M4 Margueritte: Broken, part 2 of 3

Margueritte spent most of January in the castle of Avalon, healing.  Doctor Pincher’s quick thinking and work saved her, but he could not save her baby.  She named him Galen and buried him in the sacred garden of the castle, beside the tower that held the Heart of Time.  Margueritte spent the month alternating between fits of tears and fits of rage.  In her angry times, everyone avoided her because she wanted to break things.  Mother Brianna, the only one allowed to follow her into the Second Heavens, said Margueritte could not go home until she stopped feeling the urge to break things.  They stayed the whole month.  Brianna went back and forth several times between the heavenly castle and the castle they were building on earth.  She updated Elsbeth, Margo and Jennifer on their progress, and invited Jennifer to join her, but Jennifer said no.  Going to Avalon would hurt her heart in some way, she said.

Elsbeth volunteered to go in Jennifer’s stead, but Brianna said, “No.  Absolutely not.”

By the end of January, Margueritte got over the feeling that she wanted to kill Giselle and instead felt sorry for the woman.  She wondered what leverage Abd al-Makti had over her to make her do such a horrid thing.  She had no doubt Abd al-Makti stood behind the death of her son.  His sorceries and murderous prints were all over the act.  But to what end? she wondered.

Margueritte spent almost the entire month of February inside, by the great fireplace, composing a letter to Roland.  Mother Brianna, Jennifer, Margo and Elsbeth all helped her think through the events.  Mother Brianna got the unquestionable word from the elf, fairy, dwarf, and dark elf lords and ladies that inhabited Avalon in the Second Heavens that Abd al-Makti was indeed behind the deed, so no one else doubted it.

“And I did like Giselle,” Margo kept saying.  “Even though she was Vascon.”

“We all liked her, and trusted her,” Brianna kept responding.  “She probably disappeared because she felt such guilt, she could not face us.  But she was always a kind and loving woman, and I feel it is best to remember her that way.”

“If she had stayed, we might have found forgiveness in our hearts,” Jennifer suggested.  “I have learned from Aden so much about grace and mercy.”  It came as such an honest thought, the others agreed it might have been possible, but Margueritte did not feel so sure for herself.  She spent many hours praying for forgiveness for wanting to see Ragenfrid and Giselle, and especially Abd al-Makti suffer horrible fates.

Elsbeth proved to be the most helpful in the letter writing.  “Maybe the sorcerer expected you to fall apart and become useless and stop making your soldiers, and stop building your castle, and collapse and cry every day for the rest of your life.  But that says he doesn’t know you.  You have all the Celtic blood in you, and from all the stories I have heard, the Breton are best at getting mad and getting revenge.”

Later, Elsbeth added, “He probably wanted you to go crying to Roland, and Roland would be disturbed and distracted from his battles, and that would disturb and distract Charles, so maybe they lose the battles.”

Margueritte tore up her letter and started over.  She wrote very carefully to Roland, and said she was sorry she failed him, but they had three healthy children who needed a good future, a future of peace, and the only way to insure that, was to beat the barbarians on the battlefield, and turn them to the faith of Jesus Christ, even as Father Aden, now called Bishop Aden, Apostle to the Breton, was turning the people to Christ.

Sadly, the pope will not confirm Aden as bishop, him being a married priest in the Celtic tradition, but everyone calls him bishop and treats him that way.  Even the Roman priests call him bishop and praise the work he is doing, so I suppose the approval of Rome is less important to the work here.  But likewise, you must concentrate on your more important duty of beating back the Bavarians, free Burgundians, Aleman, Thuringians, Saxons, Frisians, Lombards, Ostrogoths, and anyone else who might threaten the peace of Franconia.  And if the Muslims ever come out of Septimania, woe to them, and woe to Abd al-Makti.  But for now, our children need peace and a chance to grow up safe and secure in their lives.  Take care of yourself and Charles.  My love to Tomberlain and Owien.

She signed the letter at last and sent it with the post to Paris.  It would eventually reach Roland, and Margueritte only hoped her letter would get there ahead of the rumors, but she doubted it would.  For herself, she got to make clothes for the children, cook apple pies, watch one stone set upon another in her slowly growing castle wall, and go to church every Sunday.  Her father’s sarcophagus got laid in the wall of the new Saint Aubin’s church where it helped Margueritte remember that he still watched over them all.

###

Margueritte felt glad when spring of 723 arrived and she could saddle Concord and ride the rest of the Breton March.  A year earlier, Peppin, the march sergeant at arms, stayed home and got all the young men to train.  He had nearly three hundred by summer’s end, and he put them through such grueling training on horseback, they were glad to take three afternoons per week to study Latin and geography (science), math, history, and military matters.  This year, Peppin would be going with Margueritte, presumably knowing what sort of young men to look for, and Walaric would take over the training, and take whatever young men Margueritte sent to him all during the summer months.  By then, word of what she was doing with the young men had spread around, and she found any number of free Franks who did not want their sons to be overlooked.

For Margueritte, she still had her clerics to write rental agreements, her surveyors still made their up-to-date maps, and her eyes were still open for who might be best to be elevated to baron, or secondary fief holder that she called vassals.  It was not that the baron necessarily got more land, but he got made responsible for a larger area of the county that he could tax, and he got handed vassals of his own—mostly with little say in the matter.  He got told to get along with his vassals as they were told to get along with their baron and the count or lose their land.  Margueritte also probably overcompensated in retaining wilderness areas and hunting preserves between the various barons, to give some buffer space in the name of peace.  She had no doubt some of that land would eventually go to the church, but she did not start out looking for church lands.  Some of it would probably be settled someday.  But by far, and about all she really stayed interested in, was finding horses and the young men she could train to be her heavy cavalry.  She kept thinking about what she wanted to do to Abd al-Makti, and it motivated her.

Margueritte went home in early October.  The weather turned early that year, and she wanted to get out of the cold.  Mother Brianna and Jennifer were very worried about her, and when Margueritte assured them that she felt fine, Brianna smiled and said she hoped Margueritte did not break too many things while she was away.

“No, Mother,” Margueritte answered with a straight face, before she returned the smile.  “But I thought hard about it several times.”

Margo, who seemed to take everything in stride and proved very good about going with the flow, said she had not worried at all.  If anything, she felt worried about what Margueritte might do to her poor vassals.

Elsbeth said, “You went away?”

“Yes, little mother,” Margueritte called her that.

Elsbeth smiled.  “I think I want to be a mother again.”  Then, since she had everyone’s attention, she added, “I hope Owien is all right.”  They had not heard anything from Paris since July.

The winter got rough, and men had to go out to hunt in the Vergen forest and in the county.  The hunting was good, so no one went hungry, but Margueritte concluded they needed to farm more land come the spring.  She laid out places where they had cut trees in the last several years.  She thought it would be good if they had Hammerhead, the ogre and his family around to rip the stumps from the soil.  She got the impression that they had moved out of the Pyrenees and up into Aquitaine, but it still felt too far away to be any help with the farm.  They had to work the old-fashioned way, with shovels and torches to burn the wood in great bonfires.  That was hard work in the snow, but then Margueritte understood what kept Roland’s brothers-in-law so busy the winter she spent on the Saxon March.

Soon enough, the children had their birthdays.  Martin turned seven, Brittany turned five and Grace turned four and finally looked to be slimming a little.  Margueritte cried a lot that winter.  The feeling came upon her suddenly, every so often.  She would weep, and if someone came around, they tried to comfort her, but nothing helped.  It did not seem anything in particular triggered her tears, and nothing in particular stopped her weeping.  She just wept every now and then, right up until March.

M4 Margueritte: Broken, part 1 of 3

Come the spring of 722, Roland, Tomberlain and Owien packed to go join Charles for battles and adventures on the frontier, while Margueritte got to sit around and watch stone masons stack one rock on top of another.  It did not feel fair.

“But what about all the land around the Mayenne River?  What about Laval?  We promised to visit and set tax rates and talk about security questions for the people there and check on any bills of sale.”  Margueritte turned to her brother.  “As count of the mark, it is up to you to show yourself to the people.”

“Forget it.  He isn’t even listening,” Margo said.  Tomberlain hugged their mother.

“Owien is leaving me,” Elsbeth cried.  She entered her last month of pregnancy, due any day, and tended to tears.  Margueritte almost asked Owien why he did not want to see his child born, but that was not her culture.  People did not think that way.  In her world, women bore and raised the children while men went off on whatever business the men thought important.

“I’ll be back,” Owien assured her.  “I’ll make you proud.”

Elsbeth stomped her foot.  “I don’t want to be proud of your glorious death.  I want you alive.”  She grabbed Owien and cried into his shirt.

“Don’t worry, Margueritte,” Tomberlain said, as he turned to hug her good-bye.  “You are the smart one, and the only one who can get all this organized.  You don’t need me to muck it up.”

“But Margo is the countess,” Margueritte countered.

“No way.  I would muck it up worse than Tomberlain,” Margo said, as she kissed Tomberlain good-bye with no fanfare.

“Roland?”  Margueritte turned to her husband as her last hope, but he had five-year-old Martin in his arms while Brittany at three and Grace at two, remained inside with all the little ones, watched by Jennifer, and the servants, Marta and Maven, and Lolly the dwarf who could actually make faces that made the little ones giggle.

Roland set Martin down and hugged Margueritte.  “I’ll miss you every day,” he said, but Margueritte looked past his shoulder.  There were three hundred men down on the long field.  The two hundred infantry looked sloppy, but the hundred horsemen looked to be in well trained order.  Wulfram and his lieutenants, Lambert and Folmar rode up, and Margueritte turned on the man.

“Captain.  How can you leave us poor defenseless women and children alone?  And defenseless?”

Wulfram almost laughed at the word defenseless coming from Margueritte’s mouth, but he thought it better to look at Roland.

“Now, don’t be that way,” Roland said kindly.  “Peppin is staying, and Wulfram is leaving his number one, Walaric, to help train the young men and horses.”

“I’ll miss you too,” Margueritte said, pecked at Roland’s lips, and let go.

The women watched the men ride back down the gentle hill and start out, Margo waving and Elsbeth crying most of the time.  Margueritte finally broke the frieze by heading toward the house.  The others followed, Margo and Mother Brianna helping Elsbeth.

Margueritte waited for Elsbeth to deliver a fine boy that she named Bogart, though she said he had not been named after the current Breton King Bogart, who in any case called himself David.  That was fine.  It was not a name Margueritte would ever pick out.  But once Elsbeth delivered, Margueritte packed herself and Giselle, as they did when they went to Saint Catherine’s.  She gathered her clerics from the school she had built for the young men from all over her piece of Anjou province who were learning to lance and ride, took Walaric and fifty of the best trained men she had, and set out for Laval.  She started throwing up regularly in the mornings by then, but only Giselle knew, and she was sworn to secrecy.

“But shouldn’t you stay home and rest for the baby’s sake?” Gisele asked.  Margueritte shook her head.  The exercise at that point would be a good thing, and she would be home by the time she really began to show.

“I’ll be fine,” Margueritte insisted.  “I am fine, but what is the matter?” she asked, because Giselle started crying softly.

Giselle shook her head.  “I miss my family, sometimes.”  That was all Margueritte could get out of her when she found her now and then softly crying all summer long.

“Maybe this fall we can arrange to send you to Paris for a visit,” Margueritte said to encourage the girl, but Giselle cried all the same.

Poor Margueritte had to remember everything, and for the first time she had to start writing things down to remember.  She thought she might be getting old at twenty-five.  She was looking for a few good men, as she said, and the horses to go with them.  She had to keep track of claimed land and fallow land and arrange for taxes and for military service.  She looked for land that might go to the church, and for land they might keep as a preserve.  She also looked for land to support the barons Tomberlain would be appointing to oversee different areas of the grant.  Realistically, she had to find good knights and noble families already living on the land to elevate, and that was not going to be easy.  If she elevated one man over his neighbors, it had better be the right man.

Margueritte kept her clerks busy writing rental agreements.  She kept her surveyors busy making an accurate map of the land.  She settled a number of disputes where there were overlapping claims, and got wined and dined, as she called it, in every manor house and village she came across.  It became exhausting, and come September, she only had two thoughts in mind.  First, it would take another whole year to get through it all.  Second, she felt glad to be going home.

Back home, she watched stone being set upon stone as her castle slowly took shape.  It felt worse than watching grass grow, she said.  She thought of Roland with Tomberlain and Owien having exciting adventures while her life seemed so dull.  And church every Sunday, she thought.  All she did was make clothes for the children who grew out of things almost before they were made.  Naturally, Brittany became slim and petite, like her mother, and grace was round like her grandfather, or maybe her grandmother Rosamund.  She had no chance to hand down outgrown clothes.  Things brightened briefly when Brittany turned four in November.  Martin turned six on December second.  Grace turned three at the end of December, and Margueritte could hardly hold Grace in her lap as her baby took up all the room.

“Baby is too big,” Grace pointed out by putting her hand on Margueritte’s belly.  Margueritte laughed, but had to stand, then had to go upstairs and lie down.  About an hour later, Giselle brought her a small cup of cider.  Margueritte sipped and looked at her companion.

“You have been a wonderful help to me and the children.  I know they all love you very much.  But I have been wondering why you don’t seem interested in having any children of your own.  With all the men, mostly young men around training to the horse and the lance, I’m surprised one has not sparked your interest.”

Giselle shook her head and said softly.  “No.  I didn’t mean it.  I’m sorry.”

“But here, I thought you were happy,” Margueritte said.  “The only time I ever saw you cry before this summer was right before my father died.”  Margueritte’s eyes got big as everything came crashing together in her head.  “Giselle.  What have you done?”  She leaned over and threw up.

“I’m so sorry,” Gisele said, and while Margueritte began to convulse and have a fit on her bed, Giselle ran out of the room, shouting.  “Something is wrong.  Help.  Get Doctor Pincher.  It is Margueritte.  Something is wrong.”

Brianna raced up the stairs, just ahead of Elsbeth and Margo.  Brianna called Doctor Pincher, and he came, but immediately he sent the women to fetch Lolly, or Luckless, or Goldenrod.

“We need to open the way to Avalon.  Hurry,” he said.

Giselle ran down the stairs with the others, grabbed her cloak, and ran to the stables.  Grimly was there, and she hurried him to tend to the Lady.  Then she got the horse she had ridden all year and saddled the beast.  She had secreted a few coins into her pocket, but not much.  She thought a bit of bread would be nice, but she dared not waste time.  She rode off into the falling snow and hoped it would cover her tracks.

Giselle thought to cross the Loire at Angers, but by the time she got there, she thought instead to seek shelter at Saint Martins in Tours.  The abbot would give her sanctuary, and paper and ink.  She would write to Margo.  Margo would listen.  She would confess herself, and she would warn them.  All she saw and heard in Anjou was war talk.  With Charles away fighting in distant Bavaria, it looked like Ragenfrid started rebuilding his army.  She overheard that he was gaining pledges from many Neustrian nobles.  It sounded very bad.

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

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

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

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

“Caliburn and box.”

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

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

“Excalibur?” one man asked.

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

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

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

“It has a name.”

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

“What witchery is this?” the priest asked.

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

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

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

“It can be scratched?” a man asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then what?”

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

“I’m not following,” Roland admitted.

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

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

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

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

“About three hundred years ago,” she answered.

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*

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

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

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

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

“Understood.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Germs!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Masters?  Tours?” Roland wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

“No!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wine?”  Roland handed him a glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gwenyvair?”

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

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

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

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

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

M4 Margueritte: Sword of the Five Crosses, part 1 of 3

Wulfram got the men to set up camp on the pasture next to Ragenfrid’s people.  They figured they would have to wait, maybe until morning.  He took the extra precaution of setting the men in defensible positions, because he said there was no telling if Ragenfrid might show up with an entire army.

Tomberlain praised his sister.  “I am so glad you came along.  I never know what to say in those kinds of awkward situations.”

“I am not sure Margueritte said the right thing,” Roland admitted, with a glance at Margueritte, who sulked.  “We shall see what Ragenfrid comes up with.”

“Walk with me,” Margueritte grabbed Roland’s hand and stepped over to talk to Ragenfrid’s sons.  “Adalbert and Fredegar.”  Margueritte tried the names.  The young men looked but said nothing.  “May we sit?”  Adalbert waved at the grass, and Margueritte sat, but not without a cold look at the man who sat there on a log where he could keep his pants free from grass stains.

“Did father really hold you hostage?” Fredegar blurted out, and Margueritte nodded.

“I was young and pregnant, and he was not cruel to me, but he was not kind to me.”

“Sounds like father,” Adalbert said, gruffly.  “He decides something, and everyone is supposed to jump and do it, while he puts it completely out of his mind and moves on to the next thing.”

“Sir Roland, I’ve heard of you,” Fredegar interrupted.  “You fought for Charles the Usurper.”

“That’s Charles, son of Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of all the Franks, as was his father,” Margueritte corrected.

Roland nodded.  “Charles and I have been friends for a long time.  I hope your brother Bernard has the good sense to explain things well to your father.  I would like to wrap this up amicably and not get Charles involved.”

“So how long have you boys been coming to this side of the river?” Margueritte asked casually.

“Oh, all my life,” Fredegar insisted.  Adalbert looked more thoughtful.

“We only have Father’s word that his father came to this side of the river before him.”

“And these are all of you cows?” Margueritte asked, sweetly.

“Oh no,” Fredegar said.  “We have two other herds out in other pastures.”

“Really?” Margueritte sounded fascinated.  “How many would that be?”

“Over two hundred,” Fredegar said proudly before Adalbert hit him.  “What?”

Margueritte spoke directly to Adalbert.  “Don’t worry.  The tax will be reasonable.”

As expected, Ragenfrid did not arrive until mid-morning on the next day.  He came with roughly fifty men of his own, but it was easy to tell who the soldiers were, and who had the collection of farm hands.  Also, as expected, Ragenfrid had no bill of sale.

“My father sometimes has the bad sense to take what he wants,” Bernard all but apologized.

“I understand, but in this case, he can’t have it unless he pays for it,” Tomberlain said.  “I am not willing to sell this land, but I might be willing to rent it for ten years, for a price and on conditions.”

Ragenfrid balked on the down payment price, but Margueritte and the others agreed that he had to suffer some penalty for using the land for three generations without paying.  That was three cows for each generation, a cheap price all things considered.  He also balked on the payment price of three cows per year, but as Roland pointed out, if his herd of over two hundred could not produce three replacement calves per year, at a minimum, then they could not help him. Finally, he threw a fit about the conditions.  Any refusal or failure to pay, whether he used the land that year or not, no excuses, and they would take his three sons as hostages.

“No.  Absolutely not.  I will not sign the agreement,” he steamed.

“Larchmont,” Margueritte called.  The fairy appeared, but in hunter’s garb and full sized so as not to cause a panic.  “Have your people located the other two herds.”

“Yes Lady, we await only your word.”

“Let’s start with the herd we have here,” Roland said.  “Wulfram.  These cows are trespassing.  Please slaughter the herd.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Wulfram said and did not bat an eye.  Wulfram turned to shout orders, but Ragenfrid interrupted.

“Wait, wait.”  He stepped up to the table where the clerics had everything written out in triplicate.  Ragenfrid signed and sealed the papers, one for him, one for the count and one for the king.  Tomberlain did the same.  “Take your stolen property and be gone,” Ragenfrid said, and Margueritte smiled because it looked like he almost said, take you stolen property and get off my land.  That would have been a great choke.

Outside, Margueritte paused to speak to the boys.

“If your father screws up, I look forward to showing you the wonders of Potentius and the castle we are building,” she said, and mounted Concord, a horse the boys were admiring, and rode to the top of the hill to wait.

After that, they had to go some distance to the ford of the Mayenne, but then went straight across the land to home.  They stopped in Gontier and in Craon, where they visited with Peppin and his family, but then they went straight on.  It became the end of August, and Margueritte missed her children.  Wulfram told Roland and Tomberlain, too bad Ragenfrid conceded to the demands.  He had been looking forward to giving his men a workout against Ragenfrid’s men and really see what they could do with all the new training.  Margueritte chalked it up to the age being a bloodthirsty age and laughed before she spent the rest of her time, all the way home, asking forgiveness for wanting to see Ragenfrid suffer.

###

Margueritte barely got in the house and hugged her children before she heard the news.  As Margueritte suspected, the Muslims came out of Septimania and laid siege to Toulouse.  Duke Odo, being forewarned, escaped.  He went to Bordeaux where he raised the army, and on June ninth he returned to Toulouse, crushed the enemy, and drove them out of Aquitaine.  It proved a great victory for the duke and a crushing defeat for the Muslims who were not used to losing.  Margueritte felt happy to hear the news, but she puzzled over the fact that there were no reports of heavy cavalry among the Muslims.

“Something is wrong here,” was all she said, until she added, “This isn’t right.”

“Right or not, I think it is great news,” Roland responded.

“Are you talking about a boy?” Elsbeth asked.

“I’ve felt that way sometimes,” Jennifer said.

“What did Martin do now?” Margo asked.

“I am sure it will all work out in the end,” Mother said.

“What?” Goldenrod asked, and after Margueritte explained it and everyone else said now they understood what she was talking about, Goldenrod still said, “What?”

Margueritte stepped out to check on the construction of the castle if she could call it that.  Ronan, the general contractor had laid out pairs of stones the width of the expected wall.  The pairs ran all the way around the proposed castle, every three yards.

“I spent the winter checking the fortress where you said Charles had been held prisoner some years back.  It is well made, and solid, but I think we can improve the design in some ways.”  He explained how the proposed wall could be angled at points to allow for a crossfire of arrows and strengthened in between with strong towers.  He detailed his thoughts on how to shape the wall to resist catapult blows, and how he wanted to construct an inside walkway to allow a second layer of defense where men could use slim windows to cut down ropes and push down ladders, or just add to the arrow barrage as may be.”

“An inner hallway between the towers,” Margueritte said, and blinked to keep her eyes awake.  Ronan was long winded and technically minded.

“You could call it that,” Ronan nodded and got interrupted.  Margueritte breathed.

“Lord Ronan,” two workers came up.

“Sven and Gunter,” Ronan introduced them, and added that Gunter gave him the idea of the inner hallway and some thoughts on how to catapult-proof the walls.

“What is it?”  Ronan turned to the workers.

“We have marked out the four gates,” Gunter, the short, dark, and ugly one spoke.  Sven, the big, blond, ogre-looking one merely nodded.  “We got the two main gates, east and west on the old Roman road, and the big back gate by the barn, but I want to try once more to speak against the small postern gate by the kitchens.  All that makes is an additional way for an enemy to break in.”

Ronan looked at Margueritte, but she merely shook her head.  “We are building a defensible home, not a fortress.  I hope to make it impossible for raiders, brigands, and small forces, and maybe discourage an opposing army from making the attempt, but I do not want to see the walls splattered with blood.  For an army, we negotiate.”

“Very good, milady,” Ronan gave a slight bow before he turned to his workers.  “There you have it.”

“Fine,” Gunter said, though he did not sound too happy about it.  “But what about the little Serveen River.  I’ve surveyed the area.  It would not be too hard to divert it into the hollow where that little stream runs.  It would make a nice little lake there on the west side and a nice barrier against the Bretons.  And you could stock it with fish; good eating for the ladies.”  Gunter tried to smile, but his bulbous nose got in the way.

“Not at this time,” Margueritte said, but she wondered what sort of technology the dark ages had that could divert a river, and who, in that age, would even think of such a thing.

Sven sneezed all over Gunter’s head.  Gunter turned and hit him in the arm.

“Watch it,” he said, as he wiped off his head.  “I don’t want your germs.”

“Leave the river where it is,” Ronan said.

“Very good,” Gunter turned and tried a pleasant face before he turned back to Sven and hit him again as they walked off.

“I don’t know where the man comes up with such strange ideas,” Ronan said.

Margueritte just smiled for him and told him to keep up the good work, but she walked away with some strange thoughts.  Who, in her day, would even imagine diverting a river?  And that walkway through the stone wall—that would require some serious engineering skills.  She doubted Ronan had such skills.  She doubted Ronan could do the math with Roman numerals.

M4 Margueritte: Potentius, part 3 of 3

Come Mayday, Grace turned a full sixteen months old, and Margueritte was not pregnant, as far as she could tell, though she was thinking about it.  Giselle and Mother had the children, and Margo and Jennifer promised to help.  Margueritte knew better than to ask Elsbeth who stayed too busy with her new husband.  On a fine day, they set out, and Roland, Tomberlain, Wulfram and three clerics good with math skills, who were learned to read and write and reported to be honest men, moved south along the Breton border, protected by a troop of fifty men on mixed Charger-Arabians and with mule pulled wagons.  Margueritte rode Concord and did not have to worry about getting beat up, bouncing around in one of the wagons.  That made her happy for most of the trip.

They brought six wagons with them, one of which was all Margueritte’s stuff, and a copy of the maps, which they updated as they went, traveling inland from the border on a regular basis so they zigzagged through the countryside.  Most people were not against paying taxes, but many complained that they already paid their taxes to the king.  Margueritte always asked which king?  As often as not, the answer was King Urbon of Little Britain.  One man said, King Odo of Aquitaine, and she laughed about that for a whole week.

Part of the deal was Tomberlain, at least in name as the count and ultimate landowner, would pay the king’s taxes for the whole march from now on.  The locals would only have to pay one tax, but it would be to Tomberlain.  This put Tomberlain in a position where he had to ask a bit more than the king expected so he could pay the king’s tax and have enough left over to pay his own bills.  It all came up one evening over a campfire.

“And how am I supposed to be able to police the whole land and get what is due?” Tomberlain asked after some considerable thought.  “I will need a whole army of tax collectors to keep things straight.”

Margueritte bit the bullet.  She risked history, but it was all going to happen soon enough anyway.  “Tomberlain.  You are the king’s tax collector for your whole province.  He has many men, such as yourself, policing their own lands.  What Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton march needs is in the same way to have barons answerable to him to do the work.  Section your land into as many reasonable departments as necessary.  Let the cities like Laval raise their own taxes.  Let your barons do the work in their departments.  They should be knighted barons, and like Father’s original contract with Peppin’s father, let the barons be responsible for raising and training the men in his department for times of war. as well as for the taxes for his department.”

“Even then I would need hundreds of barons to cover all the ground.”

Margueritte shook her head, but mostly because she was going to hate herself in the morning.  “Not at all.  A dozen would do.  You see, the barons can appoint and contract with knights in much the same way you contracted with them.  The barons can further divide the land, and the knights can even further divide it by inviting free Franks and fighters, like chatelains, homeowners, perhaps former and distinguished army men, perhaps men who are themselves knights, all with your approval, of course.  Then the free Franks collect from their neighborhood, the knights from their area, the barons from all over the Barony, and it all comes to you.  You see?  All without you having to pay an army of men to collect the taxes for you, personally.”

“What would entice a man to take on such work and responsibility?” Wulfram asked the natural question.

“Land,” Margueritte answered.  “The produce of the land will be the wages of the barons, knights and so on.  It is the land that can be taxed in what it produces.  Land that can be passed down to sons or daughters, and it can be written in the contract if there are no legitimate children, the land reverts to the count, Marquise of the Breton Mark, who can then make a new appointment.  Keep in mind, you in no way stop being the actual owner of the land.  The appointed baron and so on down the line are merely renting the land from you, and the taxes are like the rent payment.  You can decide how much authority your barons and knights can actually have on the land and in determining land use, and so on, but that can be debated.  Also, you have the right to reserve certain sections for yourself, like a hunting preserve or whatever.”

“It all sounds very organized,” Wulfram said.

“It needs to be.  But Tomberlain, keeping track of Peppin, Owien, Wulfram, and a half-dozen more barons will certainly be easier than trying to do it all yourself.  And Laval and the bigger towns, with a reasonable amount of land around the towns, can make their own collections, and pay the count directly.  And the villages within the barony might pay a village tax in a lump sum to the local fief holder or the baron directly as the baron sees fit.”

“Wait a minute.”  Roland started thinking.  “If there are too many layers, it is going to be impossible to live, if each one adds a bit more to the tax price.”

“That is the one thing to watch out for.”  Margueritte felt glad Roland had been wise enough to bring it up.  “If the king wants one, the count needs two, the baron needs three, the knight needs four, the free Frank asks the man for five, which will be difficult if he works hard all year and only makes six, and impossible if he works hard and only makes four.  Tomberlain.  You must never lose sight of the people.  People need more than just to live.  They should be able to set a little aside for their old age, and maybe to buy their grandchildren a treat.”

“So, what are the knights and barons supposed to do with their money?” Wulfram asked.  “I see self-indulgence and a heavy burden on the poor.”

“Well.” Margueritte wanted to say lots of things, but she knew she had entered historical quicksand, so she got careful.  “Look at Laval.  They have a council of city fathers who make the decisions, rather than one baron or knight, but what they decide affects the city and all of the residents, equally.  They pay for a city watch, a standing group of men who police the town.  They hear cases of the law when there is a theft or a dispute.  They maintain the roads and encourage the education of the young.  They also provide the men and weapons to man the city walls when under attack, and some men who are fighting with Charles right now, I am sure.  They support the church in the community and help the poor escape poverty, and in some sense care for the sick and elderly.  A baron and his knights should do all of these things.  The money should mostly go towards roads, education, police, defense, and supporting the church, the sick and the elderly, and judging rightly in cases of the law, and many more such things.

“I hardly know where to start,” Tomberlain said.  “Sister, I have just found out I have land and you are already dividing it up for others.”

“In a way.  But I have already said too much.  Brother, you have Roland and Wulfram here, and Peppin and others at home to help you in whatever way you decide to go, but you must decide, my count.”

“Cheeky,” Roland called her, and Wulfram just nodded as Margueritte stepped off to bed.

###

Margueritte and company crossed the Mayenne near Angers.  She insisted on checking all the land that the map said was in Anjou Province before returning home.  Margueritte thought everything had worked out well so far.  Apparently, father made trips now and then, and quite a large number of people knew they were living on the March, and Bartholomew was their Lord.  Margueritte figured this was the part Mother knew, but why Father did not share this information with his children felt beyond her.  Margueritte finally figured her Father was just a sort of private soul who probably thought he did not want to burden his family, is all.

The group came to the Sarthe River about ten o’clock one morning and found a well cleared pasture where a small herd of cattle grazed lazily in the morning sun near the riverbank.  They saw a half-dozen young men sitting around a campfire, their horses tied nearby.  Margueritte thought it looked like a lovely scene, but maybe one that belonged in the old west.  All they lacked was the chuck wagon with the four essential food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey, and lard.

Margueritte, Roland, Tomberlain and Wulfram, with a dozen men rode down to talk.  “Whose cattle are these?” Roland asked.

“My father’s,” a young man said, and he seemed friendly enough.  “These are my brothers, Adalbert and Fredegar, and I am Bernard, son of Ragenfrid.”

Tomberlain smiled and shook Bernard’s hand.  Wulfram kept a straight face.  Roland looked at Margueritte and got out of the way while Margueritte exploded.  “Get your cattle off my land,” she said, in a voice that sounded calm and controlled, but very cold.

Bernard raised his brows but kept his cool.  “This is my father’s land, as it was his father’s before him.  Our land is all the land from the ford, on this side of the river for several miles upriver and inland.  Why do you claim it is your land?  Who are you?”

Margueritte made the introductions after she swallowed her anger.  “My brother is Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton March, and this land is part of the Breton March.  Sir Wulfram, Captain of the Count’s guard.  My husband, the Viscount Sir Roland, heir of the Saxon March, and I am the Lady Margueritte who was made prisoner and held hostage by your father, though I was an innocent young girl with child.”  Some anger got out in the end despite Margueritte’s best attempt.

Roland added a thought.  “Everything west of the Sarthe River is granted by King Chlothar, son of Clovis to the Count of the Breton March, so unless your father has a bill of sale, this remains land belonging to the count.”

“Son,” Wulfram said in a kind voice.  “I think one of you better go fetch your father and any documents he has to substantiate your claim.”

“Then we can talk about the back taxes you owe for three generations use of the land,” Margueritte added.  She turned and stomped off, and poor Bernard hardly knew what to say.  But he could not argue with fifty men at arms, so he turned at last, left Adalbert in charge, took two of the men with him, and rode downriver toward the ford.

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

MONDAY

Of all people!  Ragenfrid suggests trouble on the horizon.  Time is pressing.  Charles needs something to help him earn that name, Martel–the Hammer.  MONDAY: The Sword of the Five Crosses.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Potentius, part 2 of 3

Margueritte rode Concord every day in the spring, worked out with the weights Luckless made, and walked everywhere.  Roland often rode with her, and sometimes Elsbeth and Goldenrod, just like the old days.  Margo and Giselle took turns walking with her, and Margo understood that Margueritte, having had two girls just thirteen months apart, became determined to shape up and lose all the baby fat.  Margo knew it would be a good idea in her own life, but she was not as determined.

Captain Wulfram returned in the spring, and he and Peppin had worked out a system to train the men to be lancers in the true medieval sense, as Margueritte thought of it.  Knighthood remained connected, somehow, to horsemen, as opposed to foot soldiers, and Margueritte knew it would not be long before the lance became the staple of the horsemen.

Once Peppin and Wulfram understood what Margueritte was doing with the weights, they had more made and started sending their men regularly for strength and conditioning workouts.  Margueritte had some special equipment built for the conditioning, and Gerraint kindly volunteered to show the men how to use it all, while Festuscato marked out several trails for running and walking through the woods of the Vergen.  At the last, Margueritte put a hold on building the barracks for the men so she could build a gymnasium of sorts.  There, the men worked on close combat, including working with staffs, swords, and hand to hand.

“I figure it will take three to five years,” Margueritte said, of her building projects.  She had big plans but kept saying the money would run out first.  Roland hushed her and took her, her mother Brianna, and Tomberlain to the Great Hall, where he had maps laid out on the big table.  Wulfram and Peppin were already there, and Childemund, who was becoming a familiar face around the house.  Elsbeth came in, wondering what everyone was doing, and Childemund spoke to her.

“I just brought the mail.  You need to look at this.”

Roland spoke.  “I have been going over the grants on the Breton border that make up the actual Breton Mark.  They were established by Chlothar the First, the son of Clovis, a long time back, and your ancestor, I mean Margueritte, Elsbeth and Tomberlain’s ancestor got the lion’s share, being at the center of the whole Mark. All I can say is Chlothar was very generous, or he did not have a good map at the time and wasn’t aware of what all was involved.”

“Or he overcompensated the three Lords he willingly spared for the duty,” Margueritte said.  “Go on.”

“Well, as near as I can make out, the North march starts at Fougere, where the tower was built, and goes north to the sea at Mount Tombe, what we now call Mount-Saint-Michel.  Most of it contains a corner of the province of Normandy.”

“The South march surrounds the mouth of the Loire River. It includes Nantes, and though I know the new Marquise there, Count Michael realizes it, I am not sure he quite knows what to do with it.  The South march does not include much above the Loire, but it stretches slightly north, mostly east to Ancenis.”

“It isn’t quite clear in these papers who owns Ancenis, but basically, you own everything from Ancenis north all along the Breton border to Fougere.  It is a pretty wide grant as well, stretching all the way east to the Sarthe River, which was used as the boundary.  You do not own Angers, but almost, and you do own a number of Frankish towns all through the area.  And here is the big thing.  You own Laval.”

“What are we going to do with a small city?” Margueritte asked.

“Impose a small tax,” Childemund answered.

Peppin pointed to the map.  “My place is up here around Craon, and we pay ten percent of our earnings every year.  As your father said, if ten percent is good enough for the Lord, it is good enough for him.”

“Basically, you own everything between well west of the Oudon and the Sarthe River, and south along both sides of the Mayenne and a good chunk southeast of the Erdre River.”

“Too much,” Margueritte said.

“Enough for your own small kingdom,” Wulfram suggested.

Margueritte hit her brother.  “Don’t get any ideas,” she said.  “Has Charles seen this?”

“He was the one who suggested the small tax to pay for whatever it is you are doing out here,” Childemund said with a nod.

“I need to think,” Margueritte said.  “This is a lot to take in.”  She turned to her mother.  “Did you know all this?”

“Some,” she said.  “I never imagined it to this extent, but I knew there was a lot more land than your father or his father or his grandfather ever settled.”

“Some of it may have been sold since Chlothar’s day.” Roland suggested, and Tomberlain balked.

“There goes my plans.”

“A palace in Laval for your old mother?” Mother asked, sweetly.

“So, I get to spend the next three to five years traveling the family lands to determine what has been sold and what we still own, if any.”  Margueritte said.

“By the way.”  Childemund spoke.  “Charles wants to know the name of this new town you are building right here so he can mark it on the maps.”  Many of the contract workers ended up staying and building ever more houses.  Even the Breton farm workers were moving into town.  Margueritte had the Paris Road diverted from its straight Roman line, so it went through the evolving market square of the new village instead of coming straight by the manor house.  Margueritte had plans to encircle the house, barn, stables, and barracks with a stone wall.  She wanted to take the church and parish house inside the castle walls as well, but that would cut right across the straight Roman road.  Father Aden said that would be fine, though, because the way the community kept growing, they would have to build a bigger church in town, anyway, and already picked out a site and a name, Saint-Audin.  The old church was really only a chapel.

“Potentius,” Margueritte decided on a name.  “It is Latin.  Potens means powerful, but in my mind, it also serves as the root for potential.  At present, that is all it is.  Potential.”

“Where’s Vergenville?” Elsbeth stared at the map and spoke up for the first time.  She pointed at the map, but she was not sure.

“No,” Roland said.  “That’s Remmes.  Vergenville is this small dot.”

“Looks like only one house,” Elsbeth complained.

“That must be Chief Brian’s house,” Tomberlain said.

Margueritte had a thought.  “That’s what they ought to call the place, House of Brian,” which of course came out, Chateaubrian.  “But I guess they will have to wait a hundred years before that happens.”

###

“Of course, Margueritte could not get started on her tour of the family lands for more than a year.  Grace needed to be eating regular food, regularly.  It became a dull year in Margueritte’s mind.  The only news of note was Chilperic IV’s sickness and passing away.  Charles wrote that since Chilperic had been Daniel the monk and had no direct heirs, he appointed young Theuderic IV to be king.  And let that be an end to the discussion.  Charles was very clear about that.  The only break in Margueritte’s work and routine came on Samhain, the once in four years visit to Vergenville, where the Lords of the Frankish mark met with the Breton King and renewed the ties of friendship and peace, and discussed grievances, if any.

The work in Potentius continued in 720.  The dimensions for the castle were laid out and the towers planned and marked, but little actual work on the castle got done that year.  The barracks were finished, but some of the men, who were not strangers to the Breton and to the area, fetched their families and thus built more homes in the growing village.  Potentius got to be a boom town, but then again, there was work to be done in Potentius, and men actually got paid for their labor.

Brittany turned two on November thirteenth.  Martin turned four on December second, and Margueritte began to consider looking for a tutor for his reading and writing in Latin, and his arithmetic.  Grace turned one on December twenty-sixth, and Margueritte began to casually think about a travel route.  She wrote a letter on the first day of the year of our Lord, 721, to Duke Odo in Aquitaine warning him about the Muslim ambitions and to be on the lookout.  Toulouse came next in line after Narbonne and Septimania, and she did not want him to be caught unprepared.

Margueritte, Roland and Tomberlain went over the maps very carefully in 720, and Margueritte wrote kind letters to everyone she could that she knew was squatting on Tomberlain’s land, including the little city of Laval.  She said she would visit in the next several years and hoped to work out an equitable payment of taxes as well as to hear any grievances or thoughts concerning the land distribution and usage.  It was not at all a threatening letter, but she knew some would take it that way, regardless.

She did get some letters back, mostly from out toward the Sarthe River, where some claimed they had bills of sale written by her sires, and Margueritte encouraged them to produce the papers because her only substantial information was the original land grant of Chlothar, son of Clovis, and she expected there were some properties sold in the meanwhile.  Margueritte decided at that time, that whatever had not already sold east of a certain point, needed to be sold if possible, or given to the church.  The Storyteller looked things up for her, and she decided the twenty-first century department of Mayenne would more than enough for Tomberlain.

Margueritte did not feel sure what to do about the quarter of Anjou province, which was all that land west of the Sarthe and north of the Loire. and west to the Breton border.  That land included her made up town of Potentius as well as Peppin’s Craon.  She thought that might do well for Elsbeth and Owien, though it would require some serious talking to Tomberlain.  Mother would help.  As for herself, she did not worry.  Roland would be getting the lion’s share of his father’s property, which she thought was a more frugal grant, but more than enough for them and their children and grandchildren.

M4 Margueritte: Potentius, part 1 of 3

Margueritte had her baby on December twenty-sixth, the same day it snowed for the first time that winter.  She had another girl, and they named her Grace, to match Jennifer’s little girl, Mercy but she thought her life was now finished.  Grace and Brittany being so close in age would mean interminable fights and rivalries over everything.  Brittany seemed excited and happy to have a sister, but Margueritte thought, just wait for it.  Martin seemed happy about another sister, but at the moment he got all of his father’s attention, so he seemed happy about most things.

In the middle of January, in the year of our Lord, 720, late in the afternoon, on a day that felt not quite so cold, Roland took Margueritte out on the new porch where they could sit quietly and look down the Paris Road.  Margueritte sat under several blankets, and took Roland’s hand, because it felt warmer than her gloves alone, and she explained what Wulfram and his men were doing before they left for the winter break.

“All the way back in the days of Chlothar, the first Chlothar, Clovis’ son, the Franks developed some lancers.  They were short lances, with no stirrups, so they were hardly better than spears on horseback, but a strong weapon at the time because no one else had such a thing.  They ran over the Burgundians in those days.  But as early as Dagobert the first, say about seventy years later, now about ninety, almost a hundred years ago, it got too expensive for every man on the farm to have a riding horse.  Horsemen had to be gotten from the men with property because that was the only place to get the Chargers.  The thing is, the men with property were not about to risk their assets, so the foot soldiers got to do all the fighting, again.  Charles has just about only foot soldiers.  Now, that has to change.  Stirrups, like the Muslims use, make all the difference.  We need heavy cavalry because that is what our enemies are going to get.  Now all those nobles need to put up or shut up.”

“Put up or shut up?” Roland asked.  “It is a great phrase, but I don’t know what you mean.”

“I mean, if they pledge to the king, that pledge should include fighting for the king.  Anyone who won’t fight should have their land taken away and given to someone who will fight.  We need the horsemen, the lances and stirrups, and nobles, based on their land and numbers, should be required to supply however many men and horsemen.”  Margueritte had little love for greedy cowards. “And another thing,” she said.  “Any man who tries to make a deal with the invaders thinking they can work things out to keep their land should be treated like the traitors they are.  Their family should lose everything, and as I said, it should be given to someone who is loyal to the king.”

“Interesting ideas,” Roland said off handed as he stood.  Margueritte looked where he was looking.  A rider appeared on the Paris Road.  The man and his horse puffed and looked half frozen.  Roland thought he might know the man despite the wrapping that barely showed his eyes.  As the man rode up, he proved that he certainly knew Roland.

“Sir Roland.”  The man got down.  He had a packet of papers.

“Childemund?” Roland asked.

“I am.”  The man unwrapped his face a little.

Margueritte threw her head back.  “Grimly,” she called.  The gnome had to appear.

“What?  I was warming up by the forge and Luckless was telling stories.  They were about Festuscato.  Want to hear one?”

“Hush,” Margueritte shushed him.  “Take this man’s half-frozen horse and get it warmed up, fed, brushed, whatever you think best.  And thank you.”

Grimly reached out for the horse’s reigns and the horse followed him off while Childemund commented.  “Small fellow.  I guess that’s why I didn’t see him when I rode up.”

Margueritte called again.  “Lolly.”  Lolly appeared on the porch, and this time it was hard to explain away.  “Lolly, this man needs some hot tea, and maybe some hot soup to warm him up.”

Lolly stuck her thumb out and looked like she might be measuring him for a painting.  “Looks more like Burgundy, or no.  One of those bottles sent from Bordeaux by your friend, Duke Odo.”

“Yes, well, start with the soup.”

Lolly nodded and turned to walk back to the Kitchen.  “Chicken soup is the thing before that cold sets in.”

Margueritte stood and took Roland’s arm.  She was still weak from childbirth.  “Come on.  We can get you warmed, and then we can read all about it.”

Childemund hesitated.  “Charles said I was to deliver the letters and get right back.”

“You will.  No reason why right back can’t be after you spend the night,” Margueritte said.

“But—”

“It’s no good,” Roland interrupted.  “You will get nowhere arguing with my wife.”

Childemund nodded and followed.  “Lady Margueritte,” he said.  “Charles told me all about you.”

“And some of it may even be true,” Roland said.

The sun would set soon, anyway, and it felt much warmer inside.

Once inside, the family gathered around the supper table, and Owien’s first question became, “Where’s Narbonne?”

Tomberlain commented.  “We should go there and kick some Muslim butt.”

“Mister Mature,” Elsbeth said, while Margo gave Tomberlain a pat of approval on his shoulder, and Margueritte spoke.

“Narbonne is in Septimania, Visigoth country, not Frank, but it is on this side of the Pyrenees Mountains, and from there the Caliph can mount a full-scale invasion.”

“They would need time to build their forces, though,” Childemund said between slurps of the best chicken soup ever made. “That would take three or four years, you think?

“Ready-made armies in Iberia,” Roland mumbled.  He read the correspondence and did not pay full attention.

“Narbonne got taken last year, I mean in 719,” Margueritte clarified.  “They will need 720 to cow the rest of Septimania.  I think the earliest they may invade Aquitaine would be about this time, 721.”

Roland put down the letter.  “That’s what Charles says, but he says they will go after Vascony first.”

“No need,” Margueritte said.  “Giselle.”  She called the au pair from the children’s table.

“No need, as my lady says,” Giselle responded, and took a moment to step to the table.  Margueritte knew she had been listening in.  “The Vascon Lords have signed certain agreements with the Emir of Cordoba.  Many are cowed, to use the Lady’s term.  We have heard nothing because there has been no invading army and no fighting, but even the Basques, the mountain dwellers, are not willing to start the fight.”

“How do you know this?” Margo asked.

“I am Vascon.  My family fled the land when the Muslim merchants came in and the beginnings of persecutions filled the air.  That is how we came to Paris by way of Orleans.  We have a small community there, but it is growing.”

“You’re a Vascon?” Margo jumped.  “And we were getting to be such good friends, too.”

“None of that,” Mother interjected before Margueritte could speak up.  “No reason to stop being good friends.”

Margo paused.  “I suppose not,” she said, but she did not sound convinced.  Prejudice was a hard thing to get over.

“So, Vascony is already taken, if not in name.”  Margueritte brought the discussion back to topic.  “I am sure the Muslims believe they can swallow the Duchy when they have some spare time.  So, no.  I see Aquitaine in 721, but January or February at the earliest, and more likely around the spring equinox.  The followers of Mohamet are used to a Mediterranean climate and North Africa.  They are probably not prepared for our cold winters and shorter growing season.”

“Not to mention our food.”  Childemund had a piece of bread in his hand and was sponging up the last bit of soup.  “This was magnificent.”

“All credit to the cook,” Lady Brianna smiled for him and offered him a piece of off-season apple pie, which he devoured.

“So, this is something Charles maybe needs to know,” Roland said, and looked at Margueritte.

“You write him,” Margueritte said, and to Roland’s puppy dog face, she added.  “I’ll help.”

“This means I will have to stick around for a couple of days,” Childemund interjected.

“My wife,” Roland pointed at Margueritte.

Childemund nodded.  “But in this case, it is your cook I can’t argue with.”

“I made the pie,” Margueritte said, casually.

“I made a pie once,” Elsbeth said.

“And when she finished, three days later, we had to scrub everything, even the overhang, overhead,” Margueritte responded.

“Even the nearby tree,” Tomberlain added.

Elsbeth screwed up her face and gave them both her best and loudest raspberries, and Owien tried hard not to laugh.

M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 3 of 3

Margueritte sat, still patting Brittany’s back, though Brittany had gotten quiet.  She thought through what Gerraint proposed.  If Abd al-Makti was not permitted to get to her directly, either to have her killed or remove her from the picture in some way, he could still get to her through her family.  He could tie her up with worries and being needed at home, and thus keep her preoccupied forever.  She had no proof that Abd al-Makti might have been responsible for her father’s stroke.  God knew Father did not exactly eat right or properly take care of himself over the last few years especially, but it felt suspicious enough to get her thinking, or get Gerraint thinking.  She squeezed Brittany for a moment and let out a few tears.

“What is it?” Mother asked.

“The building is going well.”  Father felt he had to change the subject, even if there wasn’t any subject yet.

Margueritte nodded and wiped her eyes.  “All of it is going as well as might be expected.”

“Yes, but all the expense.  I scrimped and saved my whole life, and you are making me a pauper.”

“Father,” Margueritte looked up.  “Nobility is supposed to be land rich and cash poor.  Besides, it is worth it.  I will do almost anything to keep the Ahlmoreds of the world from coming here and taking over.”

Father nodded and reached out his good hand to take Mother’s hand, which she gladly gave him.  He looked at her and let out his crooked smile.  “I met the man, you know.”

Jennifer came in from the back where she had been out by the kitchen generally hiding from all the humans.  The servants, Marta and Maven were good friends, and Lolly was a dwarf as well, so that all seemed fine, but that was enough, especially when her hands were full of children.  LeFee kept trying to help, like a grown-up girl, but the boys, Martin, Cotton and Marta’s boy, Weldig Junior, the oldest boy at nearly three-and-a-half, were too much to handle.  Marta’s older girl, Morgan turned seven, but she seemed content to play with Margo’s three-year-old girl, Larin.

“Boys.  Sit.”  Jennifer ordered, and the boys got more or less up on the couch while Jennifer collapsed in a soft chair.  “I never imagined.”

Margueritte smiled at her own thoughts.  “It won’t be long before the boys go sneaking off to go fishing without telling anyone.  Before you know it, they will be getting into big trouble.”

“Getting into trouble is what boys do best,” Elsbeth said, as she came in holding Owien’s hand.

“It is not,” Owien protested.

“It is,” Mother confirmed.

“Soon, the boys will be coming home with frogs in their pockets and innocent faces that don’t understand what they did wrong,” Margueritte concluded.

“What we have to look forward to,” Jennifer said.

“Not my problem,” Margo said, but Margueritte shook her finger at the woman.

“Careful, or you will end up with junior there running after these three sixteen-year-olds yelling, “Wait up.  Wait up.”  Margueritte made a face and waved her hands. People laughed at the image, but Brittany interrupted.

“Ma-ma.”

Margueritte hugged her baby.  “You heard that.  You all heard that.”

Brittany continued.  “Da-da-da-da.”

“Dada is not here,” Margueritte said.  “Here, sit with your aunt Elsbeth for a minute.”  She handed Brittany to Elsbeth and stood to fetch Martin off the couch.  He had started to squirm, so she put him in her lap and brushed her fingers through his unkempt hair, like a nervous twitch while she talked.  She told them about Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, and some of the harrowing experiences she had been through.  She shared her suspicions about him turning on her family to keep her occupied and out of the way.  Then she apologized, like it was her fault in some way.

“Don’t be stupid,” her father said.

“It’s not your fault,” Mother quickly joined him.

“But maybe what Abd al-Makti does not realize is I don’t have to be in Saxony to work.  The important work is being started right here.  But I am afraid he may figure it out, and then I will be afraid for you all.”

Not me,” Margo said and moaned a little.  She held her stomach.  “I would be more afraid for him if he gets you upset.”  The others generally agreed, but Margueritte thought of something else, and she called.

“Doctor Pincher.”

The half-dwarf doctor appeared, took one look at Margo, and scolded everyone.  “How long were you planning to keep this woman in labor before getting her to bed and calling me?”

“Oh,” Jennifer stood right away and Margueritte also went to Margo.  Mother followed while Margueritte and Jennifer helped Margo get back upstairs to bed.

“Boys.  Stay right where you are and don’t move an inch.”  Elsbeth’s words were sharp, and the boys stopped whatever they were doing and thinking.  Father chuckled.

Several hours later, Jennifer and Doctor Mishka came out of the room, and Mother said, “Well?”

“Sweet Babushka, you have another grandson,” Mishka said.

“Wait up, wait up,” Jennifer said, made the face and waved her hands.  Mishka joined her in a laugh and Mother tried not to snicker as she went in to see her new grandson.

###

Roland and Tomberlain showed up around November first.  Roland said they beat the Saxons back and moved down to thrash the Alemanni.  Charles finally had to let the army disband for a time, and anyway, he promised to meet Boniface in Paris.  Apparently, Boniface made a good start on organizing the church and reducing some of the overlap, but there was more to do, and he was anxious to see what land Charles had to offer.  A few prime spots would help the church, greatly.

It turned November thirteenth when they all sat down to supper in the Great Hall for the first time.  Margueritte thought she had to get more tapestries or something on the walls to deaden the echo.  Father called it the best room he ever saw, and four new rooms upstairs, which they struggled one day to get him up there to see, he said were perfect.  Now he knew his family would be well taken care of.

Brittany turned one on the thirteenth.  Martin would turn three on December second.  Jennifer would probably have her baby between the two, somewhere in those two weeks.  Margueritte probably wouldn’t have hers until after Christmas.  Roland and Father Aden were talking like old friends who had never been apart.  Margueritte thought the only one missing was Thomas of Evandell.  She had to interrupt.

“I trust in Boniface’s mind he is concerned about bringing peace to the church, but what I want to know is why are these bishops so greedy?”

Father Aden, who arrived a whole month before Roland shook his head.  “I would like to think it is not greed, even if I don’t know what else to think.  A monastery needs enough land to support itself, and that is all.  A bishop needs to provide oversight in matters of faith, and that is all.  That is what a bishop is, an overseer.  Anything more than that is of the devil, as Jesus said.  You can’t serve God and money.”

“But it does look like money and power are in the front of the mind of some of these men, and some women,” Roland said.  “Too many noble sons and daughters being elevated as a way to give them something when they are not going to inherit.”

“Money and power,” Margueritte concluded.  “They are generally not worth the trouble, but it does not look good for the church.”

“Attention.”  Father banged his spoon against the table.  He sat at the head of the big table.  The children had their own smaller table off to the side, and Giselle and Goldenrod volunteered to help, now that Margueritte had figured out how to let Goldenrod into the house without setting her father to sneezing his head off.  “Attention.”

Mother sat beside Father so she could cut his food to bite sized pieces.  Elsbeth and Owien were beside her while Tomberlain, Margo and their new baby boy, Adalman were right beside him.  Margueritte made Roland sit next to Tomberlain.  Father Aden sat next to Owien, which put Margueritte and Jennifer on the end, with four seats still empty at the table, but being at the end made it easier if they had to get up for the children, especially Margueritte who expected Brittany to start fussing any minute.

“Attention.  I just want to say how proud I am of all of you.”  Mother stopped him for a minute because he started drooling.  She wiped his chin, and he began again.  “You are all the best a father could hope for.  It was touch and go for some of you for a while.”  Mother wanted to interrupt, but he brushed her off.  “Let me speak.  Tomberlain was a hardhead ten years ago, and Margueritte kept getting whisked away by some monster or other, and Elsbeth.”  Father patted Elsbeth’s hand.  “But you all grew out of it, and this hall, this home is the proof that everything is about perfect.  You have the best children.  You are the best children, including all of you that married or got like adopted.  I am not leaving anyone out.  And right now, Owien wants to say something.”

Owien had no idea this was coming.  He looked at Elsbeth, looked to Mother, back to Elsbeth.  He looked embarrassed.  He stood up.  “Elsbeth said yes.”  Everyone applauded and cheered.  “I mean, we were going to wait until Elsbeth’s birthday to announce our engagement, but I guess we can say something now.”  He sat down, and Elsbeth gave him a kiss in front of everyone.  All Margueritte could think was now Goldenrod did not have anyone to tattle to that Elsbeth and Owien were getting all kissy face.

Father banged his spoon.  “I say, let al-Monkey do his worst.  I got the best family a man can have, and nothing can change that or take that away.”

It was a good little speech, and Margueritte saw Giselle, of all people, crying.  She meant to ask her about it later but forgot for a long time.  Father died within the week.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte discovers there is far more land in their land grant than she ever suspected.  She will have to survey it all for Count Tomberlain, and in the process, accidentally start the Middle Ages.  Until Monday.  Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 2 of 3

He handed his helmet to the young man beside him and immediately began his instructions.  “I have been tending this animal for a week.”  He turned to Concord and laid a hand gently on the horse’s neck.  Margueritte had discovered what the Princess knew all the way in the deep past.  Horses were intuitive.  Any horse she bonded with would be bonded with whatever person of the Kairos she happened to be at the moment, male or female, it did not matter.  The horse knew.

“I have already tested him with myself and the equipment, though we have not yet charged anything, per se.  These are strong animals, not too high strung, but sensitive in several ways.  If you mistreat the animal, they will not forget and may refuse to perform.  If you treat the animal well, it will remember and work his heart out for you.”  Gerraint began to walk, and Grimly made the selections, matching horse to rider as well as he could figure, with a little magic, and he made sure each man got an animal by the lead.  Gerraint led them down the road toward Paris, down the small, gradual hill that rose-up to the Manor house and infant village, down to the long, flat field where Margueritte would not let them plant two months earlier or let the men camp when they first arrived.

A dozen scarecrows stood some distance out in the field.  They were lined up in three rows of four dummies each.  They left about three scarecrows of space between each dummy.  It was way too much space between straw soldiers to simulate real combat, but these men were nowhere near ready to simulate combat conditions.

“Stay on your feet for the moment and just watch.  Touch your horses and talk to them.  Name them if you want, so they can get used to their name.  These part Arabians will get attached to a rider if you give them a chance, and the perfect combination would be man and horse working like a single unit.”  Gerraint brought his horse to the ready.  “Now, Concord.”  He spoke to his horse and patted the horse’s neck.  Concord had already been saddled, so all Gerraint had to do was point to the stirrup.  “Left foot,” he said and mounted.  “You keep your foot in the stirrups.  You will note how it puts your legs and knees at the right place to properly grip the horse.  If it is not right, you can lengthen or shorten the stirrup.

“I will show you how, later.”  The chief saddler, invited to watch, spoke quietly to the men.

Gerraint continued.  “The saddle has a high back for support in combat, but it is wood, so if you take a sharp blow from an enemy, the saddle back should break rather than your own back.  Now, one at a time.”  He got back down as he had mounted, foot in stirrup, and he waved to the young man who had volunteered.  The man, Greffen, about eighteen and a good friend of Owien brought the helmet.  Gerraint put it on to model it before he took it off again to speak.

“Your helmet will protect your head and neck and keep your eyes on the enemy.  I don’t expect to have to fend off any arrows during this demonstration.”  He pointed down the hill to the open field where the bulk of the young men stood behind a rope Gerraint put up.  “But just in case you do not know the rule, you are not permitted to ride into trouble without your helmet.”  He set it on the table they had set up, while the young man fetched his gloves.

“These are gauntlets,” he said.  “They will protect your hands and forearms, but notice the inside is plain leather, not too thick, so you can get a good grip on your lance and shield or sword, as the case may be, not to mention holding the reigns and being able to guide your best friend.”  He handed them back before he took his shield and thought to say something different.

“The golden Fleur-de-lis,” he said, though it really looked like a stylized cross with fleur-de-lis type ends.  “At the center, we fight for king and country.  One leaf stands for all the people, the workers, the women and children we defend.  The other leaf stands for the church and the purity of the faith.  Never forget you are Christian warriors.”  He put on his helmet, his gauntlets and mounted Concord again, his shield at the ready, he reached for his lance.  “The lance is balanced where you grip it.”  He spoke up nice and loud.  “It has its own stirrup, like a cup of leather to hold it straight up when at rest.  When I charge, watch my feet as well.  You will see how I push hard on the stirrups which will do two things.  First, it will put the full weight and strength of your horse into the lance, which is far better than just my arm strength alone. Second, it will hopefully keep me from losing my seat.”  He smiled for the group even if they could hardly see it.  “Now this lance is far longer and meaner than anything I am used to, but the principle is the same.  You see how I can tuck it under my arm.  Pray I make a good demonstration.”  He kept the smile and put his lance back into its leather cup holder, as he called it, and started out at a walk.

Gerraint and Concord walked the road.  When they reached the flat ground, Gerraint pulled up his lance and stared at the boys to be sure they were staying behind the rope.  Then they trotted for a second before they started to canter, and the horse built some speed.  A hundred yards out and Gerraint bent forward, and Concord leaned in with him at a gallop.  He lowered his lance, and they quickly reached the target.  Gerraint drove his lance through the first, second and third straw men like they were straw men, then took his time to slow and turn.  He dropped his lance, pointed to the excited boys to retrieve it, drew his sword, and galloped back through the ranks of straw enemies, slashing outwards, until he came out the other side where again he took his time to slow down.  He cantered back up the shallow hill and dismounted.  Then he paid attention to Concord before he took off his helmet and spoke again to the men.

“I think I scared him when I lowered the lance right beside his eye, and we practiced that to help him get used to it, too.”  He removed his gauntlets and gave them to the young man while he spied the boys down on the field putting the straw men back together.  “I don’t know if any of you men want to try that today.  You might spend the next couple of days getting to know your horses and letting them get to know you.  These are not just some rich man’s horse handed to you before you go into battle.  You can learn to lance and shield, but you need to bond with your horse.”  He looked at Wulfram, Peppin, who was Lord Barth’s sergeant at arms, and Owien who looked like he couldn’t wait to get started.

“A very unusual use of horsemen,” Wulfram said.

“Yes.  But imagine a thousand such men cutting through enemy infantry like the proverbial hot knife through butter.”  A touch of lag time followed before Wulfram’s face it up.  Gerraint could almost see the light bulb turn on.

Peppin grinned.  “I can only imagine Saxons wetting their pants.”

“A colorful suggestion.  Owien?”

“What happens when they face other cavalry?”

Gerraint smiled.  The young man was bright.  “We have much to work on, but let us take one step at a time, please.”  He looked to Concord where Pipes led the horse away.  “Tell Concord I’ll be there after a while,” he said, and Pipes waved while Gerraint turned back to Wulfram with command in his voice.  “You are in charge.  You need to decide what your men are ready for and when.  There is time.  No need to push them too fast.  Now we have about thirty horses that are old enough to ride, and about twenty that may be old enough to start training if you can figure out how to do that. The rest of your men, and sorry Peppin, you will have to do your best with the chargers you have.”

“They won’t be as strong and fast, but we will make it work,” Peppin said.

“You want big, strong animals to carry the weight, but don’t forget the horseshoes.  And you need smart animals, too.  Horses that can bond with a rider will do things that any old horse picked out of a line will not do.  Now, I am sorry, but I need to borrow Owien for a bit.”  He carted Owien off, with only minimal protest, and traded back to Margueritte when they reached the old oak outside the front door.

“Margueritte.”  Owien jumped, but not too badly.  He had seen her do that before.

Margueritte came in her own clothes.  She had not started showing yet, but Jennifer had a little bump and Margo looked big as a house and due any day.  “What is it, July thirteenth, there about?”  Owien shrugged.  “Owien dear, please fetch Elsbeth and Jennifer if they are not in the house.  We have to have a family conference.”  Owien looked at her and realized she was serious.  He went without a word.

Margueritte stepped into the house and found Brittany crying.  “The diaper is clean,” Mother said right off.  “Even your father’s funny faces don’t help.”

“It makes her scream, er, sort of like you were.”  Father’s words were much improved once he realized he could fight this thing.  Margueritte picked up Brittany and paced.  She needed to wait for the others.

“Margo?”  she asked.

“Coming.”  Margo got to the top of the stairs, grabbed the railing, and waddled down.