When the army reached the place Charles designated, they found Ragenfrid already there with the expected twice their number. King Chilperic II was also there as the symbol of Ragenfrid’s right to command the army. And there was a surprise. There were half again as many Frisians under King Radbod, and that meant Charles would be outnumbered three to one.
Charles found his route to the best position cut off. He had to settle for his second choice, and his men sloppily settled in for the night. Margueritte got kept back with the other women and the train of wagons, but fortunately she ended up on a hill where she could look down and watch the action as it unfolded. Ragenfrid made no move in the late afternoon and appeared to consider Charles’ army an inconvenience he would deal with in the morning. Charles raged a bit before bed, that nothing was to his liking. Margueritte wisely kept her mouth shut.
Charles’ wife, Rotrude, came up in the winter. She and Margueritte talked about how frustrated the men seemed to be. Margueritte suggested she knew a way to help relieve Roland’s tension, and Rotrude covered her mouth and felt embarrassed for her, but Margueritte figured if she was not yet pregnant, she better work on getting there.
At dawn, the battle lines got drawn up. Charles made his men get into box formation. Margueritte could not call it a phalanx. And he yelled at them to stay in formation no matter what. She could practically hear him all the way up on her hillside. Margueritte paced and fretted as the sun came up, and she was not the only one, but Rotrude knew better than to watch.
Ragenfrid had more than a thousand men on horseback, but the trees and terrain made a charge difficult. They could get at Charles from the hillside, but any such move to the side would be detected, and they gave Charles enough credit, so they did not try something so obvious. Ragenfrid, uncertain about the Frisians, put them in the center, probably the last place they belonged given the uncertainty. He marched about ten thousand, including seven thousand Neustrian Franks to face the Austrasian Franks, their cousins. They charged the last hundred yards and the noise of men at arms rose in the air and echoed off the distant hills.
Margueritte imagined Charles, Roland and others likely got hoarse yelling “Hold your position. Stay in formation. Fill in. Step up. Don’t break the line.” Finally, the Neustrians on the right began to waver. It looked like a wave breaking on the shore where at once the enemy line flattened out and began to pull back. Charles and his army let out a cheer, and then disaster. Whoever commanded the right side of the line where the Neustrians first gave way, charged. Maybe he smelled a rout, but more likely the blood lust was so strong in him he could not stop himself. Charles could only watch as his men ran into the four thousand men Ragenfrid kept in reserve. His men got slaughtered when the ten thousand withdrawing troops turned like a wolf on a hapless hare.
Charles and Roland salvaged all they could. They set a rear guard so any men who came to their senses and ran to escape might actually escape, but Charles told his captain not to expect much and not to endanger his company.
Margueritte found herself a third of the way down the hill where she raced when that commander first disobeyed orders. She stopped herself when she realized there was not anything she could do to save those poor men. She started to climb back up, but suddenly there were horses and men and she became surrounded. They were Neustrians, not Frisians, thank God, but they bound her hands and when she would not stop screaming, they gagged her mouth as well.
Roland and Charles got back up the hill in time to protect the camp, though they had to abandon some of their wagons. They took what they could and left the field. No one remained, now, to defend Cologne. Plectrude, the real wife of Charles’ father and her legitimate son, his eight-year-old half-brother Theudoald who claimed at least Austrasia, would have to defend themselves in whatever way they could. Charles, the bastard son of Pepin could only weep and watch his people begin a civil war, with Franks killing Franks.
“And I have no love for the Frisians sticking their nose in. When we get our footing, and overcome our obstacles, Radbod needs a visit,” Charles said.
“Ratbot. That is what Margueritte calls the man. Apparently, rat is the word for rodent in some unknown tongue.”
Charles let out a little smile for the first time all afternoon. “With those whiskers, he does look a bit like a rodent.”
After a while, Charles spoke again. “We were not prepared, even as Margueritte warned. The men were not trained to follow orders, we moved too fast, did not pick our choice of battlefield. The whole thing was a disaster from the start, and all mistakes I do not plan to ever make again.”
“My wife sometimes knows things her father never taught her,” Roland admitted. “It can be spooky.”
“Yes, where is your wife? I thought she would be up here in front trying to keep her mouth from saying I told you so.”
That was when they discovered Margueritte and several others were missing.
Margueritte got hauled roughly out of the tent along with the servants taken by the stream. Ragenfrid stood there but did not seem inclined to pay attention. Chilperic, the king, not undisputed king, stood there as well, with Radbod, and they at least paused to view the women. With them were three strangers. The Frisian looked like a pagan priest as the Roman appeared a Catholic priest, probably a Bishop, Margueritte guessed. The third, an odd-looking man in strange silk dress, picked her out of the line despite all of Margueritte’s best efforts to dirty her appearance and blend in with the servants. He offered a strange bow along with his name.
“Abd al-Makti.” He turned to the others. “This one is no servant. Clearly she is a lady of fine breeding who deserves better than servitude.” This caused all of the men to look, and Margueritte felt trapped. She tried her only out.
“I am Margueritte, daughter of Count Bartholomew, Marquise of the Breton Mark, and I was on pilgrimage home from St. Martin’s in Tours when I got caught up in this ill-conceived rebellion. I got dragged the opposite direction I wanted to go, and against my will, because the men said it was not safe to let me continue on my way without protection.” She gave the word men just the right sour emphasis and waited.
Chilperic reacted first. “I know who you are.” He showed some fear. “You are the Breton witch.”
“I heard she consorts with demons.” Radbod twirled his mustache.
“Witchery is not condoned by the church,” the bishop said, sternly.
“Nor by the Holy Prophet,” Abd al-Makti added.
“Hold.” Ragenfrid stepped up. “Chilperic, sit down and shut up. All of this is irrelevant. I know you are wife to Roland, Charles’ right hand. You may prove of some value in that.”
“Lord Ragenfrid. I am a good and faithful Christian woman who is with child.” Margueritte put her hand on her belly as if she was already showing. “I expect to be treated well, in accordance with my station.” Margueritte got bold. “Furthermore, these women are my servants. I am sure you have cut off the heads of any of the men who protected me on my pilgrimage, but at least with the women I may know some comfort. It would be a kindness to me to let them stay with me and it would cost you nothing to see to my needs.”
Ragenfrid paused before he laughed, loud. “The Lady lies with charm. I will think on it.”
“If she is with child.” The bishop heard the part about her being a Christian woman.
“A hostage is only good in one piece,” Radbod said, and it sounded like experience talking.
“I would like to question this one to see if she is of witchery or falsely accused,” Abd al-Makti said.
“She may be a source of information,” the pagan priest suggested doing more to her than just talking.
“I doubt that.” Ragenfrid laughed again. “Very well. You may keep your servants, but understand, if one tries to escape to go to Charles, I will kill them all and the Lady will be left to her own devices.”
“Understood. But you think Charles will not quit now that he has been so soundly defeated?” Margueritte asked.
“I expect he will quit when I see his dead body,” Ragenfrid said, and they were dismissed and escorted back to their tent.
Once in the tent, the two older of the four women began to weep. They had been that afraid for their lives. Margueritte spoke first to the younger two. “In the days, weeks, and maybe months ahead, we must show the utmost in Christian piety. If you two cannot keep your hands off the soldiers or stay out of their beds, tell me now. I can probably have you assigned to the camp where you can play with the soldiers as you please. If I catch you later, I may ask Lord Ragenfrid to remove you from my presence, and I cannot say what he may do with you.”
“We will be good,” the blond said, and added, “Sigisurd”
“Relii,” the dark haired one said. “I’m thinking about it.”
“Bless you, Lady,” the gray hairs worked through their fear and tears. “We all owe you our lives. How can we ever repay you?”
“Serve well,” Margueritte said, and leaned in for a name.
“And Rotunda.” And she was round, which made Margueritte smile, but not laugh.
“Sigisurd, Relii, Mary and Rotunda,” Margueritte tried the names. “So now we know the rules. Either all five of us escape or none of us escape. Meanwhile, which one of you can cook something worth eating?”
Margueritte has to adjust to being a prisoner as she waits for Charles to strike back. Until then, Happy Reading