They rode all day, came to a mountain, and rode up the side to a large meadow that Roland had scouted out ages ago, never dreaming it might prove useful. The meadow could only be approached from the front, and at the back, after a hundred yards of forest, another bit of grass grew before cliffs and some caves.
Roland had his camp set up around the big cave. He had tables and maps and plenty of food and equipment for a small party. He had also gathered about a hundred men on short notice, and they wanted only their general, Charles, to set things in motion. Lord Birch reported before Roland calmed down enough to talk civilly.
“No sign of pursuit. Larchmont has men out. Grimly and his gnomes are watching the ways to the meadow. At least we should not be surprised.”
“Thank you.” Margueritte got that out before Roland grabbed her by the elbow and took her off to a corner for some privacy.
“I am so angry with you right now I hardly know what to say. We had plans to get Lord Charles out. That was not your job. You could have gotten yourself killed. How dare you take that kind of risk.”
“But maybe it was my job,” Margueritte said in her most humble manner. “I’ve told you, Charles has serious work in the future. I don’t know exactly what, but I feel it for sure. They had him chained in a dungeon. Look at his hands and feet. I could not risk losing him in this struggle.”
“No one planned to lose him, but we had plans to get him out.”
“What? A hundred men against a fortress?” That comment did not come out quite so humble.
“No, but sort of.”
Margueritte looked up at Roland, looked in his eyes, ready to quiver her lip, and it was not all acting.
“I was so scared. Hold me,” she said, and he did, and said no more about it.
The god of light and dark brooded over a map of the known world. He spoke to himself as much as to his guest, imagining his guest would only understand half of what he said, at best. “Timing is everything. The Sassanids in the east were in serious decline and collapse when the Caliphate poured out of Arabia. It was easy to overwhelm Persia, I understand. Rome in the west was equally in the throes of decline and collapse, but the Kairos, in Constantinople, produced that fire, and Constantinople stood. Now, the eastern Romans have a chance to beat back the Caliph and that will make my work harder. Here, in western Rome, all the petty tribes and would-be kings have beaten each other raw for some control and for land. North Africa fell easily enough, and Iberia is coming apart as anticipated. All that is needed is enough courage to go over the mountains and the infernal religion can rule Gaul and easily move down into Rome itself.”
“Lord. Why do you speak so against the faith of the Prophet?” Abd al-Makti shook his head.
“Because most of the people of Islam do not know what they believe. Most are new converts. It is not two hundred years, and even the people of Arabia have not yet plumbed the depths of what that man taught. All that most men understand is Jihad, a supreme excuse, a holy excuse to conquer and control the world. Most men see Islam as a means to power and wealth, and the power to dictate and control every aspect of other men’s lives. Men treat women like cattle to keep them oppressed, while they enslave or kill the so-called unbelievers, but to be honest, it is not Allah that men strive for, it is land and gold that men want, and power. See how the so-called believers compete with each other and act as rivals for the crumbs of power they can wrest from one another.”
Abd al-Makti did not know what to say. As a teacher of the faith, he knew this to be true of many.
“You have shown some small talent in sorcery, Abd al-Makti. You should be put to death.”
Abd al-Makti stood in silence. He knew the passages. He had studied them ever since he discovered what he could do, but he also knew the penalty for sorcery, and he could not deny that he had a talent.
“Teacher Sahm al-Muhamed Ibn Caddifi, do not fret. I do not condemn the power you hold. Indeed, I will strengthen the power within you. I will give you such power as you have never dreamed of, and in the fullness of time, I will reveal myself to you. Then worship of the one true god will sweep back across all the lands of uncertainty, for what the Caliph builds for the pretender is in truth being built for me. Then men will at last understand what it was all about, for the one true god speaks to men of power and riches beyond dreams.” He laid hands on Abd al-Makti and the Teacher reeled with the power. He saw the stars twirling in the sky for him and the sun and the moon proceeding at his command. He saw the smallness of man against the vastness of the universe, and then the universe receded, and he felt his own limitations as never before, but in those limited ways he found some ability to control the outcome and bend the limits to his will, and it felt glorious.
“Abd al-Makti, I have a task for you.”
The man held his breath.
“The Kairos has come into the land of the Franks and remains as unpredictable as ever.”
“Shall I deal with him? Shall I kill him?” Abd al-Makti presently felt that it would be an easy thing to do.
“No!” The god of light and dark paused to consider. “The Kairos in this lifetime is a woman, and must be handled delicately. It may come to killing, but that would best be done by others of their own free will where no taint of arranged circumstances or compulsion may fall on us. For now, it would be best if she were put out of action, tied up as it were, where she cannot affect the events that swirl around her. This young lady will not be intimidated or controlled like your Muslim women. She must be moved gently, subtly manipulated into a place of ineffectiveness, and then we can proceed.”
The god of light and dark waved his hand and Abd al-Makti found himself in his own rooms. He felt startled by the sudden transition in space, but he hardly had time to think about it. All he could think of was what came into his mind, the picture of a young woman, unveiled, a woman of the Frankish barbarians. She had long dark hair, a pretty round face, and might have modeled for an Arabian Princess but for her strange green eyes.
“Marco!” Abd al-Makti called his servant, and the Romanized Visigoth came straight to the door. “Fetch the Basque, Catalan, and pack three bags. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
“My master, are we headed to sea, to Africa or further?”
“North,” Abd al-Makti said. “Over the mountains to the land of the Christians. I have much work to do to make straight the paths for our god.”
“With winter approaching?” Marco wondered out loud, but when he saw the look on his Master’s face, he thought to say, “Very good,” and he left.
Abd al-Makti walked to his desk where his precious copy of the Holy Koran rested open. He read the verse from Surah V. “And when I inspired the disciples (saying): Believe in Me and My messenger, they said: We believe. Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto thee).” He closed the book. Surely the people will turn from a nebulous sky god to a god that is present, in our midst, and full of power and glory. If the seeds of doubt are so easily sewn in the teacher’s heart, how much more easily will the students be swayed. Indeed, what the Caliph builds for the one god will be owned by the other, and all the world will bow to the one true god.
Abd al-Makti confessed himself. “I am no Muslim. I am a sorcerer and a secret servant of the one true god. Islam is just my cover by which I will penetrate the land of the Franks.”
Margueritte rode beside Roland and protested the whole way. “The troops are not ready. They have not been properly trained.”
“But we have been collecting men all winter, and as soon as the spring fields got planted, we doubled our number. We have five thousand men willing to fight for Charles, and it would be a shame to hold them back.” Roland tried to sound reasonable.
“Barely three hundred light horses and the rest on foot. And we are jumping at an opportunity which may not pan out.”
“Charles has experience fighting against the Burgundians, the Saxons and the Alemani, all successful campaigns. I trust he knows what he is doing.”
“He is leaping off the cliff.” Margueritte did not feel like sounding reasonable. “They have more than twice our numbers and no doubt twice our horses. Even if Charles picks the advantageous position on the field, he will have to fight a defensive battle. Offense would be suicide, and his only hope is to somehow maneuver between Ragenfrid and Cologne, so Ragenfrid has to fight through him to get to the city.”
“That is the plan.”
“But the troops are not ready to fight a defensive struggle. They haven’t been properly trained.”
“I think this is where we started.”
Margueritte shut up. She did not feel like talking anyway, until she said, “I threw up this morning.”
Roland pulled up. “What is it? Are you all right? Can I get you anything? Do you need to lie down?”
Margueritte responded when he took a breath. “I may be pregnant.”
Roland stared and then whooped! He pulled his horse out of line to give it a good run. He yelled the news to Charles who yelled at him to get back in line. He rode up and down the line shouting the news, and the men who knew him shouted back, congratulations. When he came back to his place in line, all Margueritte could do was grin. She did not dare point out that she said maybe.