M4 Margueritte: Strike Back, part 2 of 3

On the first day of the siege, when some soldiers set up two tents for Margueritte and her women, other men dug a great pit in the woods and constructed two wooden seats and a wooden covering with a curtain so the women could go in private.  Sigisurd knew what went on there, besides sitting and thinking, but no one else knew.  After her first conversation with Abd al-Makti, Margueritte knew she could not trust anyone, and even Sigisurd’s memory got deliberately blunted to be safe.

Abd al-Makti came to her tent after giving her a week to settle in for a long wait, as sieges often become.  “If the Lady is at liberty, I would ask a few questions about things of the Franks and such.  I am a stranger here, and I do not understood as I should.”

Margueritte would have corrected the man’s grammar, but presently she felt something like a fly speck against her mind, and she tried not to laugh.  When she became invested as the Kairos in ancient days, given the responsibility for the little spirits of the earth, air, fire and water, and counted among the gods as the god or goddess of history, the gods understood her mind contained too much information about the future; information that would be dangerous in the wrong hands.  Therefore, it was decided to establish unbreakable barriers around her mind.  Even the gods could not read her mind.  This Islamic sorcerer had no chance, but in trying, he gave himself away.  She would have to be careful whom she trusted and with what information as long as this man walked around the camp reading people’s minds.

“Can I help you?”  Margueritte finally spoke and watched the frustration cross Abd al-Makti’s face.

“Indeed.  I thought a lady such as yourself might offer a more pleasant conversation than these men of war.  It appears we will be here for a long time, and full of much boredom.  I hope things are settled before the diseases begin.”

“As I think.  Cholera, dysentery, and such are not to be hoped for.  I say, the things I have seen in long sieges would make you shudder.  I suppose it is a good thing you cannot read my mind.”  She could not resist the jab.

“Indeed.”

The conversation continued for a time, but Margueritte represented herself well as a paragon of Christian virtues, and otherwise just the ordinary Frankish woman that she was, well, half Frankish, half Breton.  And Abd al-Makti kept saying indeed until he had enough.  He would not get anything out of her by direct questioning.  If she was a witch, or worse, the power his Lord and Master insisted, he could not prove it.  For her part, Margueritte saw no other signs of the man’s power, though she did not doubt he was a powerful wizard.  She suspected there was more to it, something more behind this man of power, but she caught no indication of what or who that might be.  This man appeared to be a genuine Muslim missionary, well versed in the Koran and his faith.  She checked with her Storyteller who studied all that and could look things up.

“I must be off,” Abd al-Makti said at last.  “My servant Marco has much to be watched, but I may return, and we will speak again.”

“We may speak again, another time,” Margueritte said with a smile, and thought, then again, we may not, God willing.

“That was interesting,” Sigisurd said.

“Don’t be fooled,” Margueritte responded.  “Christ is the way of life.  The Prophet is the way of death to all who will not submit to their greedy ambition.  Besides, they treat women like cattle.”

“And how is that different from the way we are treated now?”

“Trust me, you have no idea.”

When they reached the toilet, Margueritte called out.  “Tulip.”  The fairy appeared and immediately sprinkled Sigisurd with dust.

After a moment, Tulip announced, “She’s clean,” and Margueritte checked to be sure Tulip was clean as well.

Margueritte called, “Maywood.  Larchmont.”  Both fairies appeared, and Maywood spoke first.

“Plectrude is still in isolation, but she has spoken with a local midwife.  The feeling I get is she has heard about your situation and is willing to send help if Ragenfrid will let the woman through the lines.”

“We shall see.  That is good news.  I know Doctor Mishka and Greta can only do so much, being me, if you know what I mean, and I am sure Ragenfrid does not have a midwife in the camp.”

“Mother Mary checked on that,” Sigisurd said, and shook her head.

“And how is my husband?” Margueritte asked Larchmont.

“Impatient.  Every time I tell him you are fine; he keeps saying he is missing it all.  He wants to go yesterday, but Charles keeps saying, not until they are ready.  I get the feeling if this siege goes on much longer, they will get ready.  Charles has twice as many men as before, and he is pushing them hard to prepare.”

“Good for him.  Please tell him I had a talk with the bishop today.  His name is Boniface, and they should meet one day.  Remind him if he will support the Church, the Church will surely support him.  Then tell him Abd-al-Makti the Sorcerer has plans and is gathering information on our strengths and weaknesses, which I have no doubt will be shared with the invading Islamic generals in Iberia.”

“I do remind him of this and will again.  Charles is worried about the south coast of Septimania, it being in Visigoth hands.  He says the Visigoths in Iberia have put up little struggle against the invading Muslims and he feels sure they will not stop at the Pyrenees.”

“And I agree,” Margueritte said.  “Thank you.”  She waved her hand, and Larchmont and Maywood went back to the place from which she called them.  Then she went behind the curtain and left Sigisurd with Tulip because she really did have to go.

“What is the news from the coasts?” Margueritte asked from behind the curtain.

“All is quiet, and lovely,” Tulip reported.  She was in love with a fairy named Waterborn and had been for going on three hundred years.  Tulip now neared seven hundred years old.  But everything was lovely when a fairy was in love, so Margueritte asked.

“Tell me about the Christians in Frisia.”  Tulip was certainly old enough and mature enough to not ask, “What about them?”

“The priests and churches are mostly gone,” Tulip said.  “But the people are mostly good neighbors, and families that have been friends for generations remain friends, and what one family believes does not make them bad neighbors.”  

Margueritte considered Abd al-Makti.  Muslims could also be good neighbors until they got the upper hand.  Islam spread, not as a religion of gentle persuasion, like Christianity for the most part.  Christians had their convert or die moments, but they were rare.  Convert or die became standard practice for Islam, from the beginning, and Margueritte decided if that made her prejudiced, then so be it.  Boniface was right about that.  She felt driven to save life, not take it.

“Thank you, Tulip,” she said, as she came out from behind the curtain.

“Can I stay this time and be friends with Sigisurd?” Tulip pleaded sweetly, and Sigisurd looked hopeful, but Margueritte shook her head.

“Not this time.  Not as long as the sorcerer-spy is around, but some day things will be better.”  Tulip vanished as Margueritte sent her back to her troop that lived and worked along what would one day be called the Dutch coast.  Sigisurd looked sad, but understood, and in short order she forgot all about the fairies.  It was safer that way.

###

Summer became autumn and the leaves began to change.  Ragenfrid saw that the local harvest got brought in and took the lion’s share for his army.  No siege is perfect, especially when the General wants to own the city, not destroy it. The trick is to let just enough food inside the city to keep the population near starvation, but not too little so the people are not forced to survive on rats.  Ragenfrid sat on the fence about that with Cologne.  He would destroy the city if he had to.  Chilperic had been declared king of the Neustrian Franks, not the Austrasian Franks, and Cologne was a very Austrasian city.  Both the king and Ragenfrid assumed if the people turned from Plectrude and her son, they might just as easily swear allegiance to Charles rather than to him.

The city had the normal supply of foodstuffs until the harvest, but after that, they were at the mercy of Ragenfrid, and instead of standing watch on the walls, the people began to protest in the streets.  Rat was a dish not to be taken lightly, no matter the sauce.

Plectrude came out of her isolation when things in the city began to turn.  She had to do something before hunger caused a revolt and the people handed the city and her life to Ragenfrid.  To be sure, surrender seemed her only option, but she was not above haggling.  When her husband Pepin died, she brought much of his treasure, the treasure of Austrasia, with her to Cologne.  She trusted in Chilperic, a man who once went under the name of Daniel, who got dragged out of a monastery and given a crown, and trust in his forgiving Christian nature, that Plectrude turned over the treasure and renounced the mayoralty of her son on condition Ragenfrid go away and leave Cologne, and her, alone.

Chilperic agreed, and after great arguments, Ragenfrid and Radbod agreed, especially after Radbod got paid off.

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