Gertrude the midwife got out of the city just before things got bad. She fretted for her family, but she expressed gratitude for the bread. What is more, she took her duty seriously, which encouraged Margueritte to relax. When Gertrude examined Margueritte, Sigisurd always stayed there and watched, Rotunda always stayed near, making food, Mother Mary came to supply the clean linens, and even Relii stopped in to encourage her. The result was a frustrated Abd al-Makti. Margueritte felt it in the air. She had no idea what nefarious plans the sorcerer had in mind, and honestly did not want to know. She just felt glad the man was unable to do anything or get her alone.
The siege lines broke up in early November when Margueritte calculated she had about six weeks. Gertrude said four, but at least she was not due that day or that week. Over the last month, she spent most of her time missing Roland. She wondered why circumstances always seemed to work in their lives to keep them apart. Now, Margueritte had to move, and she got the option of riding in the wagon or walking. She walked most of the time, she said for the exercise, but in truth the wagon hit every bump imaginable, and she got tossed around like a proverbial sack of potatoes, and bruised everywhere, so it felt safer to walk.
Boniface said good-bye when the army packed to leave. He had three monks with him, and on Chilperic’s insistence, a dozen men at arms to protect him on his journey to Rome. Margueritte wished him the best, said to call her when he got back so they could do lunch, without explaining what she meant, and waved for half the morning. Then it came time to move. Fortunately, the army moved slow. They ambled along about three or four hours in the morning, took a four-hour mid-day break to let everyone catch up, and shuffled off another three or four hours in the afternoon before making camp early in the evening, before the sun went down. At that pace, Margueritte wondered how any army could come to the rescue of any city, but she decided in this case, they were feeling victorious, like they conquered the city, and inclined to take it easy. Besides, she figured Ragenfrid needed the time off to count his ill-gotten gains.
Margueritte and the camp wagons stopped for lunch near the town of Malmedy on the top of a rise where they could look down on the majority of the army. She sat, holding her belly and feeling a little pain, when the rear guard came in. The whole camp would sit and relax for another two hours yet before the first units started out and the army strung out like a slinky. She pictured a well-timed charge at the middle when the worm spread out, and that would leave the rear guard cut off and easy pickings. For some reason, a picture of Roncevaux Pass entered her mind, and she objected. That was not her Roland, and not her Charles. That was her Charles’ grandson, she imagined. She missed her Roland.
“Lady.” Sigisurd interrupted Margueritte’s melancholy thoughts and pointed down below. “Whose men are those? Where are they coming from?”
Margueritte shrugged and squinted to see in the midday sun. “They are not Ragenfrid’s friends,” she said, and they watched as a battle broke out. It appeared all one sided at first, as the oncoming men caught Ragenfrid’s army literally napping. Men, unaware, got cut down by the dozens, but eventually, Ragenfrid and Chilperic formed up the lines and counterattacked. The men who fought without mercy when they had the advantage of total surprise, suddenly started to flee, and Ragenfrid followed. He gave chase into the woods, and then Margueritte lost sight of them all.
Gertrude came up when Margueritte moaned a little. She felt bloated and crampy. “Aha,” Gertrude said. “I told you four weeks.”
“What?” Margueritte got stupid.
“Come, get in the tent. Sigisurd, help her so she can come lie down.”
Sigisurd grinned, but Margueritte did not get it. “What?” she asked again.
Margueritte could not see the open field beyond the woods, and the slight rise in the field that lead up to a hillside meadow, still covered by tall grasses in the early winter. The retreating men, some three thousand, ran through the trees and up the rise and over, but there they stopped and turned. The Neustrian Franks chased the men with abandon, without proper leadership, and only their anger for fuel. When they got to the top of the rise, they found ten thousand Austrasian Franks waiting for them, and it became the Neustrian’s turn to be slaughtered.
Margueritte stayed in labor all afternoon. She still labored when Roland and Charles arrived. Margueritte managed a yell. “Roland. We are having a baby.” Then she needed to save her voice for a good scream. She had a boy, Martin, who went to her breast, and when Roland stood there sweating, like he was the one who just gave birth, she spoke to him. “Now we have to have a girl.”
Charles kept the men in training all winter long. He let them go home to plant in the early spring, but he spent those weeks talking about the need for a standing army, like the Romans had. “A permanent standing army,” he said.
“Yes, but you need to make a phalanx,” Margueritte said. “That box thing you formed up outside Cologne was bound to fall apart, even if your commander didn’t turn stupid.”
Roland held Martin and tried to get him to stop chewing on the little wooden five-inch sword Roland carved for him. Martin seemed determined to chew on something, going on four months old, but he found his father’s finger just as good. Charles tried to help distract the child, but every time Martin saw Charles, Martin laughed out loud. It was the cutest thing.
“I think he needs to be changed,” Roland finally admitted.
“So?” Margueritte said. “Are your arms broken?”
“I’ll take him,” Sigisurd volunteered, and Roland gladly let her.
“So, we need a phalanx,” Charles said.
“Gerraint says you need heavy cavalry, and I am allowed to show you the lance and stirrups, since the Arabs and Moors are using stirrups in Iberia.”
“We have lances,” Roland said, now wanting in on the conversation.
“We have fancy spears and better saddles, so we don’t knock ourselves off the horse so easily. We have what they have had in Great Britain for two hundred years, and ours are just as good, but it is not the same thing as lances and stirrups. If we run into some Muslims, you will see what I mean.”
“Yes, I had been looking forward to meeting that Abd al-Makti fellow. What happened to him?” Charles wondered.
Margueritte shrugged, but she knew the snake was slinking around somewhere, and no doubt up to no good. “You are still worried about Septimania?”
Charles nodded and Roland spoke. “It is even as you called him. He’s a Septimaniac.”
Charles got serious. “We are surrounded by annoyances, Saxons, Alimani, Frisians, Thuringians, Swabians, Bavarians, Lombards and Goths, but none of those are real threats to the realm, provided we can stop fighting ourselves. But the Muslims of this Caliphate thing. Who knows what kind of resources they can bring? They have already threatened Narbonne. From there, they can threaten us, all those I named, plus Aquitaine, Vascony, Greater and Lesser Britain and maybe even Rome itself.” Charles got hot. “We need a permanent standing army.”
Martin made some noise from the tent. “Excuse me,” Margueritte stood. “To quote my husband, this is where we started.” She stepped into the tent because Martin was hungry. Having a clean diaper always made him hungry.
Charles moved his army in the early spring. With word of his victory over Ragenfrid and Chilperic at Ambleve, Charles found his ranks growing. He hoped Ragenfrid’s support might be dwindling, but he doubted it. He chose Vincy as the location and settled into the advantageous position to take advantage of the natural terrain. Vincy sat just inside Neustrian territory, and a victory there would send a strong message to all the Neustrian Franks. The show-down occurred on March 21, 717, when Martin got ready to have his four-month-old birthday party.
Ragenfrid and Chilperic attacked like they had once before, but this time Charles had prepared for them. His long line box that Margueritte refused to call a phalanx stayed disciplined enough to hold formation and not break. The Neustrians attacked three times in the morning and were soundly driven back all three times.
On the third attack, near the noon hour, Charles sent word to Roland who had twelve hundred men on horse, waiting. While the main force under Ragenfrid and Chilperic engaged Charles’ infantry, Roland moved into the enemy camp, easily took prisoners, women and soldiers, and had a thousand men set behind a barricade of wagons when the foot soldiers came trudging back. The Neustrians were tired and ready to take a break, as armies did at midday in those days. They got close before a volley of arrows found them. Their ranks were unformed, they were unprepared, and they did not have the training of the Austrasians. What is more, after driving off the third assault, Charles counted to a hundred and then sent his ten thousand to counterattack. The Neustrians were strung out and half-beaten already after their third failure to break the enemy line. Fortunately for them, Charles wanted prisoners. Otherwise, not many would have survived.
Roland could not hold the enemy camp for long. The sheer numbers of enemy soldiers eventually overran the position, but Roland had the horses handy and made an easy escape. He had not been expected to stick around. What had been expected was that Ragenfrid and Chilperic would take their horsemen, abandon the field, and leave their army of footmen to face their own fate. Roland followed the horsemen, or more nearly chased them all the way back to Paris.
There were plenty of Neustrian soldiers who escaped, including many in the camp who had the good sense to get themselves untied. But there were also plenty of prisoners, and among them were quite a few who were willing to fight for Charles once they found out he intended to go back and deal with Cologne and Plectrude. After all, they spent all that time there and saw nothing for it. They certainly did not get any of the treasure.
“Besides,” one commander said. “I can see how this whole thing is going and I don’t want to be on the wrong side when it is settled.”
From an enemy, Charles might have thought twice, but these were Franks. They were his people. “Cologne first,” Charles said. “Then we end it with Ragenfrid and his allies.”
Charles has to clean up the mess and then meet Ragefrid one more time. Third time is the charm. Until Monday. Happy Reading.