Once in bed, Marguerite stayed awake half the night, convinced that Roland must think her the most backward, provincial child on the earth. She had no idea how the ladies of Paris were. What did they wear? What carried their conversation? Their behavior? Were courtly manners the same as her table manners, or was she hopeless? How did they wear their hair and their faces? Poor Margueritte felt miserably filled with unanswerable questions.
She overslept in the morning. The sun topped the horizon when Elsbeth woke her. She had to dress quickly for the ride to Lady Lavinia’s and her Wednesday Latin. Charles and Roland would be going with them, of course, and that caused her to pause at her little mirror to be sure her face and lips were at least as good as she could make them. By the time she got downstairs, she only had time for a quick bowl of yesterday’s bread crumbled into milk, as was the common breakfast among the Breton. Then she went straight to the barn where Elsbeth already sat up on her horse.
Margueritte breathed when she saw her own mare saddled. Meanwhile, Sir Roland checked the straps on his horse and Charles’, as well as the one Bartholomew sent in the hope that Father Stephano could be convinced to return to Paris. She also saw the mixed Arabian they would be taking. A present, Margueritte gathered.
“Sir Roland.” She got his attention.
“Margueritte.” He looked up and brightened from his work. “And just Roland, please.” Marguerite turned to her own horse, embarrassed once more because she had forgotten. “And where is that Goldenrod of yours this morning?” Roland asked.
“Flitting hither and yon,” Margueritte said. “That is what she always says.”
“She doesn’t hang around much.” Elsbeth spoke up. “And never comes in the house, she sets Father to sneezing so bad. He has the allergies, you know.”
“A condition I am glad not to share,” Roland said.
“But where is Sir Charles?” Margueritte asked in return.
“My Lord is in the chapel with your parents, your brother, Father Aden, and that most remarkably beautiful creature. Jennifer, I believe.”
“That isn’t her real name.” Elsbeth spoke up. “It’s Little White Flower.”
“What an unusual name.” Roland said, and with a thought he pointed to Margueritte. “One of hers?” Elsbeth nodded. “I suspected,” Roland concluded.
“She came from the other side of the world,” Elsbeth said.
“As far as Cathay?” Roland asked offhandedly.
“America,” Elsbeth said. “That’s what Marguerite calls it. She says the world is round, like a ball, and all the land from here to Cathay does not even fill a quarter of the ball. She says most of the earth is covered by oceans, but far over the Atlantique there is another world unknown to us which she calls America, not Amorica, mind you.”
“I see you found your tongue today,” Margueritte said to her sister.
“Yes.” Elsbeth said. “Here it is.” She stuck it out and Roland laughed as Owien came outside and mounted his much-improved horse.
“Have you met Owien, Elsbeth’s boyfriend?” Margueritte asked, in a moment of cattiness.
“He is not,” Elsbeth shouted and spurred her horse some ways out into the triangle.
“I am not,” Owien protested as well, but his eyes followed Elsbeth all the way.
Roland really grinned then. “Sisters,” he said. “How I have missed my sisters.”
Not long after that, Charles, Bartholomew and Lady Brianna came from the chapel. The two Franks who escorted them in those days, having already arrived and taken to their mounts, waited with Elsbeth and Owien out front. Margueritte mounted and joined her sister. Tomberlain and Roland followed. Lady Brianna gave her usual advice about being careful on the road and to keep their eyes open for the dragon. Then Charles paused to shake Lord Bartholomew’s hand and he, and a servant to bring the spare horse and the mixed Arabian completed the party, and they were off.
It took two hours, a gentle ride to the home of Constantus, and they normally planned to arrive by ten; but with this crew and their slightly later start, ten–thirty was the best to be hoped for.
The two guards lead the way followed by Roland and Charles. As most of the way was only suited to two abreast, Margueritte rode beside her brother. Owien and Elsbeth straggled along in the rear, followed only by the man with the horses in train. Owien felt honored to be given the rear-guard position, as he called it. Elsbeth rode most of the way doing her best to ignore the boy.
The only time Roland dropped back, Tomberlain pushed in and Margueritte found herself riding beside Sir Charles. They passed pleasantries at first before Charles surprised her.
“Roland is quite taken with you, you know,” he said.
She could not help taking one quick look back before answering. “And I with him,” she admitted, and then covered her tracks. “What young girl would not be taken with such a brave and handsome knight?”
Charles said nothing, so Margueritte went on. She talked about her Latin, being fluent in both the Frank and Breton languages, and even a little Greek that she learned from father Aden. She spoke of spinning, weaving, sewing and pointed out the tapestry that covered the wall right by the front door of the Manor House, if he saw it. That was hers. She told him she played the harp and could hold a tune well enough. Then she paused and thought she might be bragging a little like a man, and perhaps that was unbecoming.
“You’ll forgive me,” Charles said. “I am not really conversant with the conversation of women and maidenly virtues but do go on.”
“Oh, no, Sir,” she said. “In fact, I just remembered a rather serious question I wished to ask you.” She changed the subject. “It seems to me if the Saracens found an easy raid and grew rich in Aquitaine, they may test the waters again, do you think?”
He looked at her and cocked one brow. “I think that very thing,” he said.
“And is there no help we can send to the people there to shore up their defenses?” she asked.
“My Father won’t have it,” Charles answered straight. “Duke Odo of Aquitaine will have to see to his own.”
“But why, if we have been such good friends with the people there?” Margueritte asked, not meaning to press, but to give the man a chance to talk on more familiar ground.
He looked at her again and nearly tipped his hat before he spoke. “Our king is so enamored with Christian piety he spends most of his days locked away in his apartments. He has lost touch with the real world and has left the running of the kingdom in the hands of my father, Pepin, who is himself getting old and stuck in his thinking. This is not a good thing, because some have filled in the gaps, as it were, and most of those others cannot see past their noses or their purses, and they see no reason to help anyone but themselves.”
“Ragenfrid,” Margueritte nodded.
“Among others,” Charles affirmed.
Then Roland pushed up again, and Margueritte felt forced to fall back beside her brother, and there they rode until they reached the house.
The home of Constantus, built in the Roman style with a great fountain in the central courtyard, had rooms all around, upstairs and down. This, of itself, did not appear unusual since the Romans had ruled over the land for some five hundred years. What was odd in the household was the fact that Constantus insisted that nothing be spoken there except Latin. In fact, the letter he wrote to the Pope in Rome concerning questions about certain finer theological points, so impressed the Pope in its’ perfect grammar, construct and style, the Pope felt moved to send Father Stephano all the way to Brittany. Now, Charles and Roland waited in the courtyard while Father Stephano got fetched. The girls, Tomberlain and Owien retired to their room to wait Lady Lavinia and the beginning of their lessons before the noonday meal. Among other quirks, Constantus had never quite taken to doors, and so many of the rooms off the walkway were closed only by a curtain. Margueritte could not help overhearing the conversation in the courtyard, though she did not have to listen.
“I am not sure I approve or disapprove of your sentiments.” Charles said to Roland. “She is certainly bright, and will no doubt make a fine woman and a fine wife when she is older. But you must remember she is still quite young.”
“She will grow,” Roland said.
“Yes, but she is also a farm girl, a county maiden, and not a true member of the genteel court.”
“And I am a farm boy, lest you forget. I grew up on the Saxon Mark,” Roland countered.
“Yes, but she is cute now, however she will age fast in the country. Soon enough she will look haggard and quite likely fat.”
“Not so,” Roland countered again. “I have seen her mother do not forget, and she is a very striking woman for her age.”
“Yes,” Charles said. “I will grant you that one. But still, you must be sure. This is not the kind of girl you toy with. For her it will be marriage or nothing.”
“I have had enough of toys,” Roland said, and they wandered to another quarter of the court and their conversation got lost. Margueritte hid her face in her hands. The boys stayed quiet enough, and kindly showed no great expression on their faces, but she was not about to look at Elsbeth.
In a short while, Lady Lavinia came to fetch them, to take them to an upstairs room. Father Stephano had also arrived with Constantus and the pleasantries and introductions seemed about over when Margueritte arrived at the staircase where she lingered behind.
“You were at the queen’s birthday celebration when the cake was set out, were you not?” Charles asked the priest.
“I was indeed,” the priest said. “And I did see the chamberlain sprinkle the dead flies on the cake. He told me he did it because of some offence the queen had done to him, and I will swear to this before the king.”
“Lover’s quarrel,” Roland quipped, and Charles tapped Roland’s arm to shut his mouth.
“I appreciate your help,” Charles said.
Father Stephano looked to his host. “The king kept me all but prisoner in Paris for six months before he allowed me to finish my journey, and though I have not been here but a few days, I will set the record straight and pray for a safe return to this haven.”
“And I will pray for you,” Constantus said.
Margueritte moved then, by she knew not what. She took the clean handkerchief out from the sleeve where she kept it and stepped toward the men who naturally paused in their talk for the lady. “Sir Roland,” she said. “I have enjoyed our conversation. Please take this to remember me.” She handed him the handkerchief. “Perhaps you may wish to return it to me someday, as you please.” She curtsied quickly and mouthed the word, “Gentlemen.” Then she turned and hurried up the stairs to where the others waited before Roland could respond.
In the upstairs room, she nearly fainted for thinking of what she had done. To her surprise, Elsbeth took her arm and smiled broadly for her sake. She really was a good sister.
Margueritte has sweet dreams, and is surprised to find that dreams can come true when Roland returns for a visit, Next time. Happy Reading.