In a week, the army got settled into a siege around Cologne. They cut the city off from the countryside and took the food that would have gone to the city residents. Cologne had a strong garrison, and the population augmented the troops, at least at first. It seemed enough to discourage Ragenfrid from taking the city by straight assault. Besides, he wanted to talk with Plectrude and see if something might be worked out. Unfortunately, he waited all spring and all summer while the woman locked herself in her rooms and saw no one.
Margueritte got along with her new friends, for the most part. Rotunda liked to cook, she said, because she liked to eat. That explained a lot, as Margueritte thought.
Gray haired Mary stayed out front, in closest contact with the soldiers and officers of Ragenfrid’s army. She ran errands and did the laundry when she could, and the women began to call her Mother Mary to remind the enemy that they were good Christian women who deserved their consideration, if not their respect.
Sigisurd acted like Margueritte’s handmaid. She was a shy and quiet soul who said little as she tried to anticipate Margueritte’s wants and needs. Never far away, she even slept at Margueritte’s feet. It could get annoying, but most of the time it was nice, as long as Margueritte did not let it spoil her.
Then there was Relii. As far as the others could tell, her talents included eating and sleeping late. Fortunately, she was not around much. Margueritte had the good sense not to ask where she went, and she volunteered nothing, so they kept a conspiracy of silence for as long as no one came asking for her or complaining about her. Margueritte did confess to the bishop once that she found Relii in a brothel in Orleans, having learned that Relii came from that area, and she thought to save her from that environment.
“I felt it was my Christian duty,” she said, and the bishop bought it. He seemed willing to buy about anything she said, because he felt worried. He saw the pagan priest with the Frisians, and worse, the teacher Abd al-Makti from Iberia as real threats to his flock. He very much wanted Margueritte and her ladies to be Christians, and models of piety, which for the most part, they were, except maybe Relii was not so pious.
Margueritte talked often with the bishop, and she got the feeling that he ran interference for her with the powers in the camp, and she felt grateful. It got to where she could see King Chilperic II, and pass pleasantries without him shrieking and running away, so that seemed a plus. True, Ragenfrid continued to snub her when she walked about, but Margueritte figured that might be a plus as well.
King Radbod of the Frisians came to visit her on three separate occasions over the spring and summer and his pagan priest, Org came the third time. They believed she was a very powerful witch, which proved good, because they stayed respectful of her person the whole time, and the king instructed his troops to stay away as well. But to be sure, there was not much she could tell them, even on the third visit when they asked about the spirits of the earth.
“I have spoken to Neustrian men who know your father,” Org said. “They say there were spirits that lived at your farm when you were growing up, and those spirits answered to you.”
“Rumors, and hear-say,” Margueritte said. “Soldiers, like sailors, often see things that are not there, and superstitious men, like drunks, see all sorts of things. Life is such a wonderful mystery, but I know some people need to explain everything and if there isn’t an easy explanation, they make one up.”
“No. These are steady men, not superstitious or drunk as you suggest. My sources say you can call up the earth spirits and compel them to do your bidding, and I would see if this is so.”
“Org. King Ratbot,” she said, deliberately mispronouncing the man’s name, “If I have ever seen a little spirit, it is only because I love them as I love all of the great mysteries of creation. And if they should ever do anything I ask, it is because I ask out of love, and they do it out of kindness, and I am always grateful. Spirits though they be, I imagine they have their own minds and their own hearts and like people, they cannot ultimately be compelled without affecting some great evil upon them, which I would never do.”
Radbod twirled his moustache while Org thought for a minute and Margueritte smiled a kind, cooperative smile, and waited patiently, as was her womanly duty. She often had to wait patiently for all of the ideas, multi-faceted notions and ramifications to work through the morass called a man’s mind. Org spoke at last.
“So, we will not be seeing any sprits of the earth around here, and you will not be cooperating.”
“I would be glad to cooperate if I knew how. All I can say is if you come across a spirit of the earth someday, I suggest gentle persuasion.”
“Thus says a woman,” King Radbod said, and they left.
Sigisurd took a breath. “That was close.”
“Close to what?” they heard from the tent door. The bishop stood there.
“Close to accusing me of something for which I am not guilty. They seem to think I have some power over creation, but I have only prayer.”
“Ah,” the bishop came in and sat while he raised a knowing finger. “But prayer is the greatest power in the universe, and that is something those pagans fail to understand.”
“Indeed,” Margueritte said. “And I have prayed for you because I know you are deeply troubled by the pagans in the camp.”
The bishop shifted in his seat and looked down for a moment before he opened-up. “When Lord Pepin died, many people were quick to take advantage of that, not just Plectrude wanting her son to be recognized as Mayor over the Austrasian Franks, though he is just eight years old, and not just Ragenfrid holding King Chilperic by the neck until he recognized Ragenfrid as Mayor over the Neustrian Franks. King Radbod took the liberty to throw out every Christian priest in his land and burn every church. Poor Wilibrord had to flee to an abbey on the edge of Frisian land. The Frisians are reverted to paganism by royal decree, and Christians there are suffering terrible persecution.”
“Worse than the Bretons,” Margueritte nodded. “But as I told Charles, the old ways have gone, and the new ways have come. I told him if he strongly supports the Church, the Church will strongly support him and the Christian Franks, Austrasian and Neustrian both will flock to his banner.”
“It is true. I have heard many Neustrians whisper support for Charles, and I understand there are many Austrasians who feel the same way. Some real sign of support for the faith and he could win the whole Frankish nation, and no doubt Burgundy besides.”
Margueritte stood before Sigisurd could help her. “These are glad tidings for my ears,” she said. “I will pray that he does this very thing, but now you must excuse me.” She stepped to the tent door but paused there to ask him a question. “All this time you have not given me your name because you said you were still thinking about it. I wonder if you decided. You see, back home we had two Breton servants who came to the Lord. One decided right away his Christian name would be Andrew. The other could not decide between James and John. One week he was James and the next he was John. I have not yet heard his final decision, but most people call him John-James or James-John and leave it at that.”
“Yes,” he said. “I have decided, I think. I have been so impressed by your beneficence with regard to your love for life, your saving these women who were not originally known to you, as I well know, and in the way you so openly give all that you have to encourage others to save life in these days rather than take life. I have considered how you put yourself in danger to save the lives of these women and joined with them in their plight when you might have remained silent and had comforts. You confessed yourself in front of pagans and men of questionable faith, even as Boniface of Tarsus confessed himself to persecution. I have decided the only name I can take is Boniface. It must remind me to save life and not remain silent, even though it may bring me suffering.”
Something in Margueritte’s head echoed down through time and went, ding!
“I was born Winfrid, in Britain,” he went on. “And right now, I should be at Nursling, teaching, but my heart won’t let me rest. The Frisians and Franks and especially the Saxons are all my cousins, my brothers and sisters, and they deserve to be saved. They need to hear the good news of life.”
“You have my blessing, for what it is worth.” Margueritte smiled.
“You have called me Bishop, and the others have begun to do the same, though I have no such authority in real life. I am a plain priest, not long ordained, truth be told.”
“So, go to Rome. Meet the Pope. See if the Pope will confirm the name Boniface. Apply for a Bishopric and be what we might call a minister without portfolio. Go convert the Saxons and the Alemani, and maybe the Frisians, but watch out for them. Org does not seem the friendly sort. Build the church, an organized church.”
“You seem to have my whole life planned out for me.”
“Just a guess,” she said. “But now you have to excuse me. I really have to go to the bathroom. But I tell you what. When you come back from Rome, if things go as I hope and pray, I will introduce you to Charles and maybe you and he can work something out.”
“I would be pleased to meet him.”
Margueritte nodded and stepped out, Sigisurd one step behind. Margueritte saw Abd al-Makti slinking around in the shadows, and she yelled at him. “I don’t have time for you right now. I have to shit, and you don’t want to be part of that.”
Abd al-Makti looked terribly embarrassed by the conversation. It took him by surprise, and he shook his head. By the time he got hold of his thoughts, Margueritte had going into the woods, holding her belly. She was six months pregnant, after all.