sounds of it, I doubt there is much we can do for Father, except make him comfortable.”

“Not even—”  

“No, not even with extraordinary help.”  Margueritte said, not wanting to get into it in detail.

“So, I rode a month through the snow for nothing,” Tomberlain said.

“Not for nothing,” Roland said to cheer him.  “I am sure Charles has just the right place for you in the army.  We are headed into Saxony.”

“Charles plans to be the hammer and the Wesser River will be the anvil, and we shall see how well he can flatten the steel in between and put a sharp edge to it,” Margueritte suggested.

“That is very good,” Roland praised her.

“Can I quote you?” Boniface and Charles walked up.

Geoffry came up holding Sigisurd’s hand and she looked shy and embarrassed.

“Let me do the introductions,” Margueritte said, and she took Tomberlain’s hand and took him to everyone and remembered everyone’s names, though Tomberlain would never remember that much.  He was terrible with names.

M4 Margueritte: Trouble All Around, part 1 of 3

Come the first of January, Margueritte went to Captain Ragobert with the intention of sending his troop home for the winter, since the men all lived in the general area.  The men camped by the barn and had sufficient supplies of their own so as not to burden the family.  Ragobert said his men would gladly volunteer to help around the farm, but they were charged by the Mayor Charles himself with protecting her, and they were not going to be found negligent in their duty.

Margueritte would not hear his objections, but she eventually compromised.  Half of Ragobert’s men would go home for thirty days.  The other half would take the second thirty days, so they would all get a good visit home and be back to full strength by the second week in March, well before Charles was expected.

Grandma Rosamund went wild when she heard Roland and Charles were coming.  Spring cleaning started in January, and everyone was expected to help.  Margueritte noted that Ingrid did a lot of work around the house, and Aduan acted a lot like Margueritte’s younger sister, Elsbeth.  She did not do much, messed up much of what she did, and please don’t let her cook anything, because it would likely be inedible, she would make a big mess, and then not clean up after herself.

One morning in early January, Ingrid went out to the barn to gather eggs.  Margueritte grabbed a basket and followed.

“What are we doing?” Margueritte asked.

Ingrid huffed.  “Someone has to keep this family fed.”

“Eggs,” Margueritte said.  “You know; I grew up on a farm much like this one.  I have a sister who does not do much, so I had to do many things by myself.  I remember once they kept Elsbeth by the oven for a whole week and tried to teach her to make a pie worth eating.”

Silence followed, for a minute, until they reached the chicken coop and Ingrid asked, “What happened?”

“They failed.  Please don’t let her near the oven.”  Margueritte smiled and went to work before she added a note.  “Or near the dishes, or near the laundry, or near the broom.”  Her voice trailed off and Ingrid looked back at the house and laughed.

Margueritte helped and worked around the farm, and she and Ingrid got along just fine from that morning.  Aduan was the type to get along with everyone, and even Geoffry lightened up when Sigisurd came around, Margueritte noticed.  In fact, Margueritte never felt so welcomed in her life.  In part, it might have simply been the joy of being around a farm again—the smell of the barn, the animals, the grain in the bins.  She felt at home, and they all treated her like family.  It felt wonderful, to the point where it made her homesick.

Margueritte loved Rosamund, a large and hugging sort of a woman, and she loved grumpy old Horegard in his way, but she missed her mother, Brianna and her father, Sir Bartholomew, and she worried because she knew father was not well.  Greta called it hardening of the arteries.  Doctor Mishka said he started showing signs of arterial blockages and she would have to watch for a possible stroke or heart attack.  Her older brother, Tomberlain went home, despite his protests about wanting to fight with the army.  He was needed to maintain the farm and the Frankish presence on the Breton border.  Owien was there as well, Father’s squire, though more probably Tomberlain’s squire at this point.

Deep into February Margueritte paused her thoughts to figure the year.  She decided it was 719, and she started getting ready to turn twenty-two, still young.  Owien turned nineteen.  He was easy to figure.  Tomberlain was Aduan’s age and would turn twenty-five in the summer. That meant Elsbeth had to be eighteen.  Margueritte wondered how that could be possible.  The last time she saw Elsbeth, her sister had a runny nose, still looked like a child in her fourteen years, and stayed busy spending all of her time and energy ignoring Owien.   Margueritte smiled at that thought.  She wondered if Elsbeth was still ignoring Owien now that he was nineteen and she was eighteen.  They might be married and Margueritte would have no way of knowing.  She wondered if Tomberlain ever found a good woman.  She paused.  She wondered what those men were doing, fighting down by the blacksmith shed and around the cooking fires.

“Relii,” she called.  Relii had gone to the barn with her, Sigisurd, and Geoffry, though Margueritte was the only one sifting through the potatoes while the others sat around and tried to keep warm.  “Keep everyone here,” she said.  “And if the big ugly men come, do what they say.”

“What is it?” Sigisurd asked.

“Saxon raiders,” Margueritte answered, before she slapped Geoffry and stole his knife so he could not get himself killed.

Margueritte pulled her cape around her shoulders and stepped out of the barn and into the snow.  She tossed Geoffry’ knife into a snowbank and yelled.  “Where is the chief of the Saxons.”  She shouted a second time using the Saxon words Festuscato and Gerraint gave her, though they were two or three hundred years out-of-date.  “Saxons, where is your chief?  I must speak with him now before he does something stupid.”

One of the Saxons sheathed his sword and stepped away from where two of Ragobert’s men lay dead and two were wounded and, on their knees, surrendered.  Two Saxons also looked dead; but the other six of Ragobert’s men were somewhere out in the fields with the men and the mules, despite the snow.  The Saxon stepped up to Margueritte, no weapon in his hand as if the woman posed no threat.  He looked her over, and even though she stood wrapped up in plenty of clothing, like wearing a tent, he grinned a half-toothless grin of approval.  He looked ready to do something stupid when Margueritte raised her hand and shouted, “Defender.”  The long knife appeared in her hand and went to the man’s throat before he could react.

“I am not asking,” Margueritte said.  “Are you the chief?”

“I am Chief,” a voice came from a big man on the porch outside the front door of the manor house.  He appeared, chewing on a leg of lamb leftover from last night’s supper.  “I am Gunther, and I have thirty men here, little witch.  What can you do against thirty men?”

Margueritte stepped a few feet away to be out of arm’s reach.  “I am not a witch, and you don’t really want to know.”  She held up her hand and Defender disappeared.  “But here, I just realized I am not properly dressed.”  She called for her armor and it replaced all of her layers in an instant.  With the fairy weave under her leather, she felt the cold in her knees and elbows, but that was it.  The weapons came as well, with Defender attached to the small of her back and the sword called Salvation slanted across her back.  “Now listen carefully, Saxon Chief Gunther.  You have thirty minutes to pack up your thirty men and get back across the river, and if you harm anyone here, there will be no place in the whole world you can hide.”

Gunther did not look impressed, despite the quality of what he thought were magic tricks.  Clearly, he had something else on his mind, and he spoke it.  “I had thought you were the one to be wife for my son, but you are not her.  I do not know why I thought to find a wife for my son among the Franks.”

“I know why, but the sorcerer’s life would have been in danger if he followed through.  You now have twenty-nine minutes.”

“You are still little, and yet you make jokes.”

“Maywood.”  Margueritte called, and the fairy came and circled once around the Saxon’s head before he became full sized, a fairy dressed for war.  He fell to his knee before Margueritte.

“Lady, I have men here who have been watching you, and my troop gathered as soon as we saw that the Saxons intended to cross the river.  My troop is now here.   What is more, Prince Oswald of the Elves of the deep wood has a troop that followed the Saxons when he wisely figured out their intended target.”

“Twenty-eight minutes,” Margueritte said.  “Oswald,” she called, and the Elf appeared, and like the Fairy King, he went to one knee before Margueritte, and spoke.

“Lady, it would be my pleasure to rid this world of all these Saxon men.”

“Not yet,” Margueritte said.  “Being a woman, I know how hard it can be on a woman to lose her man, and how she will weep.  On the other hand, twenty-seven minutes.”  Margueritte did not wait for the man to reply, this time.  “You better tell your people not to harm any more of my family and friends here.  Defender.”  She held out her hand and let the chief watch the long knife vacate its place and fly to her hand in case he missed it the first time.  She stepped up to the man without too many teeth who still stood there with his mouth open.  “Don’t kill him yet.”  she shouted to the wind and used the knife as a pointer.  “Here, in the leg.  One arrow to make the point, please.”  There were three arrows and they all struck more or less in the same place.  the man cried out and fell to the snow, and the other Saxons that had gathered around looked briefly toward their chief before they started toward the river.

“Twenty-six minutes,” Margueritte said nice and loud before she spoke in a more normal voice to the two little ones who were still on their knees.  “You really must teach your men to count.”  She looked up at the chief.  His mouth stood wide open now, but he wasn’t saying anything, so Margueritte turned.  “You two.”  She got the attention of two of the Saxons.  “You better help this one.”  She pointed to the man in the snow, holding his leg and crying.  The two men picked him up by the arms and carted him off, while Margueritte turned one last time to the chief.  “Twenty-five minutes,” she said, sweetly, and Gunther, the Saxon chief left without a word.

M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 3 of 3

A time of silence followed, while Relii stared at the fairy, and Tulip tried to hide in Sigisurd’s long blond hair but did not entirely succeed because it was wispy hair.  After a bit, Relii looked ready to speak, but Margueritte got there first.

“So, your job was to convince me to become a nun and be locked away from the events of the world?”  It came out as a question, but Margueritte said it more like a statement.

“I guess,” Relii said.  “I didn’t know that was my job, but I think you are right.  That was what was in the back of my mind the whole time, pushing me.”

“Just so you know,” Margueritte said. “Herlindis and your father were feeling the same compulsion, and that is probably why they encouraged you to go on this little trip.”

“Yes, now that you mention it.  Father is still angry with Aduan for deceiving him.  He wants me to have nothing to do with that wicked girl, as he calls her.  And Herlindis is reluctant to let me out of her sight unless I have two nuns with me to guard me at all times.  But when the opportunity came up to go with you on this journey, they both insisted I go.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“They were enchanted,” Margueritte said.

“You were enchanted,” Tulip spoke to Relii with only her head peeking out from Sigisurd’s hair.

“I must have been,” Relii said.  “But how?”

“Like a bad cold spread from one person to the next, but you are all free now, and so is your father, so we will see if your father decides to come after you.  Meanwhile, I have something to run by you so you can keep your eyes and ears open.  Please don’t talk about this with others, but someone, some great power wants to remove me from this time and place.  I suspect great events are planned for the future and they don’t want me around to mess things up.”

“Seriously?  What can you, a woman, do to mess things up?”  Relii asked.

“Roland said you were responsible for making Charles into a hard taskmaster,” Sigisurd offered a thought.  “He said you kept annoying Charles about training the men to follow orders and hold their position at all costs, and after the defeat at Cologne, he finally took you seriously.  He said you were the one who first suggested the need for a standing army that was there all year to train and be the best, instead of a called-up army of untrained farmers and fishermen.  Roland said you told Charles to select his battleground, to take the advantageous position, to add the element of surprise to his bag of tricks, as you called it.  He said you told Charles about that eastern trick of pretending to retreat and pulling an enemy into a trap.  Roland said you are the reason Charles prevailed in this civil war.”

“These things are just common sense,” Margueritte said, with a shake of her head.  “But I will admit common sense has always been in short supply in the human race.  But here is the thing.  I don’t know what the future holds, exactly, or what my part in it might be, but the fact that someone wants me out of the way is clear.”  She gathered her thoughts and began at the beginning.  “First, it was probably not an accident that Ragenfrid’s men picked me up outside of Cologne.  As far as I know, Ragenfrid did not send any men around to the hill, but suddenly, there they were.  I think whoever is behind this hoped Ragenfrid would just kill me and be done with it, but Ragenfrid thought hostage and Radbod encouraged that thought, and I feel Boniface argued mightily on my behalf, I should say on our behalf, so we survived.”  Relii looked embarrassed so Margueritte asked, “What?” 

“I know the bishop argued several times for us.  I spoke with him several times while we were there, you know.  I was not always sneaking off to get into someone’s bed.”

Margueritte nodded as if not surprised.  She continued.  “Then I think the castor seeds were meant for me, but maybe they were too easy to trace and point a finger, so at the last there came a change of mind.  Something blunted my appetite that night, and Sigisurd’s appetite, so we didn’t have any soup, but then plan B was to have us captured by soldiers from Aquitaine.  If the Neustrians and Frisians failed to kill me, maybe the men from Aquitaine would.  That did not work either, because the hostage idea was too good an idea.  So now whoever it is has to get creative.”

“If you went into the Abbey, you would leave the word behind,” Relii nodded.

“But wait, before the Abbey idea, he tried to get me into a Muslim harem.”

“What is a harem?” Sigisurd asked, not having understood the full story when it was going on.  Margueritte explained and Sigisurd and Relii both got big eyes and said, “Oh.”

“But why are you speaking of this now?” Relii asked.

“Because I want you to look out for whatever the next attempt might be.”

“Why doesn’t this power just kill you himself?”  Relii wondered.

“Oh no,” Tulip joined the conversation.  “To kill the Kairos is very bad Karma.  A sin of all sins.  Even the gods of old were prevented from killing the Kairos outright.  Our Lady might die of natural causes, and those causes might even include an enemy sword, but for any power it would be an invitation straight to Hell for the killer.”

“So, they are trying to manipulate me into a position where someone does the killing for them, or where I voluntarily remove myself from the playing field, like to the Abbey, or involuntarily get removed, like to a harem.”

“So, what will be the next move?” Sigisurd asked.

“So, what is the big coming event where you will play such an important part?” Relii asked.

They were both good questions.

###

Near the end of December, about the twenty-fifth, Captain Ragobert, his twenty men and two overloaded wagons showed up at a farm which sat on a rise above a wide river.  Margueritte thought the manor house looked huge, almost as big as the barn.  An elderly man with a limp came out of the house, stopped when his leg would not go further, and he frowned.  An elderly woman came up to the captain, spoke briefly, and then ran to the wagon.  Grandma Rosamund took baby Brittany in her arms and looked very happy.  Martin went with his mother to confront the old man.  A woman, only a couple of years older than Margueritte came running out of the house and gave Relii a big hug and kisses.  Margueritte thought it looked more than just friendly, but what did she know?  A younger man also came out of the house and stopped to stare at the strangers and imitate his father’s hard glare.  Margueritte guessed the woman was Aduan, Roland’s younger sister, and the young man, about nineteen, was the baby of the family, Geoffry; but first Margueritte had to confront Grandpa Horegard.

Margueritte said nothing.  She had no doubt this was Horegard since he had been described to her in such detail. She stepped up and kissed the man on the cheek, and then brought Martin up to her hip, though at two, he started to get big and heavy.  She spoke to Martin and pointed at the frowning face, turned curious.

“Martin.  This is your grandfather.”  Martin took his cue from his mother and reached out for the old man.  

Horegard looked at Margueritte and asked.  “Margueritte?”  She nodded, and he put his hand out for the boy.  “Let’s go inside.”

Martin took his grandfather’s hand and at two years old, he walked about as well as the man limped, and as long as his mother was right there with him, they went inside to the big open rooms, downstairs in the manor.  Festuscato and Gerraint both said it looked a bit like a great hall in a Roman fort, and the table looked big enough for a family of twenty, which they nearly were.

Ingrid, the eldest, about age thirty, and with her husband Theobald, had two girls and a boy.  Clara was eleven, Thuldis was eight, and the boy Childebear was six.  Roland came next in line at twenty-seven, going on twenty-eight, and Margueritte had two and already started thinking about three of her own.  Aduan and her Gallo-Roman husband Cassius also had three; boy, girl, boy.  Dombert was six, the girl Corimer was three, and Lavius was one.  Then there came Geoffry.  He was not married and said he was not going to get married.

Theobald and Cassius came in from the fields at dark, exhausted.  They welcomed Margueritte almost in passing and reported that they got a good start on clearing the far corner, wherever that meant.  Horegard said they better get it cleared by spring, the way the family kept growing.  Margueritte got an idea of the land in her mind, where the serf houses were, filled mostly with some combination of Gallic and Roman people, and where the dependent free Franks lived, the ones who would make the bulk of Horegard’s fighting force if they should be needed.

Supper became a madhouse.  The kitchen, out back, included two big brick ovens and a fire pit for the pig, lamb or occasional deer or beef.  Most of the time, they ate vegetable stock soup with some eggs, with chicken, or fish from the river.  Not a bad diet overall, but everything had to be cooked in bulk and the washing up took forever.  After supper, as the children slowly dropped off to sleep, the exhausted adults went with them.  Every family had their own room, and they were big rooms, like families were anticipated in the building, and there were eight bedrooms in that big house. Margueritte and her children got Roland’s room, and it felt more than adequate.  They even moved in a small bed for Martin, though he preferred to sleep with his mother.

After the Master bedroom, Ingrid, Roland, Aduan and Geoffry all had rooms.  The sixth room, one of the biggest, was for the servants, which presently consisted of only one very old woman named Oda who did not actually do much of anything as far as Margueritte could tell.   Margueritte guessed the woman might be something like Grandma Rosamund’s nanny, and that had to make her very, very old, like close to seventy if not already arrived.

Relii got the seventh room, with Sigisurd, though Sigisurd got offered a bed in the servant’s room with the old woman.  Sigisurd slept mostly in the room with Relii, though occasionally she preferred to stay with Margueritte and the children.  She said sometimes Relii got carried away with her prayers and devotions and more devotions, and Sigisurd was more comfortable with the children.

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

 

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

MONDAY

Margueritte settles in, but it is not so easy. There is trouble all around. Until Monday. Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 2 of 3

The women said nothing, but there was a noise at the door.  A man spoke.  “Brilliant.”  Another man stepped in with another nun at his side.  Margueritte looked and named the man who stayed by the door.

“Boniface!”  That was all Margueritte got out, because the nun who came in wept and hugged her, and then went to hug and weep on Relii, and Margueritte guessed it was Herlindis.  The man with her had to be their father, Count Adelard.  He gave Margueritte the odd look of a man who did not like strangers much.

Boniface stepped over and gave Margueritte a kiss on the cheek and then introduced her.  “Count Adelard, this is Margueritte, wife of Roland, son of Horegard.”  The Count’s visage changed instantly.

“And these children?”

“Horegard’s grandchildren,” Margueritte said, with an excuse me.  Poor Brittany started struggling.  Margueritte stepped to the other table where she could have some privacy.  Martin began to object, but Sigisurd picked him up and held him, and let him bury his head in her shoulder to get away from all the strangers.  Too much talk and too many strange faces stood around for him to be comfortable.

###

Margueritte had to spend one evening at a difficult dinner party.  Count Adelard, a mean and grumpy old man in his fifties, sat at the end of a long table with his Major-Domo, Gerold and Captain Ragobert to his right.  Ragobert came from Count Adelard’s land and left as a young man to fight for Pepin of Herstal, the former mayor and Charles’ father.  He and Gerold were friends of a sort and in their forties.  The thirty-year-olds were to the Count’s left, his daughter Herlindis and Boniface.  Margueritte spent some time studying the faces and conversation of the local men, and decided they were all like Ragobert, not too bright and with no sense of humor.

Margueritte sat at the other end of the table, like the children’s end, next to Boniface, but with Sigisurd to her left hand, and Martin squeezed between them.  Martin had the good sense half-way through dinner to crawl down and go to the blanket where Brittany slept, so he could also lie down.  Sadly, Margueritte did not feel she had that option.

At the actual end of the table, Hildegard sat and said nothing all night, and indeed, she hardly lifter her eyes from her plate.  Hildegard was wife of Thierry, the Count’s only son, who had gone off to fight for Charles, and who Margueritte believed she met once.  A dull knife, like his father, if she remembered.  Squeezed between Hildegard and Relii, who sat opposite Margueritte, were Hildegard’s two children.  Bertrand was seven and seemed a fine girl, but quiet as her mother, or as Margueritte figured, cowed to know her place, keep her mouth shut and mind her own business, or in other words, she was a girl.  Her brother, Poppo, was a four-year-old brat.  He sat between Bertrand and Hildegard and liked to make noise and throw food.  In fact, the only time Margueritte ever saw the count smile was when Poppo got exceptionally loud and behaved especially bad.  While Martin still sat at the table, eating, Margueritte put her hand over Martin’s eyes several times to keep him from watching Poppo and getting any ideas.  Hildegard almost smiled to see that, and that told Margueritte a person might still be inside that shell somewhere.

Relii also stayed exceptionally quiet during supper.  She said she was being good.  Sigisurd stayed her natural quiet self, and also seemed to want to lie down with the children and escape the table.  It was not because of the tension at the table, exactly.  It felt more like a permanent pall that smothered anything approximating joy and good fellowship.  Margueritte heard all about it the next day when Relii accompanied them on the journey to Roland’s family home.

They camped half-way to the Rhine, and the soldiers under Ragobert made a separate campfire for the women and children at the door of their big tent.  Relii waited until they had eaten, but then Margueritte and Sigisurd could not wait to hear what Relii had to say.  Curiously, she did not talk about the difficult dinner and the forced silence of the women, or the behavior of Poppo, or the attitude of the men.  Mostly Relii shared about growing up, though in a way it helped explain those other things. 

“My best friend is Aduan, Roland’s younger sister.”  Relii said.  “Herlindis and Ingrid, Roland’s older sister, were cordial friends, but I don’t think they were ever close.  I turned nine when Mother got killed by Saxon raiders, and Aduan was ten.  Herlindis, at seventeen, had a boyfriend, sort of.  Father did not approve of the boy, so Herlindis got packed up and shipped off to a monastery in Reims, the old capitol.  There, she took her vows and became a nun, so Father, not wanting her so far away, built the Abbey of Aldeneik for women, and brought Herlindis home to be the Abbess.”

“Good for her, I suppose,” Sigisurd responded.  “But how did you end up a camp follower?”

“I got told from the age of thirteen that I was going to follow my sister into the abbey.  It was not what I had in mind, but I did not have any choice.”

Margueritte looked up from Martin who had fallen asleep beside his baby sister.  “You were to be the virgin sacrifice.”

Relii screwed up her face.  “Sort of,” she said.  “But in those days, Father and Horegard, Roland’s father, met all the time and discussed what to do about the Saxons.  They said even with Pepin taking the best for the army, they could raise a solid company of three hundred men and maybe another three hundred that were not so solid.  They played at soldier, and even talked of invading the Saxon lands.  They went over maps and scouted out the blacksmiths and workers to equip the men, but nothing ever came of it.  The only good thing was Aduan and I got close, being near the same age, and as we grew, we talked about boys a lot.”

“Not much else to talk about in this age,” Margueritte said, quietly.

“Yes, well, when I turned sixteen, Herlindis started to school me in the ways of Benedict, and I was not a very good student.  Herlindis thought she had to take Mother’s place and treated me like a child, but I was almost ten when Mother died, and not grown up, but not a baby.  Besides, I did just fine without Herlindis mothering me for three years while she was away in Reims.  I was thirteen when she returned, and I thought I was all grown up by then.”  Clearly, Relii still had some issues there.

“Father was the worst,” she continued.  “He turned hard, if you know what I mean by that word, and not at all like I remember him when I was young.  I think the loss of Mother changed him, but anyway, I put up with the schooling for a while, and snuck out often to visit my friends and boys, and got in plenty of trouble, but when I turned seventeen, I hatched a plan.  Pepin’s army camped near, planning a campaign against the Saxons to push them back to the Wesser River.  Aduan made it look like she and I got taken by Saxon raiders.  She went to stay with her boyfriend, Cassius, and his Gallo-Roman family down the road.  I went to Pepin’s army and attached myself to Mother Mary, who was younger in those days, and not called Mother.  I made up some story about my family being killed by Saxons, and she took me in.  I stayed with the army ever since.”

“But your father and Herlindis, didn’t they think you were dead?”  Sigisurd asked.

“I suppose, for a while, but Aduan eventually confessed herself.  Cassius made her confess before they got married, and good thing they got married because Aduan already got pregnant.  Aduan did not know where I was, of course, but Father and Herlindis kept hope that I was still alive, and so now I am going to be a nun.”

“Good for you, I suppose,” Margueritte paraphrased Sigisurd’s words, and she and Relii both looked at Sigisurd.

“Don’t look at me,” Sigisurd said.  “My family really all got killed, except by Alemans instead of Saxons, and I escaped because I was out tending the sheep at the time.  I cried for a long time, and my neighbors helped me in my need, and offered to take me in, but then I also ran away.  I have a distant cousin in Cologne, and I thought if I could find him, I could be safe.  But Mother Mary found me when Charles first arrived outside Cologne, and she took me in for my own safety.  We were all by the stream, washing clothes when we got captured.  Then I met you, Margueritte, and you saved me for real, and we had children.”

“And now you want children of your own,” Margueritte guessed.

“Yes, please.” Sigisurd smiled and she looked back at Relii, who shrugged.

“If I could have children, I would have a handful by now.  No telling who the fathers might be.”  Relii smiled before she got serious.  “The Lord saved me for himself, but it took me a long time to see that.  If I become a nun now, it will be by my own choice.  If Father and Herlindis agree, that is nice, but not important.  Freely, the Lord has given me his heart, and freely I return it to him.”

The women sat quietly for a while.  Martin and Brittany slept, so Margueritte imagined she could continue the conversation.  “Haven’t you seen Aduan since you have been back?” she asked Relii.

“Yes, and all is good, but I came on this trip for you, and Sigisurd if she wants.”

“What do you mean?”  Margueritte’s suspicious gland, as Festuscato called it, started to throb.

“I have come to tell you about the glory and wonder of life at the Abbey.  I see wars ahead, and so much killing.  But you will be safe at the Abbey.  We pray all day and have wonderful fellowship, and the outside world has no hold on us.”

“Hold it,” Margueritte practically growled.  “Just stop talking for a minute.  Who told you to talk to me about becoming a nun?”

“Why?  No one told me,” Relii said, and she sounded sincere.

“Tulip.” Margueritte called, and the fairy appeared.  Sigisurd remembered her instantly.  That was the way the spell worked.  Relii reacted like a person being attacked by some horrible monster.  She raised her hands, ready to unleash her magic, but she stopped there and remained unmoving when Margueritte stood.

“Lady?” Tulip asked.  Margueritte did not stand there.  Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts came through history to take her place.

“Tulip.  There is a great enchantment here.  It looks like a virus, transmitted from hand to hand.”  Danna traced it back to Herlindis, to the count, to one of the soldiers of Ragobert, to a man in Paris, to a captain in the army of Ragenfrid, and to Marco, servant of Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, on whom she saw something like a fingerprint, and she sighed.  Danna easily removed the virus from all the carriers, and she sent an unmistakable message to al-Makti.  “Leave Margueritte alone.”  Then Danna left, so Margueritte could return to her own time and place and think about what she knew.  Relii moved again, dropped her hands in a moment of confusion, and promptly threw up.  Sigisurd and Tulip helped her recover.

M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 1 of 3

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By the time everything got settled in Paris, and Margueritte understood what Gerraint said about the women in Paris only having one brain which they took turns using, the autumn weather hinted of winter.  Roland wanted to leave Margueritte in a comfortable home over the winter, but she insisted on going with him.  If he left without her, she would follow him as soon as the baby got born.  It became their first real argument, but in the end, they had no say in the matter.

Charles would head for Frisia before the winter set in.  He planned to trim Radbod’s mustache, permanently.  He also wanted to be in a position to confront the Saxons as soon as the spring came, because they were raiding into Frankish territory and that had to be stopped.  The Saxons had to be told the in-fighting among the Franks was over, so they raided at their own risk.  And Margueritte would deliver in a couple of weeks at most.  She could not go anywhere, and she could not delay the men.

Charles and Roland rode off and Margueritte’s delivery went without complications.  Sigisurd kept Martin who would be two years old in a mere three weeks.  Margueritte called that recovery time, but the truth was she got little time to recover.  As soon as she was on her feet, one noble after another came to call.  Word had gone out that she had Charles’ ear, and every man and woman in Paris had some beef or gripe or cause to support.  The worst were the bishops and priests, and even the archbishop paid his respects.  It became tiring, not the least because she had to remain pleasant and positive, not promise anything, yet not send them away dissatisfied.

Roland really did understand.  He left a company of men under a Captain Ragobert from his home province on the Saxon March and suggested if Paris got impossible, she should go visit his family and he would find her there in the spring.  Margueritte waited three whole weeks.  Martin turned two and they had a private celebration.  The very next day she packed, and against doctor’s orders, she set out in December for the other side of Austrasia.

Once again, Margueritte had to ride in the wagon, but this time they kept to the roads.  They were mostly old Roman roads, and not that badly kept, so the black and blues were not too bad.  Ragobert was not much of a conversationalist, but he seemed a competent military officer, and this time she had plenty of private time that the soldiers from Aquitaine never allowed.  With that time, she called Tulip, Queen of the Fairies in what was Frisia, and sometimes she called Marigold, Maywood’s wife and Queen of the fairies in east Austrasia and Saxony, around the Rhine, between the Meuse and Wesser Rivers.

On the thirteenth of December, they arrived in Verdun and took rooms at a local inn on the Meuse River.  Margueritte’s baby girl, Brittany turned one month old and already owned her brother Martin’s heart.  Between the children and the fairies, Sigisurd never seemed so happy, and so sad.  She turned eighteen and wanted a good husband and children of her own.  She did not say as much, but Margueritte and Tulip were not fooled.

Baby Brittany caught a little cold in Verdun, but the sun came out the next day and the snow rapidly melted.  “But we shall have a white Christmas,” Margueritte announced, and then she had to explain.

From Verdun, they took a flatboat and traveled for days down the Meuse, always headed north toward the Frisian and Saxon border, with the soldiers riding parallel to their course on the eastern bank.  They finally came to a little village called Aldeneik where they departed and took once again to the wagon.  They did not go far.  They found an inn, though it proved more of a tavern with a couple of rooms at best.

Captain Ragobert went in first.  He had the purse and proposed a warm and comfortable night or two before they moved two or three days across country to the Rhine.  “It’s a one-day trip to old Horegard’s place,” he said, “but your wagon does not exactly move fast where the roads are bad.”

“Great,” Margueritte practiced her sarcasm.  “We will arrive looking like you and your men have been beating us up.”  Ragobert knew enough by then to know she was joking, and he nodded when he went in, but his face seemed frozen in serious thoughts.

“Not so much as a smile,” Sigisurd whispered.

“I bet he doesn’t cry, either.” Margueritte whispered in return.

There were two nuns and a novice inside the tavern, speaking with the tavern keeper.  Nuns were not an unusual sight in those days, even in a tavern, but there seemed something familiar about the young one.  When she turned, and looked at the newcomers, Margueritte knew and shouted.

“Relii!”

“Margueritte!” Relii shouted back and they hugged around Brittany who was in Margueritte’s arms.

“What are you doing here?” both asked before Relii hugged Sigisurd and bent down to see Martin.  Sigisurd held Martin’s hand and Martin held his mother’s dress.  He turned his shy face into his mother’s dress when Relii spoke to him and said how big he was getting.

“Martin, you remember Relii don’t you?” Margueritte said, but Relii shook her head as she stood.

“He was very young.  But what are you doing here?” Relii guided them to a table to sit, and Margueritte spoke plainly.

“I am taking the children to visit Roland’s family.  Now that Charles has taken charge over all the Franks, he has turned first on Radbod and the Frisians before he goes after the raiding Saxons.  The plan is for them to be here by spring.  We shall see, knowing how rarely plans go according to plan.  But you?  I thought you were dead.”

“I knew you weren’t.  After I recovered, a man told me at sunrise he saw soldiers outside the inn and two women, and a baby being forcibly loaded into a cart and taken out of town.  I figured out who it was when they did not find your bodies.”  Relii reached out and covered Margueritte’s hand as the two older nuns came over and sat quietly to listen.  “They all died, Mother Mary and Rotunda, and that nice older couple.”

“Did you have any of the soup?” Margueritte asked.  “The poison was in the soup.”

Relii’s eyes got big.  “I knew it wasn’t witchcraft.  I told the people you would never do such a thing.”

“Me?” Margueritte felt shocked at the suggestion.  “I keep telling people, I am not a witch.”

“You can’t always tell a witch from her looks,” Relii said, and looked down at the table and worried her hands.  Margueritte understood that Relii had some power that was not normal.  Now it made sense why Abd al-Makti the sorcerer never came around at the same time Relii stayed in the camp.  She wanted to ask Relii her impression of Abd al-Makti, but with the nuns there, she thought it better to avoid that subject.

“Anyway,” Relii continued.  “Poison makes sense.  I know I was deathly ill for three days, and everyone died, but somehow, I recovered.  It could only have been a miracle, by the grace of God.  I was in the village, in a home when Charles and Roland came.  The villagers told them what they knew, and I know they looked in on me.  I don’t know if Roland recognized me.  You know, I always avoided him seeing me.  But anyway, they burned the inn to the ground and left.  I recovered, truly a miracle, and I felt then and there it was time to go home and follow my destiny.”

“But you?  A nun?  That is about the last thing I would expect.”

Relii turned a bit red and looked at her fellow nuns.  “It is my destiny.  Father built the abbey for his daughters who he said were never going to be defiled by wicked men.  My sister, Herlindis is the Abbess.  My real name is Relindis, but you can call me Relii.  It is what my mother called me when I was really young.  Of course, Herlindis was always Herlindis, full name.  Did I mention she is the Abbess?”

“Yes, you did,” Sigisurd interjected.

“Your father?” Margueritte asked.

“Count Adelard.  All of this land is his.  We are in the second line of the Saxon Mark, as he calls it.  If the Saxons ever break through the Mark, we need to be prepared.”

Margueritte had a moment of insight.  “It must have been hard for you in the camp, trying not to be recognized.”

Relii nodded.  “There were certain men I had to avoid.”

“I was not aware you avoided any men,” Sigisurd said, and Margueritte pinched her to get her to shut up.

“I was grateful for the way you and Sigisurd took care of me when I was with child and helpless, and the times you helped Rotunda with the cooking and Mother Mary with the washing and the errands,” Margueritte said.

“I didn’t do much,” Relii admitted.  “But I saw your example and I learned.”

“Please,” Margueritte looked down at Brittany and uncovered enough so she could nurse.  “I am no saint.”

“But you are, more than you know,” Relii said, and Sigisurd nodded vigorously.  “And you can do things, such blessings as most people cannot imagine.”

Brittany settled in and Margueritte looked up and got serious.  She looked also at the two nuns to be sure they were paying attention.  “I only do things that are perfectly natural for me.  If I walk or talk, or nurse my baby, no one calls these things miracles because they are perfectly natural things.  If I can do something most people cannot, it does not make it a miracle if it is natural for me.  As much as I love him, Roland would not nurse our baby very well.”  She smiled and the others smiled with her.

“But this is the important thing,” Margueritte continued.  “It has nothing to do with what you are able to do.  It has everything to do with what you are authorized to do.  If I can do some things most people cannot, it is only because I have been gifted, you might say.  But of those who have received much, much will be expected.  Like your sister, Herlindis, who has been given the authority to be Abbess.  She must make good and wise decisions and only do what God authorizes her to do.  She must not overreach her authority, even if she is able, because that would be the essence of pride and sin.  So, I try only to do what I am authorized to do, and it is not always easy to determine.  Just because I am able to do something, that does not mean I am authorized in a given circumstance to do it.  Sometimes I fail.  Sometimes I just plain mess up.  But I thank the Lord every day that I am a forgiven sinner, and I get up every morning and pray that today I may be a good and faithful servant and a good steward with all that God has given me.”

M4 Gerraint: Cadbury, part 3 of 3

The three guards from the guardroom and two more from upstairs, one of whom looked badly wounded were brought in to join the four surviving guards and the Saxon in the Great Hall.  When the guards sat willingly on the floor, Gerraint sent half of the twenty-four men remaining to him back into the rooms to bring in the bodies of the dead.

“Lay the good men out here in honor,” he said.  “You can pile the traitors in the corner for all I care.”  He stepped up to the Saxon.  “Red Ulf.”  Gerraint once again practiced his Nameless given grasp of the Saxon language.    “Ethelgard has really overstepped his bounds this time.  Does he not know that fate will have its way with him?”

Red Ulf raised his brows on being spoken to by a man without a funny British accent.  He looked closely, and after a moment he appeared to remember their previous encounter.  Then he responded with treachery.  “Too bad you won’t be there to see it.”  He pulled out a knife that was hidden in his cloak, but he was the one who did not get a chance to use it as Defender got thrust right through the man’s chain and deep into his chest.  The women, and some of the men present gasped.

“George said you were not a believer.”  Gerraint spoke in a clam and steady voice.  “I recommend you pray now as fast as you can.”  Red Ulf collapsed and his blood spilled out on the floor.

“Murderer.”  The old woman who was there to serve Gwenhwyfach accused Gerraint with her mouth and eyes.  She went to her seated mistress who seemed to be shrieking, but all anyone heard was “Mmumph. Mmumph.”  Coppertone had magically sealed the woman’s mouth closed and looked pleased with her work.  Belle rolled her eyes and helped Enid to a chair a couple of seats away.  

“No, it’s called war, not murder,” Gerraint responded to the old woman.  “And it’s called self-defense.  Defender,” he called, and his long knife vacated Red Ulf’s chest, shook itself free of any blood, and flew back to Gerraint’s hand.  He was at an age where he did not care if people saw certain things.  Gerraint caught the old woman’s eye.  “If you pull a knife on me, you will receive the same.  Enid?”  Enid had her hand to her head, like this was something she knew, but tried not to think about, and certainly did not want to see.  Gwynyvar sat beside her and took her hand to comfort her.

“Do what you must do,” Enid said.  “I trust you, and I love you.”  Her voice did not exactly sound steady.

“You are my heart,” Gerraint said.  Belle looked up and smiled at that use of the fairy expression; an expression of total love and devotion that Enid knew, too.

Gerraint spoke again as the men from the back rooms returned with more bodies.  “I know some of you are anxious to join the battle for the fort, but we have prisoners to attend and women to get safely away first.  Where is the prison in this fort?”

Morwen, the sergeant of the little group of soldiers spoke.  “There is the old dungeon beneath us, and in this expanded fort, there is also a separate bailiff’s tower.”

“Very good.  There is too much fighting and uncertainty out there.  Please take these men to the lock-up beneath us and post several guards.  Hopefully they will be joined by other prisoners Uwaine brings in.  Something will be decided later, but I will remind you men, in a Christian world there remains a chance for mercy and forgiveness, so be good.”

Gerraint went again to the front door.  He did not see nearly as much fighting going on as before, and he saw white shirts still armed, so he assumed his men had not lost, but he caught no sign of Uwaine, or Dyfyr or Twech for that matter.  He closed the door.  He decided he needed to get the women out, and that would have to be by the tunnel.  He just wondered if the women might go quietly if he blindfolded them when Uwaine, Twech and a dozen men in white burst in the door behind him.  

“All good,” Uwaine reported.  “There are fifty barricaded in the barracks and we are negotiating.  There are some singles here and there, but the fort is ours.”

“Saxon singles?” Gerraint asked.

Uwaine nodded and shrugged at the same time.  “And maybe Scots, but there aren’t that many places to hide around here.”

“One man with a bow can still pick out targets.” Gerraint shook his head.  “Medrawt?”

Uwaine shrugged, but Twech stepped up and looked over to be sure Uwaine was not about to say something before he spoke.  “Just as the sun touched the horizon, I saw a dozen men escape out the front gate.  They were on foot, but the enemy army is not so far.  They may be there by now.”

“Damn.”  Gerraint swore.  “Pinewood,” he called, and he did not have to call twice, like the fairy waited up in the rafters or something.  “Go tell Arthur that Gwynyvar is safe and to prepare for an attack.  And tell James and Bedivere they are in trouble for not telling me their mother was here.”  Enid was Bedivere’s aunt, not his mother of course, but she was as close as he had to a mother since that fateful day when Lyoness sank.

Pinewood grinned, though it was hard to see on that little fairy face.  “Very good, Lord,” he said and scooted out the window.  Gerraint did not bother to look around at the astonished faces.  He just continued with the orders.

“Uwaine, collect as many soldiers as we have and men from the town who have some military experience.  Get to the stables and tell Dyfyr to take six men and make sure the tunnel from the stables is still secure and empty.  Then saddle as many horses as you can.  You will need to ride out and support Arthur with as strong a force as you can muster.  Use your judgment.  Leave the elderly and too young to watch the men in the barracks.  I have a feeling something will be decided today.”

“Twech.  If you wouldn’t mind, take six men or so and make sure the tunnel in the barn is still clear.  We don’t want to run into any men in hiding, especially Scots or Saxons who might have found their way into the tunnels.”

“Very good, Lord,” Twech imitated the fairy.

“Morwen.  Get the men you have here ready to escort the ladies.  You better put a few more on guard duty downstairs so they can fetch food and relieve the guards later on.  The rest need to be divided in two groups with the bulk out front, and a few bringing up the rear.  Belle, you need to lead the ladies with a fairy light, and Coppertone, you need to bring up the rear and keep your ears and dark eyes open for trouble.  And whatever you do, don’t tell the ladies about the rats and spiders.”  Of course, Gerraint told the ladies as he spoke, and he grinned at them.

“That was mean,” Enid said, but she looked at him and returned the grin.

“You three,” Gerraint pointed to three of the men, soldiers who came running in with Uwaine.  “I need to go to the wall to look at what is happening, if anything.  I’ll be right back.”

Uwaine nodded and left.  He had a big assignment and was not inclined to speak in any case.  Twech also nodded and left, but Gerraint could have sworn the man saluted.  “We’ll be ready,” Morwen said, and he began to shout orders while Gerraint went out.

From the top of the wall, Gerraint could look down on the two camps.    With his fairy enhanced eyes, he spied Medrawt right away.  Medrawt had gotten himself a horse and looked to be riding around doling out commands.  Clearly, Medrawt wanted an immediate attack, but armies did not work that way.  The attack would come when the army got ready.

Gerraint called once again to Pinewood. He asked the fairy to please send someone to Christchurch, “Where Lancelot’s ships will be coming in.  As soon as he arrives, tell him Gwynyvar had been held prisoner by Medrawt, but she is now safe.  Arthur’s troops, though, are badly outnumbered and he could use as much help as possible, as soon as possible.  Then it would be good if a couple of little ones could lead Lancelot here by the secret ways unknown to men so he can arrive as soon as possible.”

“It will be done,” Pinewood responded.  “Arthur will need the help, but I cannot say if it will be in time.”

“Nor can I,” Gerraint admitted.  “Just do your best to hurry him, please, and thank you.”  Pinewood flew off, and one of the men with Gerraint whispered.

“Second time.  Still unnerving.”

Gerraint ignored the man and looked at Arthur’s considerably smaller camp.  It appeared like they spent their time yesterday, and in the night, fortifying their position.  There were trees and sharpened spikes in front of their camp, and a shallow trench dug against a cavalry attack.  He could see the trench from above, but it might not be noticeable from ground level.  A horse could break a leg in such a trench.  A man might only fall down if he wasn’t watching, but enough falling down would certainly slow a charge.  Arthur’s men looked to be getting ready to defend themselves.  Being so badly outnumbered, for the first time in history, Arthur appeared in no position to attack.

Gerraint looked over the inside of the wall, down on the barracks.  “You there,” He got the attention of one of the men now manning the wall.  “Keep an eye on the roof of the barracks.  They might try to sneak out the back end of the roof, if they think of it.”

“Right,” the man said and went to fetch a few more men to help with that duty.

Gerraint went back down to the Great Hall.  Morwen reported that they were ready.  Gerraint complained about the crick in his neck.  He stood too tall for most of the tunnel and had to travel with his head bent.  First, though, he had something to say to Gwenhwyfach and her maid.  “One warning so you better listen,” he said.  “Any treachery, attempt to injure anyone or bring harm to anyone will be returned to you double.”  He reached out and undid the clamp on Gwenhwyfach’s mouth.  He knew he could undo the magic of the little ones, even if he had not been gifted by them.  “And any noise, and I will have the clamp returned to your mouth, permanently, and you can eat through your nose.”  They understood.

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MONDAY

The end of the saga of Gerraint in the days of Arthur, Pendragon. The Final Battle Don’t miss it. Until Monday, Happy Reading

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M4 Gerraint 2: The Dragon Slayer, part 1 of 2

 

Gerraint, Bedivere and young George looked down on the village in the next valley.  It looked remarkably like the village in the last valley, but appearances can deceive.  The former was pure British.  This one was a Saxon transplant.  Arthur was not going to like Gerraint’s report.  

Fifty years of shortened growing seasons left the nation starving and weak, and the flu that never seemed to go away took too many of the young.  Twelve years of infighting coupled with Pict, Norwegian and German raids further reduced the population.  It became a mix of many things, but if Arthur had not pulled the sword when he did, there might not have been a Britain left to defend.  Cornwall still had some strength, but the loss of Lyoness proved devastating, and Devon east of Exeter seemed questionable.  Wales still held fast.  Arthur held the eastern line at Caerleon, and the Welsh coastal watch drove off Saxon settlers as easily as Irish pirates.  But Britain had all but gone already.

They stopped in the Midlands to visit Percival.  His position remained strong because many British flocked to his land as a safe haven.  But Pelenor’s family had accommodated to the Saxons so there were as many Saxons on the land as British.  Ederyn’s old place had been completely taken over by a Saxon Chief who now declared himself Lord of that land, and the British did not have the strength to throw him out.

Even up here, in the wilds of the British Highlands, the Germans were moving in.  A couple of generations and inter-marriages and an outside observer won’t be able to tell which is which.  Gerraint did not want to be the one who told Arthur that thirty years of war defending the land actually killed the land.  The seventeen years of peace that followed might have helped if Bohort and Lancelot had not stripped the land of her youth for war on the continent.  Then to see those youth bring their families to Amorica seemed too much.  Little Britain might be repopulated, but big Britain got depopulated to do it.  Britain, as far as Gerraint could tell, had already been lost.  It already became an Anglo-Saxon world.

They were seen coming down the hill.  Several men on horseback came to either welcome them or challenge them.  One never knew.

“Heingurt is the one to speak to,” their British guide from the last village spoke up.  “Though Hans Bad-Hand is the village chief.  The Saxons do things differently, you know.”

 

“I understand,” Bedivere responded.  He took it upon himself to make nice with the various guides they got to help them at one point or another through the Highlands, which suited Gerraint just fine.  He kept back, next to George.

“Of course, you have to expect them to be a little jumpy, what with the dragons about.  I heard one of the outland farms got attacked a month back.  Heingurt wanted to blame us.  He doesn’t believe there are real dragons about, but enough of his own people saw it to make him quiet, for now.”

“Thank you.  That is good to know.”  Bedivere sounded too smooth.

“Do you think we will ever see the dragon?” George asked.  Gerraint stayed lost in his own thoughts so George had to ask twice and had learned to raise his voice a little on the second asking.

“I hope not,” Gerraint said.  “They are like me.  When they get old, they don’t always hear when you talk to them.”

“You talk to them?”

“Sure.  Dragon speak, a strange and mysterious tongue.”

“Now, Lord.”  The British guide leaned back.  “I have never heard anyone say they heard a dragon speak.”

“Doesn’t mean they didn’t,” Gerraint said with a grin.  “Maybe they heard the word lunch right before they were swallowed.”

The guide stared, slack jawed.  Bedivere covered his grin, but he knew the truth.  He heard Gerraint speak some sort of words to the dragon all those years ago when they were on the continent and headed for the lake.  The guide looked at Bedivere and saw the grin beneath his hand and threw his own hand out.  

“Daft,” he said.

There were five Saxons on horseback, but they looked like ordinary enough farmers, not much different from their guide, apart from the one that Gerraint took to be Heingurt.  Heingurt had some semblance of armor underneath his coat.

“Heingurt.”  The guide gave a friendly wave before the riders arrived.

“Brennan, with what have you come to burden us with this time?”  Heingurt eyed the strangers to judge if they might pose a threat.  They all knew the look well by then.

Brennan introduced them.  “Bedivere of Lyoness is a Knight of the Round Table.”  The men looked impressed.  “The Lord is Gerraint, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall.”  Two of the men backed up, but Gerraint spoke up.

“Please.  At my age I am more like the house cat of Cornwall.”  Heingurt grinned at that image.

“And the squire?” Heingurt asked.

“George,” Gerraint practiced his Saxon.  “Son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex, and Prince among the Saxons.”  Gerraint did not get surprised.  They all seemed to know who Elrod of Wessex was.  This was not the first time it came up.

“And you travel with these men of Britain.”

“I am squired to Lord Bedivere until we reach the Lake of the Moon,” George said.

Heingurt shook his head.  “A daft quest,” he used the British word.  “The lake is full of strange people and nightmare creatures.  They say men who have gone there go mad or never come back.”

“The Lord is my shield and strength.”

“Ugh.”  Heingurt made a sound of disinterest before he confessed.  “We have some Christians in the village.  Come.”  They turned and rode into the village, Brennan with them.

“It would not be neighborly to come this far without paying my respects to Hans Bad-Hand.”

“My Lord once told me it is always wise to pay respects to the king when you come into a new country,” Bedivere said.

“Did I say that?” Gerraint joked.  “I must have had a daft day.”

Heingurt took them straight to Hans Bad-Hand.  It was obvious where the name came from.  The old man’s left hand looked shriveled, like a birth defect.  His right hand looked strong enough, and no doubt in his youth it more than made up for the deformity.  In his age, though, he looked like he had arthritis in his knuckles and at least one knee, and the belly suggested serious stress and possibly some lower back problems.  Gerraint well understood.

“So, you are the Lion of Cornwall.  Tell me why I should not take your head?  My brother fought among those you slaughtered that day by the hill called Badon.”

“Because it was a fair fight, and your brother lost.  I can tell you this; the men I faced on that day fought bravely and well.  But here, you are no fool.  You lead your people all the way up to this fertile valley and settle in peace.  You make friends with your neighbors where you can trade and receive help when the winter grows long.  You built this village up from nothing and you have seen it prosper.  Your women grow fat and your children grow strong.  Why, in the name of God, would you be willing to throw that all away?”  Without anything even approximating a threat, Hans Bad-Hand understood that the price for harming Gerraint would be terminal, for him and for his people.

 Gerraint fidgeted.  “Do you mind if I sit?  This old body cannot stand like it used to.”  He began to sit even as Hans waved at the chair.  “I make poor Bedivere listen all day to my aches and pains.   My knees don’t like to bend.  My back doesn’t like to turn, especially down low.  My hands stiffen if I grip something for too long.  I am sure you understand.”

Hans glanced at Heingurt.  “My right hand and right arm are still plenty strong.”

Gerraint caught the idea.  If Hans showed weakness, he would be challenged for his leadership.  He sighed.  “Let me tell you, it is like this in Cornwall.  I worked hard all my life, building, weeding, making things work, and why?  So, my sons and grandsons can reap all the benefits.  It hardly seems fair, don’t you think?”  Hans nodded.  “But the thing is, my sons won’t let me step down.  They say there is more to be done, and they trust me to do it right.  So, they guard me and watch over the workers to make sure it gets done the way I say.  I suppose after I am gone, they will have their turn, but between you and me, I am half tempted to go home and retire.  I should force Peter to be king so I can go fishing.”

“That is for some thought.  Don’t you think, Heingurt?”

Gerraint interrupted.  “I think Hans is a smart man who has made smart decisions and brought prosperity to the people.  As I said, why, in the name of God, would you risk that?”

“It is true, what you say about the knees and the back,” Hans smiled as he whispered, but there was no telling if Heingurt honestly got the message or not.  “But here, you say this is George, son of Elrod, Chief of Wessex.  I knew your father well.  In truth, when he was killed, I brought my people here.  Did they catch the killer?”

“Mother thought it was Ethelgard himself.”

“Stabbed in the back,” Hans told Gerraint.

“By a coward,” Gerraint understood.

“And how is your mother?”

“Dead,” George said, and pushed his chin up.  “Dead at the hand of Red Ulf.”

“That is where we found him,” Gerraint said.

George was not slow to praise Gerraint and Bedivere in his rescue, but he insisted it was the angel of Saint Michael that drove off the murderers.  

“That Red Ulf is a bad one,” Heingurt interrupted.

Hans nodded and then smiled.  “Stay the night.  You should have at least one good meal before you ride off on your fool’s quest.”

Gerraint got ready to say yes when a man ran into the house, yelling.  “Dragon.”

M4 Gerraint: Old Men, part 2 of 4

The pace felt leisurely and Bedivere stayed quiet most of the time, fighting his allergies.  That seemed one reason Gerraint allowed him to tag along.  His first squire, Uwaine, finally taught the young Bedivere to keep his mouth closed unless there was something worth saying.  Mostly Bedivere stayed good, so in all, it became a pleasant journey, apart from the occasional sneezing.  The days were warm, but not too hot.  The spring rains were mostly over.  The evenings were still cool through the hundred and fifties of the Julian calendar which made it roughly the end of May or early June.

They traveled across the south road along the coast for most of the way, only turning inland at the last as they came to the edge of the Shores of Wessex.  The nights also felt pleasant, devoid of rain, and the air, full of the fragrance of blooms.  Gerraint was glad not to have any allergies.

“Apples.”  Bedivere named the culprit.  “I would die in Little Britain.”

“Amorica.”  Gerraint insisted on the older name.  Bedivere nodded and sneezed.

After a time, they came into woods and immediately heard the sound of clashing weapons and men, shouting.  Bedivere hesitated and attended to his Lord.  “Aw, hell.”  Gerraint swore and nudged his horse forward.

A young man of about fourteen or fifteen, in armor too big for him, stood with his back to a tree.  A dozen men, Saxons, had him hemmed in, but one man looked cut and another appeared dead beside the body of a woman.  They were wary of the boy, though he hardly knew how to hold his weapon.

Gerraint did not hesitate.  He drove his charger through the Saxons, knocked several aside and several to the ground.  Bedivere came up behind with his lance and drove through one so deeply it wrenched the spear from his hand when the man fell.  Gerraint turned around by then and charged again, but a Saxon stabbed at his horse and Gerraint lost his grip.  Bedivere got pulled from his horse when he sneezed.

Gerraint got up, but he had no time to pull his sword as two of the Saxons grabbed him and held him.  Bedivere got a sword in his shoulder for his trouble and collapsed.  In the confusion, though, the boy tried to run.  He got caught and held for the chief of the Saxons, an ugly red headed man.

“You have caused us enough trouble,” the chief said.  He tore the helmet off the boy’s head and gave the boy a slap across his face.  “You and your mother.”  He stepped back and pointed.  The two men holding the boy shoved him to his knees and a third exposed the boy’s neck while everyone stood in silence and watched.

“No!”  Gerraint yelled and suddenly paused the action as he struggled to get free.  Then the Nameless one welled up inside him.  Gerraint did not resist the god he had once been, and in an instant, Gerraint no longer stood in the arms of the Saxons.   Nameless stood in Gerraint’s place, and he looked ticked.  He hated the cowardice of beheading.

He waved, and the Saxons found themselves huddled in a group twenty yards away from Bedivere and the boy.  The god of old took one step toward them and the earth shook beneath their feet.  “Tell Ethelgard, your Lord, that I have chosen the boy.  He is under my hand, and Ethelgard will be happy one day when the grown boy saves him from the fire.  Now, Go!  And do not look back.”  Nameless let out a small touch of his awesome nature and the Saxons trembled.  They did not dare stand but were afraid to fall to their knees and not obey the god.  The chief only got out one word.

“But the boy is a Christian.” 

Nameless smiled.  “And so should you be,” he responded.  “Go!”  He gave them a head start.  He sent them and their horses, save two horses, a mile from that location.  He sighed as he made three holes in the earth, three plain crosses, and then he left the Saxon language of the boy behind as he traded places in time with Greta, the Dacian Woman of the Ways.  Her healing hands were needed, and Nameless felt sorry he was not allowed to heal by divine fiat.  Greta’s armor adjusted automatically to her new height and shape.  She knelt beside Bedivere who knew the armor well even if he did not recognize her, exactly.

“That was stupid of me,” he said.  “I should learn to time my sneezes better.”

“Ha!”  Greta humored him while she loosened his hauberic.  The wound appeared not too deep, and well away from the heart, but she imagined some blockage needed to be cleaned out.  Bedivere would live, but he would need a month or so to heal properly.  “Boy.”  The Saxon, the Nameless’ gift, came to her tongue.  “Get me a cloth of some kind.  Clean as possible, and water.”  The boy stared at her.  “Hurry, hurry, hurry.”  Greta said and shooed the boy toward the horses.  He went but paused a long time near the bodies of the dead Saxons and the woman.  In that time, Greta found the sliver of metal she looked for.  It made the wound bleed all the more, however.  “Hurry,” she repeated, and the boy brought what she needed.

“Hold it here.”  She showed the boy and gathered the moss she needed which would act as an antiseptic cover for the wound.  When Bedivere got bandaged, Greta asked about the woman.

“My mother.”  The boy confirmed, and she held the boy and let him cry on her breast for the longest time.

“Water.”  Bedivere interrupted at last.  He struggled to his feet, but Greta had the skin handy and got up to give it to him.  The boy went to his mother’s side, his eyes were very red, but his tears were dry for the moment.  The three graves sat nearby.  Greta took another look at Bedivere’s shoulder, removed the bloody cloth, rinsed it and wrung it out, and tied it tight with the cleanest part she could find against the wound.

“What is your name?” she asked the boy as she came up beside him and hugged him again.  She gave him every ounce of maternal love and care in her.

“George,” the boy said.  He stayed on his knees.  He looked up.  “But I thought you were different.” 

Greta nodded.  “I am.  I’m just visiting here.  These are Gerraint’s days.”  She did not explain any further than that.  “I will not be far away,” she said, and stepped back before she left and brought Gerraint back into his own place.  Gerraint moaned a little and rubbed his arms.  Those Saxons had not been gentle on his old bones.

“Sixty equals eighty,” he told Bedivere.  “Three years in this world is like four in the Storyteller’s day.”

George looked up.  He understood the Cornish dialect and also the common Gallic of Arthur’s court.  Gerraint felt glad he thought of that, too, or rather, Nameless thought of that.

“I understand,” George said with sheer amazement.

“I don’t,” Bedivere confessed.  “But Lord Gerraint talks like that sometimes.  You get used to it.”

“No, I mean the words, the very words I am speaking.”  George touched his lips as if searching for the magic.

“A gift,” Gerraint said and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Praise the angel of Saint Michael,” George said.  Gerraint raised his eyebrows.  The Nameless god was neither angel nor saint, but he said nothing.

“Better take care of business and move on,” Bedivere suggested, as he walked to the first body.  Gerraint nodded, but he had the boy help and made Bedivere stand aside.  

“Yes.”  George understood perfectly well.  “Red Ulf is no believer in the Lord.  I doubt he will be frightened by the angel.  He may come back.”

Gerraint shook his head as they lowered the Saxons in their graves.  The dirt automatically came back, pressed down tight, and the crosses set themselves in place, dug deep and immovable in the ground.  “I doubt he will be back today,” Gerraint said.  “But all the same we should move on.”

They lowered George’s mother last of all.  “But why did the angel make three crosses?” he asked.

“Mustn’t assume,” Gerraint said.  “No telling how deep the word has gone across the Saxon Shore.”

“Oh, very much,” George confirmed.  “And into Anglia and even Kent, but the chiefs are still mostly pagan and want to keep to the old ways.”

“So, why were they after you?” Bedivere asked the obvious question.

George looked away.  A long silence stretched out before he answered.  “My father was a chief who spoke for the Lord.  Ethelgard killed him, at least Mother thought so.  He was afraid, I think, that we might expose his murder.  The people would kill him.  My father was well loved.”  George got down by his mother’s grave to pray, but Bedivere had another question.

“But what brought you into Britain?  Were you running away?”  Gerraint took Bedivere aside to give the boy some space.  He checked Bedivere’s shoulder to be sure it had not started bleeding again and then they rounded up the horses.  Gerraint’s horse had escaped the sword thrust but became hobbled, having torn a hoof in flight.  Bedivere’s horse seemed fine, and with the two Saxon horses, they would do well.

George got up after a while, but he had not forgotten the question.  “I was on my way to the court of King Arthur to see if I could train to be a Knight of his Round Table.  It was not safe to stay among the pagans.”

Gerraint nodded.

“What will Arthur say of a Saxon?”  Bedivere whispered.

“Not unprecedented.”  Gerraint responded.  “Consider Uwaine’s wife and the love Gwynyvar and Enid have lavished on her.”  He turned to George and smiled for the boy.  “You may as well ride with us.  That is where we are headed.”

The boy looked hopeful.  “But what happened to the Lady?” he asked.  He looked around and seemed to miss her for the first time.

“Greta?”  Gerraint knew to whom he referred.  “She’s gone home,” he said, as he helped Bedivere mount.

“Does she live around here?” the boy asked.

“No.”  Gerraint shook his head.  He stepped over to help the boy up.  “Dacia, just north of the Danube.  But the important question is when, and the answer is roughly four hundred years ago.”

George swallowed.

“Not a ghost,” Bedivere said, quickly.  “She was really here in flesh and blood.”

“But?”  George got confused.  He looked at Gerraint, at Bedivere, and back to Gerraint before he finally settled on Bedivere.  “I see what you mean about the way he talks, but I can’t imagine getting used to it.”

Bedivere merely shrugged, and it hurt, so he started out at a leisurely pace and hoped he did not run into too many painful dips and bumps in the road.  At least his sneezing temporarily stopped.

M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 1 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato tried hard to explain the facts to Aegidius, a stubborn, hard-headed man who also happened to be the commanding general of the Roman forces for northern Gaul.  The northern part of Gaul that would one day be called Neustria, was about the only area still ruled by Rome, that and a strip of land that ran south between the Burgundians and Visigoths and the southern coast around Provence and in Septimania.  All Aegidius could see was he was safe in Paris and the Huns would not come there as proved by the fact that they turned away.

“Look.  Aetius is coming up from the south with more than thirty-thousand men from Italy, Provence, Burgundy and Aquitaine.   Budic from Amorica and Sangiban of the Alans will soon be under siege in Orleans.  If we move out soon, and I wouldn’t give more than a week or two, we can threaten Attila from the north and make Attila back away from the city.  If we stay here, it will go down in history and for the rest of time that the last Roman general in Gaul was a coward.”

“What do you mean, last?”  One of the legion generals spoke up.

“Sangiban won’t last long, and my information says Attila is trying to get Sangiban to switch sides.  Then, General Aetius will not last long with two to one, and a veteran army against him.  Then how long do you think your earthworks will hold up when Attila returns to Paris with three times your number?”

“He wouldn’t,” Aegidius began to sound like a coward.

“I won’t ask your Legions to abandon Paris and join up with general Aetius, but maybe they have to decide which general to follow, and don’t think Aetius is going to be happy with you hiding in Paris.  I will give you a compromise.  You have ten days and then I take the Franks and Saxons to Orleans to support Aetius.”

One of the legion generals stood and began to walk off with the comment, “I better get packed and get my men ready to travel.”

Aegidius threw his hands up even as he growled at Festuscato.  “All right, we go to Orleans to support Aetius with the last of the Roman power and presence in Gaul, but I pick the route, and if the Huns turn on us, we race back to defend Paris.”

“Vir Illustris?  Imperial governor?” one general asked.

“Comes Britanarium,” Bran confirmed, and the general nodded that he was satisfied.  An imperial governor and general in chief of a whole province outranked the Magister Millitum in his mind, even if Festuscato was technically the governor of Britain, not Gaul.

At nine days, people were having trouble keeping their feet still.  At ten days, they left, though he had said they would allow ten days to get ready, it might have been interpreted as leave on the tenth day.  Lord Birch and his crew took over the spying duties from Ironwood and the other young ones from the Frisian shore.  Strongarm and his elves watched the perimeter and insured that any Hun scouts saw only what they were supposed to see.

Luckless caught up with the group in Paris.  He brought nearly a thousand dwarfs from the deep mines around the Rhine valley, the Moselle and the Meuse.  Hogtick, the dwarf king, had a fine daughter, a young dwarf woman named Lolly, and she seemed taken with Luckless.  Many of the other dwarfs teased him, and even Hogtick teased him, but Luckless would not be talked out of it.  Lolly had the makings of a great cook.

“But now I have to do something right and earn her hand,” Luckless said, and everyone encouraged him, but in their hearts, everyone said congratulations because they knew Luckless would not be long for the single world no matter what happened.

It took several days to move the whole army into position just north of Orleans, or Aurelianum as the Romans called it.  They found the Alans and Amoricans backed up behind the city wall, such as it was, and the surrounding suburbs were firmly in the hands of the Huns.  Attila still negotiated, and King Sangiban seriously considered opening the gates and joining the Huns.  Festuscato felt sure if the king did that, the men would be slaughtered, as surely as the people of Mainz were slaughtered, even though they surrendered and put up no resistance.  But Goar, the Alan general and King Budic of Amorica were not for giving up.  

The situation looked like a stalemate.  If Attila turned on Festuscato’s army, Goar and Budic would be at his back.  The Huns, Gepids and Ostrogoths together might win that battle, but they would be so devastated, the whole plan of conquest would be bust.  Attila’s only hope seemed to get Sangiban to surrender.  Then he could reasonably enter the city to loot and pillage where Festuscato could not get at him to stop him.  The only thing then would be to get back out of the city without becoming trapped.  That probably came to Attila’s mind when he pulled out suddenly and headed back east, the way he had come.  People wondered why he would do such a thing.  Festuscato had one answer.

“Aetius is close.”

General Aetius quickly set the battle order, keeping the various groups where they were and setting the Alans and Amoricans in the center so they could all move up quickly without having to move whole armies around.  Attila stopped in the flat open fields around Chalons where his preponderance of horsemen would have the advantage.  The problem for Aetius was even keeping his groups in the same order, it would take about three days to get there and get ready. The problem for Attila, was he pulled back from Orleans so quickly, even his veteran troops would string out for miles and need time to catch up, and by the time he built an encampment he could use as a redoubt, that would also take three days.

Attila proved a good general.  No one ever said otherwise.  He turned to Ardaric and his Gepids to set up a rear guard to insure all of his troops had time to get in position and get ready for battle.  Ardaric had mostly infantry, and he knew the Visigoths were the only group that had the horsemen to challenge the Huns, but he figured Aetius would hold them back and make every effort to be sure they did not get ahead of themselves.  The Alans in the center also had some good horsemen, but not in great numbers.  They did not bother him.  His men beat the Alans and Amoricans around Orleans and would have ruined the city if they had enough time.  Then he hardly gave Aegidius a thought.  The man seemed determined to preserve his legions and had no plans to spend them.   Thus, the only enemy that worried Ardaric became the Dragon and his Franks and Saxons.  He and Attila knew the Franks gathered around Liege several months ago, but at the time they seemed a minor inconvenience.  They never imagined so many Franks in one place, nor that the Saxons and Franks would work together.

Ardaric took the Frank Cariaric and his Hessians and Turingians, about five thousand men.  He took ten thousand of his own men, and they set up a line against the north to forestall any incursions into Attila’s strung-out lines.  It seemed a good position, and they were arrayed behind the woods where any unsuspecting enemy troop would run into them and be trapped before they could escape.  The problem for Ardaric, what he could not have known, was Festuscato knew exactly where the Hessians and Gepids were, how many there were, and where they were spread too thin to cover the whole northern flank.  Festuscato came into the command tent rubbing his hands.

“Gentlemen,” he said.  “We have been presented with an opportunity.”  That was how he saw it.  “Cariaric and his Hessians and Thuringians are on the east end of the line, furthest from the Hun gathering point I imagine because Ardaric considers them the most expendable.”  Festuscato took a moment to set up a little scene on the table and took various plates and utensils to represent the different groups, while Etheldrood spoke.

“I volunteer my men to crush the Hessians and Thuringians.”

Chlodebaud interrupted. “I was thinking Cariaric and his Thuringian wife need to be taught a good lesson.”  The two men looked at each other and all but shook hands.

“As I was thinking,” Festuscato said.  “But the Gepids, once they realize their line is in trouble, might turn their end of the line and try to hit you on your flank.”

“Adalbert and I can be waiting in the woods to hit their line instead.” Merovech caught the idea.  “We can turn their very woods against them and surprise them.”  Adalbert looked game for the idea.  Festuscato just smiled.  He did not have to say anything more.

The fight became bloody.  Fifteen thousand Franks and Saxons broke fifteen thousand Gepids, Franks and Thuringians.  Ardaric clearly got the worst of it, but when he pulled his troops back, the Franks and Saxons were in no condition to follow up their victory.  In a way, Ardaric got the victory because he kept the Franks and Saxons too busy to invade Attila’s lines and disrupt the battle preparations, so mostly it became just a bloody confrontation with nothing really gained by either side.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 3 of 3

By the first of April, Cologne, Tournai and Trier were sacked as expected and Cambrai and Metz were in flames, ruined by the two fists of Attila.  The Huns were headed for the edge of Frankish territory and would soon enter Roman Gaul.  There, Festuscato expected at least Amiens and Reims would fall.  After that, he thought Attila and his fist might head for Troyes while the northern fist under his eldest son, Ellak, who commanded his fist under the seasoned hand of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, headed for Paris.  When he originally thought this through, he imagined the Huns might reunite their armies at Paris, but Orleans would do around May or June, and from there they could face the Visigoths, either to invade Visigoth land or negotiate a Roman style treaty of non-aggression.  Now, Festuscato wondered if they would even get that far.

It seemed a long way, when late in the afternoon, Chlodebaud, King of the Ripuarian Franks, came into the command tent spitting mad about something. He usually stayed mad about something, and he regularly reminded them how Attila’s son, Dengizic, brought his Huns across the Rhine last fall and despoiled all the land around Nijmegen.  His men were the worst about being patient.  Of course, Festuscato, Bran, Heinz and Gregor had the good sense not to tell Chlodebaud why the Huns did what they did.

Merovech’s brother Adalbert, Duke of Moselle, looked up at his brother Chlodebaud, but said nothing.  He generally kept quiet and went along with whatever the others decided, but his men were good fighters, and proved it in the few little skirmishes they had thus far had with Ardaric’s rear guard.  Merovech himself sat with Gregor and Dibs, sipping ale and laughing.  Etheldrood, alias Egbert the Saxon sat there too, looking sour, but he responded.

“I understand your frustration.  My men are not used to waiting.  We see the enemy and we want to attack.”

Chlodebaud spit again.  “I heard when the Hun came in the front door, you Saxons with the Jutes and Angles snuck out the back door and ran away to Britain.”

Etheldrood looked angry for a second before he softened and admitted, “Yes, some have done that,”

Heinz, chief of his village, thought to add a word.   He often sat beside King Etheldrood and kept the man under control, as Lord Gregor instructed.  “But in this case, if we were to jump to the attack, the whole Hun army would turn on us, and we do not have the strength yet to stand up to them.  Once we get to Paris, that will be another story.”

Chlodebaud and Etheldrood both gave Heinz the same unhappy look, even as Marcellus came to the door.  Marcellus had arrived from Britain in March.  He brought a hundred Amoricans, all dressed in dragon tunics, who after twelve years defending the Pendragon, and now with Constantine gone and Constans taking over, decided they wanted to go home.

“Lack of patience can get you killed,” Dibs spoke up.

“There will be plenty of time for action,” Gregor said.  “But you must learn to relax when you can.  Not to stop being vigilant, mind you, but relax, like my friend Merovech is learning.”  Merovech looked a moment at his drink and nodded.

“Lord Festuscato will pounce like a great cat in the wilderness, but not before we are ready and only when we have the greatest chance for success,” Marcellus spoke up.  “I have seen him play this game with the Huns before, and in the end, he kicked them right off his island.”

Chlodebaud took a seat and looked at Etheldrood.  They would be good and wait.

At that same time, Festuscato, Bran, Luckless, Ironwood, Lord Birch, the fairy lord from the Atlantique province, Strongarm, a local elf lord, and the ever quiet four elf horsemen that Festuscato called his four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were questioning three captured Hun scouts.  The Huns were down on their knees, but not tied.

“So Ellak the coward and Ardaric the senile old man ran away,” Festuscato tested them.  One young Hun started to stand to give answer to the insult, but Bran’s hand on his shoulder quickly dissuaded him.  The other two old warriors hardly flinched, and one spoke in a calm voice.

“We escaped your trap where you would have crushed us against the Romans in Paris.  Now Lord Ellak and the great king Ardaric are lost in the wilderness and you have only guesses.  For all you know, they may be circling around behind you.  And we will not tell you where they have gone.  We are prepared to die.”

Festuscato let out a little chuckle.  “Ironwood,” he said.

“They are headed toward Orleans.  They will meet Attila along the way which will put all sixty-thousand together for the assault.”

“Lord Birch.”

“Yes, Lord.  The Alans around Orleans are prepared to fight, but King Sangiban appears to be undecided.  Attila has offered to leave him the city if he opens the gates, but King Budic of Amorica will get there first and he and his men may put some backbone into the old king.”

“You see?” Festuscato spoke frankly.  “I need no information.  That is not why you were captured, alive.  I have spared you because I want you to take a message to Attila.  Tell him, if he takes his army and goes back across the Rhine, I will spare his life a second time, and give him this ring as a sign.”  Festuscato took a gaudy, diamond studded ring from his finger and gave it to the old Hun who spoke.  “Fail to give the message and I will know it and nowhere on earth will be safe for you to hide.  But if you give him the message, be warned.  The last man I sent to Attila with a message lost his head.”

“What last man?” the young one asked in a snarky, unbelieving voice.

“Megla,” Festuscato said, and clearly all three Huns had heard the story.

“You are the dragon?” the old Hun asked.

“I am, so please give him my message and my ring.”  Festuscato and Bran stepped back.  “You are free to go.”  Festuscato waved and three elves brought up the Huns horses.  The Huns stepped warily to the horses and mounted.  The older scout who said and did nothing during the interview, turned on Festuscato the moment he got hold of his spear. Festuscato did not flinch as the man became a pincushion of elf arrows.  The horse bolted but settled down after a few yards and the dead body slid out of the saddle.

“Such a shame,” Festuscato said, as the other two Huns rode off without looking back.

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MONDAY

General Aetius has come up from Rome and is trying to raise the men and keep the Burgundians and Visigoths pointed in the right direction.  The Alans in Orleans may be pressed for a time.  Everyone hopes King Budic can arrive in time to help.  Bran the Brit calls it a daft plan, but if the men arrive it just might work.  Gaul is in the Balance.  Until Monday:

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