Reflections Flern-11 part 3 of 3

Flern squeezed Kined’s hand and smiled up into his eyes.

“Everyone else is happily married,” he said. “You and I are the last ones.” His eyes returned her smile.

“Not the last,” Flern responded with a nod of her head. Riah and Goldenwing walked close to the riverbank while Flern and Kined sat on the blanket where they could look out over the deep blue water of the Danube. Riah and Goldenwing were not holding hands, but they might as well have been.

 “She is his heart,” Kined nodded his agreement before he clicked his tongue. “I can’t believe I am worried about her being so young. I mean, she is over seventy years old.”

Flern’s eyes never left Kined’s face. “Am I your heart?” she asked.

Kined dropped the blade of grass he worried with his thumb and forefinger and slipped his arm over Flern’s shoulder. “Let me say it this.” He scooted right up beside her so they were touching, side to side and Flern felt a sudden flush of desire. “It has been a long, hot summer. Now you say it will be a good two months to follow the Danube to the sea. A couple more months to winter on the sea, and a couple more months to follow the Dnepr to the town at the foot of the pass. From there it will be across country back to the Dinester and home so we might get home by late spring, more than a year after we left.” Kined turned his eyes to the river and his voice dropped to a soft whisper. “I don’t think I can wait that long.”

Flern also chose to look at the river. She had told Kined she would not marry him until the adventure was over. She secretly figured if she died, she did not want to leave him a widower. But another six or eight months sounded like forever to her, too. “I don’t think I can wait either.” He turned her head and kissed her.

Flern reveled in his kiss until his kiss suddenly went cold. Flern pulled her head back to look. Kined looked frozen, and Flern had to wiggle out of his arms for a better look. He seemed completely unmoving, like a statue, or someone stopped in time.

“Who is there?” Flern stood up and quickly looked around. This could only be the work of one of the gods. “Show yourself.” The shimmering image of a man appeared, though never became fully manifest. A shimmering image of something Flern did not recognize appeared beside the man—but Flern recognized the man well enough. “Loki!”

Loki looked up at Flern and looked surprised. Clearly, he imagined himself to be invisible. But as soon as the shimmering something became manifest, Loki did disappear—or left the area. To be sure, Flern’s focus turned elsewhere, because as soon as the something manifested, Flern felt a great sucking pain in her gut, like something started being drawn out of her. Immediately, the shimmering something took on Flern’s exact shape down to the unbuttoned top button on her dress.

Flern screamed. “Doppelganger!” But the replica screamed at the same time and yelled the exact same word in the exact the same way.

Kined, suddenly set free, spun around to see the two Flern’s facing each other. Riah and Goldenwing rushed up from the riverbank but stopped to look on with uncertainty.

Flern fell to her knees, but so did the anti-Flern. Flern pointed and said, “It is sucking the life out of me,” but so said the other Flern.

Pinn and Vilder ran up, wearing leather aprons, their skin grubby from coal dust. Pinn yelled, “But which one?”

“Try the Princess, or Wlvn,” Kined suggested.

“I can’t,” two Flern’s said while two hands went to two stomachs. “I don’t remember how.”

“Flern?” Vilder had to ask.

The two Flern’s began a slow crawl toward each other. It looked like at least one of them resisted, but which one? “Don’t let it touch me,” both Flerns said as Gunder, Tiren and Andronicus rode up on horseback.

Vilder grabbed one of the two Flerns and Gunder dismounted and grabbed the other.

“Call for your armor.” Kined was still thinking, but Flern’s mind felt too dizzy to concentrate.

“Which one?” Pinn asked again.

“I can’t tell. I can’t tell,” Riah admitted.

The boys held the Flerns to their feet by sheer arm strength. Flern, herself prepared to black out when a bright, white light came streaking down the hillside. The unicorn came, and it appeared to know which one, in answer to Pinn’s question. Gunder and Vilder were both blown back by some force of light and wind as the unicorn leapt. The anti-Flern put her hands up and breathed, “no.” Flern stopped with her hands half-way up. The unicorn horn went through the doppelganger and the ganger dissipated in a puff of smoke and twinkling lights. Flern felt all of her essence rush back into her gut and she collapsed.

The unicorn turned and kept everyone away by snorting and stomping its foot. It came to Flern and nosed her until she sat up, groggy, but alive. It put its nose to Flern’s back and shoved her toward Kined.

“Okay. I was going to say let’s get married now. Don’t be pushy.” Flern did not move, however, but Kined dared the unicorn. He came in close and scooped her up in his arms.

“That is the one,” Pinn said, with a nod of certainty. “Why do today what you can do tomorrow?”

The unicorn snorted once more before it turned toward the river. It ran and bounded and made one great flying leap a half-mile over the river to the other side, where it landed gently and disappeared into the distant forest.

“I think that is the last I will see of the unicorn,” Flern said softly. Kined looked down at her with questions on his face, so she explained. “They only visit with very young, innocent children and virgins.” Kined’s shock looked priceless.

Three days later, Vinnu tugged on Flern’s wedding dress to make sure it covered her ankles while Thrud complained about it being too hot for a wedding. Pinn wisely stayed outside where she could keep an eye on the food. She was not sure what the boys were doing, but it seemed to involve a great deal of punching in the arm.

When Flern and Kined stood before the village priest, he stepped aside for a woman. Flern recognized as the goddess Hestia, but she said nothing. She looked back once and saw Artemis and Aphrodite, and Aphrodite stayed good. She did not molest anyone.

On the other side of the aisle, Vry and Mother Vrya sat side by side and looked happy. Frigga sat behind them, next to the old man, himself. He seemed impossible to miss, big eye patch and all, yet none of the locals or her own crew seemed to recognize the strangers in their midst, if they even recognized them as strangers.

Hestia asked. “Do you, Kairos, take this man to be your husband?”

Flern spoke loud and clear. “No.”

There were gasps from the witnesses, but Hestia did not even blink. She turned calmly to Kined and asked, “Do you understand?”

Kined looked briefly at Flern before he said, “I do.”

Hestia gave a little smile before she began again. “Do you, Flern, take this man …”

“Yes,” Flern interrupted.

“… to be your husband?”

“I mean, I do.”

After the ceremony, Flern came face to face with Frigga and Odin. The queen of the gods held tight to the old man’s arm and told Flern she looked beautiful. The king of the gods looked down at her with a face impossible to read. Flern felt a touch of discomfort while he cleared his throat.

“I have placed a hedge around you and your companions so that none of the gods may interfere directly or indirectly with your quest and confrontation. You humans need to settle your own human problems, and that includes the Wicca. Now, where is the cake? I always like a good wedding cake.”



Flern and her friends return home to find an army gathered. Flern needs to face the Wicca. Until Monday, Happy Reading


Reflections Flern-8 part 1 of 3

Heads nodded with understanding as Wlvn spoke. He felt he had been patient enough. “But now, you have something to tell us I think.”

“Indeed,” Lord Oakvein also nodded his head. “Of late I have become aware of a great power in the east. Her eyes are turned in this direction, and not for good. She alone has power to force others to her will. There is nothing that even the gods can do to force my will, being counted as a lesser god myself, but I fear the little ones, the elves and dwarfs and the dark elves who live under the mountain might not have the strength to resist her. As for men, she might not have the power in herself to take a whole village. I see she has soldiers for that task. But one man here, one woman there might be swayed by her, even at this great distance. I know you oppose her. Be careful whom you trust. What is more, she does not work alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“I cannot say who, but I imagine one of the gods themselves is supporting her, directly, and I see the other great gods holding back as if they promised not to interfere.”

“The gods don’t make promises,” Wlvn said.

“So I have heard, but they may pledge to stand back for a season. It is not unknown.”

“One of the gods?” Vinnu sounded frightened by the thought of opposing a god.

Wlvn could not help teasing her. “Do you see what trouble Flern has gotten you into?”

Thrud and Tiren laughed nervously.

“I don’t care.” Vilder spoke up, and it sounded a bit loud. “The Jaccar have taken our homes and imprisoned our families. I will fight the gods if I have to in order to set them free.” Pinn touched Vilder on the arm and leaned up to kiss his cheek. Everyone but Oakvein and Riah gasped. They had never seen them so much as touch. Vilder also appeared shocked, from the look on his face, but he quieted and took Pinn by the hand, and they held hands for the rest of that night.

“What of the Were?” Wlvn asked.

“I do not know,” Lord Oakvein admitted. “They may be beyond her reach for one reason or another.”

Wlvn nodded. “I am not as concerned about my little ones as I am about those that are not mine.”

“Your little ones?”

“Yes, mine and Flern’s.” Wlvn told Oakvein, and the others by extension, though they understood or suspected as much.

“So that was why she traveled with the half dwarf and the half elf and Moriah’s mother, Laurel. But what of the mermaid? How do you explain that?”

“Tell us about Flern,” Vinnu spoke up. She wanted to get her mind off the idea of fighting the gods.

“Yes, what did she stumble into?” Thrud asked, having been exceptionally quiet that whole time. “Flern was always a pretty good klutz.”

Lord Oakvein lifted his ivy vest and showed his scar again. “That sword, actually.” He pointed at Wlvn. “She was learning.”

Wlvn listened at that point. He felt glad to hear that things were continuing according to plan. Skinny Wlkn and Elleya were still clinging to each other, Badl and Moriah would end up together and Flern apparently found the one Mother Vrya and Aphrodite designated for Andrea. If Wlvn should find his way back to his own time, he would not have to marry any of those women. He smiled and turned over to sleep while they talked, Riah right in the middle of the conversation.

Wlvn instinctively knew it would be best not to listen too closely. If he heard too much about how things turned out in those days, he might be tempted to change things, or accidentally change things if and when he got back there. He considered his situation and wondered briefly if this double trade might really be the accident it seemed, but then he slept.

In the early morning, Riah woke with him before the sun. They walked as they talked so as not to wake the others.

“You were named after Moriah, my friend,” Wlvn said it out loud.

“Yes.” Riah looked at the ground. “She died seventy-two years ago, the day I was born. She and mother were best of friends.”

Wlvn nodded and stopped when the light began to peek above the horizon. “And Badl?” he asked.

“Very old,” Riah said. “His son, Balken is chief of the dwarfs of Movan Mountain.”

Wlvn stopped walking at the edge of a small clearing and looked at the elf. She became self-conscious under his stare and looked away. “So, you are seventy-two. From your appearance, a girl about fourteen or fifteen sounds right.”

“I am older than my mother was when she accompanied you, I mean Flern.” Riah said in her defense and wondered what Wlvn might be getting at.

“And I suppose you can’t tell me what happened with your mother.”

Riah shook her head. “Mother was right about that. I never paid attention. I only know what Lord Oakvein spoke about last night, and I am sure some of that is not to be told. I would not be surprised if the others woke up without remembering it at all, and while I remember what he said, I am sure my tongue will not form the words. The law is young, but I know the law in my deepest being. I cannot tell you about things you have not experienced for yourself, even if they are things in the deep past.”

 That was indeed the law, his law. It was safer that way. He understood, but he did not answer. He stood still instead when he heard the bushes rustle behind him. Riah looked and smiled, but Wlvn figured it might be one or more of the others. His eyes were drawn instead to the increasing light in the forest because that light did not come from the rising sun.

After only a moment, a bright white light erupted from the trees and into the little clearing. When the light dimmed, they saw a unicorn, its horn pointed up in a non-threatening manner. It shook its head and glowing white sprinkles fell from its mane. It pointed at Wlvn and stomped its left foot twice on the ground. Then it turned and bolted back into the woods to be lost from sight.

Reflections Wlvn-9 part 3 of 3

Just before dawn, Flern awoke to the sound of a soft honk and the poking of a beak. She tried to brush it off but sat up straight and quick when she realized it was not a dream. The swan quickly waddled away, and it seemed a very pronounced waddle, Flern thought. Flern stood and glanced at the other sleepers. Laurel had gotten up and gone off somewhere, and Moriah sat up, but the others were still out for the night. Flern had to squint to see the swan in the gray light, but she felt sure the bird wanted to be followed, and she had no qualms about doing so. This swan, assuming the same swan all along, had saved Wlvn’s life more than once.

“I’ll be back.” Flern told Moriah, even as Laurel trotted up with a rabbit in her hands.

“Where is she going?” Laurel asked. Moriah shrugged, and they went about waking the others.

Flern made no effort to hide her trail, not that she knew how to do that, so she knew the others would not be far behind; but in the meantime, she could not resist seeing what the swan wanted to show her. She found it, even as the light turned from gray to misty white. A unicorn had gotten trapped in a man-made, or something-made trap, and struggled to get free. Flern looked around for the trapper, but no one could be seen, and she assumed that the swan had flown off as well.

“Pretty baby.” Flern could not help calling the unicorn by that name, though she was not so foolish as to run to it. The beast looked like it could be fierce if it wanted to be, and the horn looked like it could be deadly. “I can help if you let me.” Flern said, not knowing if the unicorn could understand her. “I can cut the vines and set you free if you like.” She pulled her long knife slowly and showed it to the beast. The unicorn gave no indication that it understood a word Flern said, but after sniffing at the blade from a distance, it got to its knees and then fell to its side so its trapped foot remained on top. “Poor baby.” Flern repeated herself. “Everything will be all right.” She inched forward slowly and carefully, and when she reached the beast, she heard the others gather behind her and hoped they would be wise enough to keep their distance.

Flern cut the vine-rope quickly and cleanly where it stretched taught, some inches from the unicorn’s hoof. Then she set down her blade and slipped the loop off the hoof itself. The unicorn brought up its head and Flern heard at least one gasp behind her, but the unicorn only nudged her and was very careful about the horn. Flern sighed and loved this beast for all the purity and love she felt emanating from the creature. She could not help kissing the unicorn on the neck, and she felt such peace.

“You are free now,” Flern said. “You can go but be careful.” Flern scooted back and the unicorn appeared to understand. It got to its feet, and with one more loving look in Flern’s direction, it raced off to disappear in the bushes.

“Well, I never,” Wlkn said. Elleya cried for joy at having seen the beast, and Moriah seemed inclined to join her. Laurel had something to say.

“Not just a beast as it appears. Unicorns are greater spirits of all things pure and good.  Only children and a virgin with the purest heart can dare to approach.” Andrea stepped up and put her arms around Flern for a hug but stared all the time at the bushes where the unicorn disappeared.

“Definitely not made by human hands.” Boritz and Badl examined the trap.

“And not a little one trap either. My guess is ghoul, or some other creatures of the darkness.” He looked all around, and Boritz looked with him, and he looked worried. “We should probably be safe in the daylight, but I would not mind reaching the village by dark, even if it means crossing two rivers. As if on cue, everyone lifted their heads at once as they heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.

“Damn!” Wlkn swore.

“What is that?” Andrea asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Badl answered.

Breakfast became a hurried affair, and as they were right at the Prt River ford, they soon put that water between them and the creatures. Badl pointed out that while the river did not look too wide at that point, it remained deep enough to come up to the horse’s necks and that should probably be too deep for the night creatures to cross, easily. Flern did not feel assured by the word probably.

On the other side of the Prt, between there and the river Swr, the forest changed to include more firs and pines among the deciduous trees. Snow had fallen here as well, as they wound along and around the hills that snuggled up close to the mountains. Flern rode in the middle when the horses had to string out in single file. It became hard to look back around Boritz, but she kept looking back anyway. She hoped, since there were no more iced over swampy areas between the rivers, maybe the ghouls, or whatever they were, would not be interested in the terrain.

“No, Lady. If it is ghouls or worse, they are probably like the night creatures. They will cross any terrain to get what they are after and then go home when dinner is done.”

Flern looked back again. The Storyteller suggested all sorts of possible nasties including orcs and goblins taken straight from Tolkien. That frightened her for a minute until she realized that goblins were of the elf class. They were dark elves, as the gods of Aesgard called them, and thus they were her responsibility. For a while, she kept hoping that the traps were set by trolls, but Badl assured her that there were not any trolls locally who were smart enough to do something like that. So Flern looked back. She could not help it, and she patted Thred’s neck every now and then and talked softly to the horse. “If the spookies come after us, you will ride like the wind, won’t you?” she asked, and Thred appeared to nod his head. That made her want to hug the horse, or maybe hold on for dear life when the time came.

Lunch did not take long. Flern had to touch her sword and ask Badl about practicing, but Badl said they had no time for that, as she suspected. She figured it got her brownie points so later she could say she offered, without really having to practice. Unfortunately, Boritz said he could help teach her, and then she got trapped. She sighed. She knew she had to learn for the sake of her village back home, but at the moment she did not really want to learn for fear she would be expected to face the Titan.



Ghouls find them, but they are looking for the red headed boy… Happy Reading


M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 3 of 3

Owien did not move.  He could not believe seeing a real unicorn, and when he saw the fairies, he almost fainted.  They were holding hands and dancing in a circle about five feet from the ground, chanting.

“Hurry, hurry Avalon

Under moon and under sun

Make a way to Kairos hold

Make a door for travelers bold.”

The children imagined listening to a bear thrash through the woods, the growl of the cat and the serpent slithering through the leaves, but with that chant, Margueritte perked up.  “How many miles to Avalon?” she asked.

“Three score miles and ten.”  The fairies answered in unison.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”

“Yes, and back again.”  The fairies, oblivious to the danger they were in, fell back and laughed and laughed, an enchanting, infectious laughter, and it cheered them all.  And then the door opened.  A mere shimmer in the air at first, it quickly became an arch, high and wide, that touched the ground.  The children saw another world altogether, with a carefully manicured lawn so richly green it nearly hurt the eyes to look at it, and a sky so blue that Owien claimed after that he never really saw a blue sky again.  On a hill in the distance stood the greatest castle any of them had ever imagined, with more towers and pinnacles than they would have guessed possible.  Near at hand stood the most beautiful woman any had ever seen, and she glowed all around, ever so slightly, like a true, angelic vision.  The woman stepped into this world, looked around and took in the whole scene with one sweep of her eyes.  The fairies bowed and backed away.  Margueritte just had to step forward.

“Lady Alice,” she said, for she knew who it was.  “Is it time for me to come home now?”

“No, my little self,” Alice said.  “You have much yet to do here, but soon enough, and you may come.”  She turned to Elsbeth who thought it only right to curtsey.  “Do not be afraid, child.  Your days, too, will be long and happy.  And what do you say Owien son of Bedwin.  Will Sir Owien and Sir Tomberlain, the best of friends, not come into this high adventure?”  She stepped aside first for the unicorn and invited the beast to enter in.  The unicorn did not hesitate.  It reared up once, the earth shook, and lightening pierced across the sky.  Then it dashed through the door and quickly became lost in the distance as it raced across that sea of green.  “And my children,” Alice said to the fee who fluttered passed the door.

“Come on, come on-ey.”  Goldenrod prompted the others.

“Yes, hurry.”  Little White flower added.  Margueritte started and that got everyone’s feet moving.  Tomberlain came last with his horse.  When they turned, they could not see a door at all, and Alice was also not with them.  Looking out across the pasture, they saw great fields of perfect, golden grain not far from a river which ran deep and wide, and which seemed to come from the castle on the hill.  Behind them was the sea.  Indeed, they were almost on the golden shore and it seemed as if the drab world from which they had come must be buried beneath the waves.  Beyond the pasture in one direction and beyond the fields and river in the other, there were deep forests.  The one past the pasture looked like pine and fir and rose in great procession to where it undoubtedly became cliffs fallen off into the sea.  The one past the fields looked like oak, birch, maple, elm, and a thousand species they could hardly name, and it seemed to stretch off into the distance without end.

They felt reluctant to go too far for fear of disturbing the pristine perfection that they saw.  Even the fairies, who seemed at home, hardly dared move from the moorings of the children.  Then they saw someone come from the fields and river. They waited, because they felt they could hardly do anything else.  At last he arrived, a man, deep bearded and hard to look upon, but with a kindly face and a warm demeanor.  He came barely clothed, wore only the least cloth such as the Romans once wore, and in his hands, he held a sword.

“Caliburn,” Alice said.  They all spun around and saw that she had somehow come up behind them.  “It was made for a princess by the gods of old, but it has been carried by others since.”

“Would that I could carry a weapon like that someday,” Tomberlain said with a sigh.  Owien nodded, but Alice laughed.

“You gentlemen will have swords a plenty,” she said.  “But true and proper will be the swords carried by you men.  Even Arthur, who once pulled this sword from the stone, later gained another sword from the Lady of the Lake that he could bear with honor.  I said this sword was made for a woman, but there is a man who will bear it.  Margueritte, dear, you will know him when you find him.  Now you must go home.”

“Oh, Lady, must we?”  Little White Flower whined.

“Of course.  Your father will miss you.  But you may come again.”

“Promises?”  Goldenrod asked.

“Promises, my sweet,” Alice said, and she waved her hand to open a door to another place.  Tomberlain and Owien stepped out first with the horse.  The girls took hands and followed with the fairies.  The door vanished.  They stood in the triangle and their mother ran to hug and cry over her children, before she sent a man to find their father.  The man did not have to go far.

The king left without his tents, and only sent men back to fetch them.  Lord Bartholomew told the story that evening.

“There we were, racing for the site where the girls had been left.  I was obliged to follow, not knowing the location.  Fortunately, I had sent Tomberlain ahead to search as soon as I knew of Urbon’s foolish plan.  And, I must say, when I explained to Urbon what he had done, he was most reluctant to let the girls be harmed by whatever beasts might be driven to the center of that circle.  He did not say he was sorry, but I could tell he hadn’t thought things through very well.  So, we raced ahead of the people and arrived in time to see a rather incredible and unexpected sight.  If I say she was the most beautiful woman my eyes have ever beheld, you must forgive me, dear wife.  She was angelic, glowing even in the daylight and floating some two feet above the ground.  Neither would I have had those dainty sandaled feet muddied by the grime of this world to which she obviously does not belong.”

“Poor Urbon fairly fell to his face and trembled before her, and Duredain the druid went right with him.  I kept to horse, but only because I was so astounded at the sight of her.  The Irishman also stayed up, but I believe it was shock that froze him.  He is like a man who uses words for his advantage but does not actually believe in anything but himself.  I am sure he never believed there was a unicorn.  The woman fairly froze him in his saddle.”

“The children are safe,” the woman said.  “And I will see them safely home.  Do not be too hard on yourself for putting their innocence in harm’s way.  The unicorn is out of this world now and out of your reach.  Alas, the old ways have gone and the new has come.  Embrace the new, but also remember you must show grace to those who still see things differently.  This universe is bigger than you think, and always remember there is more you do not know than there is that is known to you.”  And she vanished.  It’s true.  She utterly vanished off the face of the earth.”

“Alice,” Tomberlain said.


“Her name is Alice,” Tomberlain said.

“And she was most very beautiful,” Elsbeth added.



The years go by, but finally some questions just need to be asked, and Margueritte has to answer them, if she can.  Until Monday


M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 2 of 3

Things were about settled when Marta came sheepishly in and interrupted.  “Your pardon, but I must set the table.  There will be eight and the children?”  She asked, judging the table too small for that many.

“Let the children and Tomberlain,” Brianna added to single him out, “eat with you and Maven this evening, unless my young squire would rather share with Redux?”  Tomberlain said he might carry enough to the barn to do that very thing.  “And here,” she said.  “We will help.”

“I’ll help Maven with the cooking,” Elsbeth said, but Margueritte grabbed her arm.

“You need to think harder than that to get out of work.  You can’t cook, or did you forget?”

Everything got settled amicably that evening, and the supper went very well overall.  Margueritte helped Marta serve since Lolly was not there and Maven got so tired out from all that cooking.  Elsbeth went with her brother and Redux, and the little ones, probably had a wonderful time dancing to the sound of Luckless’ mandola and Grimly’s flute.  But that was all right.  Margueritte did not mind.

They almost got into trouble when Chief Brian wondered where that midget had gotten off to?  The others became excited for the possible distraction since the supper table was not exactly tension free.

Marta stood stiff as a board, her eyes darted back and forth, with sweat ready at any moment to break out on her forehead.

“She had to go home.”  Margueritte spoke up quickly and sent Marta outside to the kitchen.  True enough.

“Drat,” Chief Brian said, and he explained his encounter with the little one, embellishing it just enough for a good laugh.  By then, Maven had come in, presumably to help clear dishes.

“Yes.  Dear Lolly had to get on home,” Maven said.  “She has seven mouths of her own to feed, you know, in that little rundown old shack of hers.  Why, the place barely keeps out the rain, it does, and that does not help her husband, arthritic and all the way he is.  He can barely farm enough to keep his family from starving, though he might have done better if his oldest and only son had not lost a foot in the badger hole.  Come to think of it, they would have had eight children, that is a second son, if the wart hog had not got him when he was a young one.  I almost forgot about him.  Of course, Lord Bartholomew, saint that he is, does everything he can for the poor, wretched family, but there is only so much one can do.  And here, Lady Brianna, the good lady let Lolly come up to cook just for her king whom she loves with the hope that in his abundance he might send her just a little to see her and hers until they can get in the rest of the scraggly bits of grain from the field.  Even with all the little girls helping, though, I can’t see how they will get it in before the frost.  Yes, I really feel for the poor old dear and help her myself every chance I get.”

“Oh my,” Chief Brian said.

The king frowned.  “I may be able to send a little something.”

“And I will, too.”  Chief Brian agreed.  Everyone agreed, except Bartholomew who seemed to be having a hard time to keep from laughing, and Brianna whose ears were red from hearing such lies, and Finnian McVey who looked up at Maven and tipped his hat ever so slightly to a master.  Finnian was apparently no slouch in the matter of lying.

Going out the back door with the dishes, Margueritte turned to Maven.  “You lie like an elf.”  She said it bluntly and did not mean it as a compliment.

“Well, having a few around has given me some chance to practice,” Maven admitted.


In the morning, almost before day had fully broken, Margueritte and Elsbeth were dumped, not too softly, in a pile of leaves.  Obviously, the place had been well worked out in advance as the riders shot for it in a straight line.  Margueritte wondered what other parts of King Urbon’s plans he had neglected to share with her father.  But then Goldenrod and Little White Flower showed up and the girls got busy having fun.

“I told the ogrees like you asked,” Goldenrod said.  “That was scary for me, the most scary, ever.”

“I bet it was,” Little White Flower said.

“How come fairies don’t always talk right?”  Elsbeth asked out of the blue.

Margueritte had to think for a minute.

“Is it because when they are young, their little brains can’t hold it all in?” Elsbeth suggested.

“Mostly too many feelings in this world,” Little White Flower said.  “It’s hard to be happy, feel proud at having done well, and scardy remembering all at the same time.”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “Well. Probably something like that, but I think it is because young fairies were made to be terminally cute and sweeter even than cotton candy.”

“What’s cotton candy?” Elsbeth wondered.

“Whipped sugar,” Margueritte answered.

“I knew some cotton fairies once,” Little White Flower said.  “But I never knew a cotton candy.”

“Hmmm,” Goldenrod interrupted.  She wanted to say something intelligent, too, but she could not think of anything to say.

“Unicorn.”  Elsbeth called out when she remembered her instructions.

“Unicorn.”  Goldenrod echoed, and for a while they all called, though none of them seriously supposed the creature would come.

Meanwhile, King Urbon had moved the entire male population, and quite a few females out of the village of Vergen, and also brought about a hundred members of the court along to make nearly seven hundred people altogether.  He even offered a lesser sentence to those stuck in the fens if any would be willing to help.  These people slowly spread out at first light until they made a line, a mile in length.  Ever so slowly, they moved into the Banner.  They carried whatever nets, fishing nets, cloth or sacks they could which might help to catch a unicorn.

After a while, the girls stopped calling.  The sound of hounds could be heard, far away, closing from the other direction.

“I’m cold,” Elsbeth admitted, and she and Margueritte got up and began to walk in a great circle.  The calling started again but stopped quickly when they heard a rustling in the leaves not far away, but out of sight.  They stiffened as a face popped out from behind a tree.

“Owien, Son of Bedwin.”  Both girls called out together.

“I see you bathed,” Margueritte said.

“Look nice,” Elsbeth added.

“No time for that,” Owien said.  “I came to warn you.  It’s a trap.  The people are circling all around to keep the unicorn from escaping, but Mother says they will drive all beasts to the center, and not just the unicorn.  That means Bears and Great Cats and Wart Hogs and snakes, too.”

Elsbeth shrieked at the word, “Snake.”  They paused again, because the leaves rustled once more.  A man jumped out and grabbed Owien, took him down, and held a big knife.  Owien fought well, but the man, or rather boy was much bigger than him.  Margueritte hit the boy in the arm.

“Tomberlain,” she yelled.  “Leave Owien alone.”

“Yes, leave him alone,” Elsbeth agreed.

“You know this boy?”  Tomberlain asked.

“Of course,” Margueritte explained.  “He risked himself to come and warn us about the circle closing around us.”

“Oh, sorry,” Tomberlain said and he sheathed his knife and helped Owien to his feet.  “I thank you for caring about my sisters.”

“No, thank you, Squire,” Owien said.  “I never wrestled with a real squire before.  It was an honor.”  Margueritte thought she better step in before Tomberlain’s head swelled to where it became too big to fit between the trees.

“What can we do to get out of here?” she asked the practical question.

“No broomsticks handy,” Tomberlain said.  “But I brought my horse.  He is young and strong and might carry the four of us.”

“Three,” Owien said.  “I can just blend in with the circle as it closes.”

“Nonsense.”  Margueritte and Tomberlain spoke together.  Tomberlain finished.  “You’re in as much danger here as the rest of us.”  For a third time, everyone stopped then, to listen.  The leaves sounded agitated this time.  To everyone’s surprise and wonder, the unicorn came into the little clearing.  It would not let the boys near it, but it seemed to be offering itself to the girls to ride and to take them out of danger.

“Looks like the matter’s settled,” Tomberlain said.  “We have two chargers, but we have to hurry.”  They could already hear the drums and distant shouts.  “It took too long to find you,” Tomberlain admitted.  “But we can make a dash for it.  Hurry Owien.”

M3 Margueritte: Year of the Unicorn, part 1 of 3

In the fall, right before Samhain in the same year that Elsbeth danced, not being the year to go to Vergenville, King Urbon, Duredain the druid and Finnian McVey paid their own visit to the triangle along with Chief Brian, his druid Canto, and a very wary Roan and Morgan.  They brought a dozen men at arms, three strong hunters, and plenty of hounds.

Lady Brianna welcomed them most regally and apologized that her small manor home hardly had the room or the facilities to entertain royalty.

“Never mind,” the king said, as he pointed his men toward a newly mowed field.  “I’ve brought our hunting tents.  We will be quite comfortable in the field.”

Sir Bartholomew rode up, having gotten the word from Little White Flower.  Tomberlain rode beside him as did several peasant Franks, but Grimly was nowhere to be seen.  Luckless the dwarf also absented himself from the forges, and, in fact, Margueritte went down into the lair of the little ones in the side of the hill beneath the barn to make it very clear to all of them that they were neither to be seen nor heard during that whole visit.  Fortunately, Hammerhead the ogre had been given two cows which he took off as a present for his family in Banner Bein.

“He certainly earned them.”  Bartholomew remarked to his wife’s question.  Hammerhead was one little one who did not mind working.  In fact, he rather enjoyed it, and he certainly did enough around the farm that spring and summer to earn a great deal.

“Lord Urbon,” Bartholomew said.  “Your majesty graces our poor home with your presence.”

“Yes, yes.”  Urbon waved off the formalities.  “Bartholomew, we have to talk.”  They went inside with Finnian and Duredain, even as Margueritte came out from the barn, having climbed up the underground stairs to the secret door.  Urbon’s men were already half-way down the hill.  Chief Brian appeared to want to speak with her first, privately, but Canto held his arm and led him also into the house.  Roan and Morgan dared not look at her and they quickly hustled their few servants down the hill to set up Chief Brian’s tents.

Elsbeth squirted out the front door, looking for Little White Flower.  “psst.”  The word came from the mistletoe oak and both girls looked up.  Little White Flower risked coming down to kiss Elsbeth on the cheek and added a bit of motherly advice.  “Be good now,” she said and wagged her tiny finger in Elsbeth’s face.  She curtsied to Margueritte and sped off to the fairy glen—a good ten miles into the Vergen forest.  Margueritte knew it would take Little White Flower almost a minute to get there.  Margueritte faced her sister who wore a devilish grin.  It was not the first time Margueritte wondered exactly what the relationship was between her sister and the fairy, but that thought got interrupted when Elsbeth spoke.

“You forgot Lolly,” she said.

Margueritte put her hand to her mouth before she said something rude.  She feared what might happen, but inside she laughed.  They ran to the side of the house, to where the kitchens were out back, and saw that Chief Brian had already walked out the back door for a little repast, as he called it, after his long, long journey.  Lolly had already slapped his hand once with her cooking spoon, and Marguerite, herself, knew how that would sting.

“Wait ‘till it’s ready, you big fat slobber, or next knock will be on your noggin,” Lolly said.

Brian was taken aback for a moment, not the least to nurse his hand, but then he laughed out loud.  “I didn’t know Bartholomew had a little person about.  I love you midgets. You always make me laugh.”

“Little people hitting each other,” Margueritte said quickly, not knowing what else to say.  She wanted to get Chief Brian’s attention before he looked at Lolly too closely.  “That’s what Napoleon liked, too.”

“Huh?”  Brian asked.  “Who’s that?”

Margueritte shrugged.  “You wanted to ask me some questions?”  She reminded him while Elsbeth hustled Lolly toward the barn, and not without some argument.

“Huh?  Yes,” Brian said.  “But I’ve quite forgotten what it was, exactly.  Anyway, I do hope all my questions will be answered tomorrow after you girls are dropped off in Banner Bein.”  He went inside.  Margueritte followed, shocked by what she heard.

Inside, the subject had already been breached, and Sir Barth stood red with anger and only refused to do anything foolish in his own home.

“Come now.”  Duredain spoke up.  “You Christians are always claiming Christ as your true protector.  You should not fear for your girls.”

“Besides,” Finnian added in his Irish drawl.  “The unicorn is reparted to be a most gentle and loving crature who is most kind to young innocent garls.”

“No.”  Bartholomew repeated himself for the hundredth time.  “You’ll not use my children as bait.  And besides, I am not a Christian.”

Poor Lady Brianna did not know what to say.  She was moved to speechlessness by the whole suggestion.

“Then by your own pagan Gods.”  Duredain looked ready to spit.

“I’m not exactly asking,” Urbon said, mostly to Lady Brianna who remained a native of Amorica.  “But it would be greatly of value to the whole kingdom and a benefit to all the people.”  He knew he had little or no say over the Franks.  In fact, having three Frankish Lords on his border watching over him rather spoke for the opposite.  Still, he hoped to appeal to the Lady as one of his own, whose daughters were at least half his.

Lady Brianna shook her head when Margueritte stepped up and Elsbeth came in the front door.

“What?”  Elsbeth asked straight out.

“Baby,” Brianna explained.  “The king and his men propose to try and catch the unicorn, if they can, and save it for all the people, for the purity and health it will bring.”

“But what?”  Elsbeth spoke again.  Apparently, she heard enough before coming inside to ask.  Margueritte stood quietly at her mother’s shoulder looked up and down the row of faces seated at the table and did not like any of them very much.

“Baby.  They propose to take you and Margueritte to the woods, alone, in the hope that the unicorn will return to you.”

“Bait,” Elsbeth said what her father said, and she turned her eyes on the men at the table.

“To Banner Bein?” Margueritte confirmed.  At least Chief Brian nodded.

“Think on it.”  The king rose so everyone rose with him.

“You will come for supper,” Brianna said.  It was a statement of invitation, not a question.

“Of course,” the king answered.  He planned to settle the matter that evening.  He stepped out, Duredain on his heels, and Finnian who sauntered a bit.  Chief Brian sent Canto on ahead but tarried until it became safe to speak.

“Care, Sir Barth.  There is much talk about you Franks being responsible for this Christian business and the dissolution of the old ways.”

“What?  Get out!”  Lord Bartholomew roared.  Chief Brain shrugged, but Brianna walked him to the door and thanked him.

“It was only a fair warning.  He risked telling you,” she said.  “It was not a threat, veiled or otherwise.”

“Oh.”  Bartholomew got it, but his ire was so engaged, he could hardly hear anything unthreatening.

“Father.”  Margueritte spoke as Tomberlain came in from caring for the horses.  “Isn’t Hammerhead in Banner Bein visiting his family?”

Bartholomew looked at her and Lady Brianna was not sure what she might be suggesting, but Elsbeth seemed to understand.  “Oh, yes.”  She clapped her hands together.

“And I don’t see why, with a little help, if you know what I mean, we might not be safe enough.  Far be it from Elsbeth and me to break the peace between the Franks and the Breton.”

“Margueritte!”  Brianna’s voice scolded, but Lord Bartholomew clearly thought about it.  If the girls could pull it off, whether they got their unicorn or not, it would give him certain leverage on the king.

“What’s it all about?”  Tomberlain asked, and Margueritte explained her plan more fully, accepting the ways in which her father amended those plans, and Brianna, though not believing her ears, nevertheless did not object.

M3 Margueritte: And Secrets, part 1 of 3

The afternoon got spent with Maven again, shopping, while Tomberlain went with the boys to practice feats of skill and stupidity, as Margueritte had come to call them.  Sir Barth and Brianna also made the rounds before they had to get ready for the feast and the evening festivities at the king’s court.  For most of the time, Roan and Morgan were not too carefully shadowing the girls.  Margueritte once pulled Elsbeth quickly behind a booth while Maven went after some sweets and when the fools came racing up to look every which way for the girls, she and Elsbeth jumped out.

“Surprise!”  Margueritte stomped on Roan’s foot as hard as she could and Elsbeth kicked Morgan in the shins.

“Girls?”  Maven turned around.

“Here Maven,” Marguerite said, sweetly.

“Don’t do that,” Maven breathed and completely ignored the two men hopping around, each on one foot.  “I lost you once.  I’ll not lose you again.”  Margueritte simply smiled.

Not long after that, the fat old village chief, Brian himself caught up with them.  He came decked out in a long blue robe with gold trim and looked every bit a prince, though he was not.  He also had the chain and oversized symbol of his office around his neck, and Elsbeth laughed at the way it bounced off his plump tummy with each step.  He wanted to know a bit more about the unicorn.  He could not quite grasp that the unicorn had a plain, silver horn rather than one colored like the rainbow.  “Or at least white,” he said.  “Maybe it just looked gray in the dark of the woods.”

“No, it was gray,” Margueritte said, as her eye caught a sight, she felt surprised to see.  A little gnome pinched a sweet.  She gasped.  Suddenly she saw a dozen little ones, imps, brownies, pixies, and the like, all taking little bits of food and drink here and there.  A snatch of cloth and a broken needle, and she wondered why no one noticed, but then she realized they were all invisible to mortal eyes, except her own.

“What a shame,” Brian said.  “If only I could believe you.  What a wonderful find that would be, to catch and preserve a real, live unicorn, right here in my village.  Prosperity and health would be ours forever.”

“No.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “A unicorn can heal the heart, only.  It is not a fertility or prosperity beast.”

“And how do you know this?”  Brian asked.

“Well, I’m not sure.”  Margueritte said, as Elsbeth reached for her hand, curious at what could be on her sister’s mind.  Immediately, Elsbeth had to stifle a shriek since on touching her sister, she saw all that her sister saw.  “But I think that is right.  You understand unicorns are greater spirits, way beyond my little ones.”

“Your little ones?”  Brian tried to follow.

“Mmm,” Margueritte said.  “Like these.”  She took Brian’s hand and pointed.  Brian saw and gasped.  Maven reached to move Margueritte along, thinking the conversation had finished, but as she touched Margueritte’s shoulder, she also saw and screamed.  Some of the little ones ignored the scream and assumed it was what “mudders” did once in a while, but some looked up, and one particularly little gnome-like dwarf leapt up on a table and shouted.

“We been had!”  With that the Pixies, elves, and hobgoblins vanished from the fairgrounds in a matter of seconds. Elsbeth hugged her sister and whispered in her ear.

“Do it again.”

Chief Brian went off, silent in the wonder of his vision, his great iron symbol of office bouncing all the way.

Maven stopped screaming after a while.

That evening when the fires were put out, there were no untoward incidents.  Tomberlain chose that time to tell the story he heard about the robbers of Cairn Brees and how they broke into the tombs of the kings in search of booty.  When the next Samhain came, the ghosts of the kings and queens rose-up in the dark and exacted a terrible vengeance on those unfortunates.  He did a fairly good job for an amateur storyteller.  Margueritte felt frightened at the proper time.  Maven laughed.  Marta did not say a word the whole next day.  Elsbeth did not speak to her brother for a whole week.

The next day, the day of Samhain felt like a bit of a let-down.  Much of it got spent in the company of Lady Lavinia who took the girls to many of the same places they had already visited with Maven, except she made them talk and name everything the whole time in Latin.  Every time Elsbeth got something nearly right, Lavinia praised her.  Every time Marguerite so much as conjugated incorrectly, she got scolded.  Margueritte noticed.

After that, they began to dream of home and being in their own rooms and sleeping in their own beds.  Even Tomberlain said as much, and they started out early in the day, nearly at daybreak, so apparently, it was a well shared feeling.  Around ten that morning, a strong drizzle started, which did not help their spirits, but perhaps hustled up their feet.  They passed the coast road and the south road, and the rain slackened off.  They got within three bends of the triangle when they stopped completely.  Behind them they heard the sound of many horses coming up fast.

They had no time to get the wagons away safely, so Sir Barth ordered Redux, Andrew and John-James on their honor to guard the women, and especially the children.  When he turned to face the horsemen, they had already arrived.  The Moors appeared, and their swords were drawn.  The melee began at once along with Elsbeth’s scream.  Margueritte joined her scream when they saw Tomberlain knocked from his horse by a wicked hit on the head.

Few of the men were able to keep to their horses on the slippery grass and in the mud and rain.  Slick saddles sent men to the ground while horses sauntered off into the woods, away from the commotion.  Margueritte found herself and Elsbeth pushed down into the wagon and a wet, woolen blanket thrown hastily over them by their mother.

Lady Brianna sat still with a dagger in her hand while Redux the blacksmith took the tool he brought for the wagon wheels, something like a tire iron, and faced off with one of the enemy.  Brianna got startled, when one came up behind her, still on horseback.  She spun with the knife and cut the man’s hand, and then thought fast and kicked the horse which bucked and threw its’ rider.  With her back turned, however, it became easy for two strong hands to grab her from behind and pull her from the wagon seat.  It took two of them to hold her, and even then, it was only because she landed flat on the ground, on her back, and had no leverage.  Unfortunately, she had dropped the knife.

Margueritte, who thought, “Way to go, Mother,” when Brianna cut her attacker, cried out when her mother got grabbed from behind.  She reached out of the blanket to try and catch her mother and keep her from being dragged from the cart, but it was too far to reach.  Then, she felt herself lifted right out of the back of the wagon, and though she kicked, her feet could not quite reach the ground.

“Let me go!” she screamed and wriggled.  “Help!” she yelled.  “Hammerhead!” It was the first name that came to mind.  Perhaps she did not think at all but merely bubbled something up from her unconscious.  Her mother and Tomberlain were both down and who knew in what condition.  Elsbeth was surely no help, and her father fought face to face with Lord Ahlmored who kept shouting, “Save me the woman and the older girl.  Kill the rest.”  So Margueritte shouted for Hammerhead, odd as it seemed.  Odder still was the fact that he answered.

M3 Margueritte: Tales, part 2 of 3

The afternoon began wonderfully, and full of celebration for the newborn child.  “Every child is like the Christ child,” Father Aden said.  But then there were horses in the fens, and four men came up quickly, followed by a fifth some distance away.

“Duredain, the king’s druid,” Bartholomew breathed.  He did not especially like the man, and neither did the people of the fens, many of whom were there under sentence of the druid acting as magistrate for the king.

“Lord Bartholomew.”  The druid was always polite to the Franks, but it seemed thin.

“Roan and Morgan I know,” Sir Barth said.  They were Brian, the chief of Vergen’s deputies.  “But who is this tall, lean one with you?”

“Finnian McVey.”  The man introduced himself.  “Lately arrived from the Irish shore and welcomed to the hospitality of King Urbon’s court.”

“You will cease and desist this distribution at once, on the king’s orders,” Duredain said, getting right to the heart of the matter.  “These men and women have been put to this hardship under penalty of law.  They are not to be aided in their sentence or comforted for their wrongdoing.”

Sir Barth reached up to rub his chin and think of what to say.  In the interim, Lady Brianna and Aden the Convert both spoke in unison.  “Nonsense!”  Fortunately, before the argument could begin, the fifth rider arrived; Thomas of Evandell, the king’s bard.

“Lord and Lady Bartholomew.”  He shouted from some distance to gain the attention of all.  “Lord and Lady Bartholomew.”  He repeated when he arrived.  “The king requests your presence in the court at this time.  Would you be so kind as to accompany me?”

“The girls.”  Lady Brianna voiced her first thought, and Father Aden nodded for her sake to indicate that they would be safely escorted home.

“Actually.”  Thomas negated the whole arrangement.  “The king has asked if you would bring the girls, if it is not inconvenient.  He has heard stories and wonders if he may hear more of the truth of the matter.”

Duredain the druid squinted at the girls.  He had not anticipated this, but it did make his job easier.  “Yes,” he said.  “I, too would like to hear about these things.”  He snapped at Roan and Morgan who did not get it at first but realized soon enough that their mounts were required.  They reluctantly got to their feet in the unfriendly crowd.  Sir Barth got up on one horse and took Elsbeth in his lap.  Margueritte got up behind her mother on the other horse and held on tight around her middle.  As they left the fens, she saw Aden the Convert try to turn the men to their drink.  The men seemed determined, en-mass, to scare the pants off Roan and Morgan who, after a moment of hesitation, fairly ran for their lives to the sound of much laughter.

“You bet your bippy,” Margueritte said in a language she did not know, and she laughed without having the least idea why she laughed.

In the house with the wooden towers, which was clearly more of a fort than a proper castle, Margueritte looked at everything while Elsbeth ignored it all.  Margueritte saw a great skill in the tapestries and that all the furnishings were well made and well kept.  Elsbeth yawned until they came to the armed guards and entered the courtroom.  The king sat at the end of the room with the queen beside him.  Everyone else stood, except for Brian, the very overweight village chief, who had a little chair off to the side, and Canto, his druid, stood there with him.  Duredain and Thomas went to one knee before rising.  Lord and Lady Bartholomew nodded their heads and simply said, “Your Majesties.”

“I have heard some strange tidings concerning these daughters of yours,” the king said and did not wait for the niceties.  He looked at the girls and Margueritte curtsied and nudged Elsbeth to do the same, which she did after a thought.

“Your majesty,” Margueritte said, as she momentarily looked down to keep her balance.

“Majesty.”  Elsbeth echoed.

Margueritte looked at the queen.  She heard so little about her, Margueritte could not even remember the woman’s name, but she looked like a nice older lady, and the queen smiled for her.

“Come.”  The queen spoke up to her husband’s surprise who still scrutinized the girls with his best, practiced glare.  “Come and tell me all about it,” the queen prompted.  Margueritte accepted the invitation, and Elsbeth followed.  When she sat at the queen’s feet, Elsbeth beside her, there arose some consternation in the gallery.  The king said nothing, however, as it was apparently what the queen intended.  The gallery became mollified and snickered a little when Elsbeth’s seven-year-old finger went to her nose.

“Well, it all started…” Margueritte began her story, and she told it almost word for word, exactly as she told her parents.  She stuck strictly to the truth as well as she remembered it.  The queen asked very few questions and the king asked none and only spoke at the beginning when the queen lit up at the word dance and said how she, too, loved to dance.

“You have the Maying, woman.  And that is enough dance for the year,” the king said.

When Margueritte finished, she felt satisfied that the real story had gotten out in spite of Elsbeth’s interruptions and embellishments.  And when the king and queen were silent, the king opened the floor to questions from the court.

Duredain the druid became one of the first to step up.  “You say you slapped this ogre, this very force of nature itself, and he crashed against the wall and fell unconscious?”

“Yes sir,” Margueritte answered forthrightly.

“And how is it that you, a little girl, were able to do this?” he asked with a smirk.

“I do not know sir,” Margueritte said honestly.  “Unless it was by the grace of God.”  She swallowed and added, “I am a Christian, you know.”  She looked to her mother and saw pride in her mother’s eyes.  Margueritte was not completely unaware of the political implications in her statement.  The queen appeared unmoved by the revelation, but the king sat straight up, and the druid huffed and puffed, but said no more at that time.  Instead he chose to stand warily beside his king.

“And how is it that lightning came from your fingers to strike the imp?”  A woman asked.

“I do not know,” Margueritte said.

“And there are no imps handy to show you.”  A man back in the crowd muttered and several of the courtiers laughed.

Far and away, most of the questions were about the unicorn.  Elsbeth could not say enough in praise and told over and over how she was healed of all her fears and torments simply by touching the beauty.  Marguerite, however, did not like the tone of some of the questions.  These were asked mostly by men at arms, hunters all.

At the last, the Lord Ahlmored stepped forward as if he had waited patiently for just the right moment.  “Well I, for one, do not believe a word of it.  Oh, I am sure the young ladies have told what they believe is true, but I suspect the truth is more that some ordinary thieves stole the girl in the woods when they had a chance, no doubt to hold her for ransom.  The lovely Margueritte followed her little sister and probably found a gentle old nag that had come loose of its tether and wandered off in search of a good graze.  Then by mere chance they stumbled on the cave of the thieves, sheep rustlers we might call them.  The leader probably slipped in the doorway to allow the girls to escape, which happens.” Lord Ahlmored shrugged.  “The nag, which was certainly lost and had nowhere else to go, then carried them off before the other thieves could stop them.  I suspect there is no more to the real truth than that.”  He shrugged again like that should be the end of the story and the discussion.  Reason prevailed.

Lord Bartholomew, however, had not been counted on.  Red with fury, he broke Brianna’s hold on him.  “Are you calling my daughters liars?”  He shouted and faced the African who merely smiled and bowed.

“Not at all,” Ahlmored said.  “I did say they honestly believe their own story, but you know how these things get built up in the mind, and especially in the imagination of children.”

Bartholomew only kept back when Baron Bernard and Bernard’s squire, his own son Michael stepped in front of him.  Sir Barth felt steaming mad, but he was not the only one.  Duredain the druid looked ready to spit.  Ogres and unicorns made sense in his world, even if they were encountered by one who had the audacity to speak of this Christ.  Arrogant Moslem ambassadors and their rationalistic “explain-it-away” sentiments, however, were intolerable.  For all his faults, the druid could never tolerate a closed mind.

“You’re a fool, Ahlmored,” he said, as Bartholomew looked at his girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What have we here?”  The imp asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don.  Danna.  Wait.  Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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