M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 1 of 3

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By the time everything got settled in Paris, and Margueritte understood what Gerraint said about the women in Paris only having one brain which they took turns using, the autumn weather hinted of winter.  Roland wanted to leave Margueritte in a comfortable home over the winter, but she insisted on going with him.  If he left without her, she would follow him as soon as the baby got born.  It became their first real argument, but in the end, they had no say in the matter.

Charles would head for Frisia before the winter set in.  He planned to trim Radbod’s mustache, permanently.  He also wanted to be in a position to confront the Saxons as soon as the spring came, because they were raiding into Frankish territory and that had to be stopped.  The Saxons had to be told the in-fighting among the Franks was over, so they raided at their own risk.  And Margueritte would deliver in a couple of weeks at most.  She could not go anywhere, and she could not delay the men.

Charles and Roland rode off and Margueritte’s delivery went without complications.  Sigisurd kept Martin who would be two years old in a mere three weeks.  Margueritte called that recovery time, but the truth was she got little time to recover.  As soon as she was on her feet, one noble after another came to call.  Word had gone out that she had Charles’ ear, and every man and woman in Paris had some beef or gripe or cause to support.  The worst were the bishops and priests, and even the archbishop paid his respects.  It became tiring, not the least because she had to remain pleasant and positive, not promise anything, yet not send them away dissatisfied.

Roland really did understand.  He left a company of men under a Captain Ragobert from his home province on the Saxon March and suggested if Paris got impossible, she should go visit his family and he would find her there in the spring.  Margueritte waited three whole weeks.  Martin turned two and they had a private celebration.  The very next day she packed, and against doctor’s orders, she set out in December for the other side of Austrasia.

Once again, Margueritte had to ride in the wagon, but this time they kept to the roads.  They were mostly old Roman roads, and not that badly kept, so the black and blues were not too bad.  Ragobert was not much of a conversationalist, but he seemed a competent military officer, and this time she had plenty of private time that the soldiers from Aquitaine never allowed.  With that time, she called Tulip, Queen of the Fairies in what was Frisia, and sometimes she called Marigold, Maywood’s wife and Queen of the fairies in east Austrasia and Saxony, around the Rhine, between the Meuse and Wesser Rivers.

On the thirteenth of December, they arrived in Verdun and took rooms at a local inn on the Meuse River.  Margueritte’s baby girl, Brittany turned one month old and already owned her brother Martin’s heart.  Between the children and the fairies, Sigisurd never seemed so happy, and so sad.  She turned eighteen and wanted a good husband and children of her own.  She did not say as much, but Margueritte and Tulip were not fooled.

Baby Brittany caught a little cold in Verdun, but the sun came out the next day and the snow rapidly melted.  “But we shall have a white Christmas,” Margueritte announced, and then she had to explain.

From Verdun, they took a flatboat and traveled for days down the Meuse, always headed north toward the Frisian and Saxon border, with the soldiers riding parallel to their course on the eastern bank.  They finally came to a little village called Aldeneik where they departed and took once again to the wagon.  They did not go far.  They found an inn, though it proved more of a tavern with a couple of rooms at best.

Captain Ragobert went in first.  He had the purse and proposed a warm and comfortable night or two before they moved two or three days across country to the Rhine.  “It’s a one-day trip to old Horegard’s place,” he said, “but your wagon does not exactly move fast where the roads are bad.”

“Great,” Margueritte practiced her sarcasm.  “We will arrive looking like you and your men have been beating us up.”  Ragobert knew enough by then to know she was joking, and he nodded when he went in, but his face seemed frozen in serious thoughts.

“Not so much as a smile,” Sigisurd whispered.

“I bet he doesn’t cry, either.” Margueritte whispered in return.

There were two nuns and a novice inside the tavern, speaking with the tavern keeper.  Nuns were not an unusual sight in those days, even in a tavern, but there seemed something familiar about the young one.  When she turned, and looked at the newcomers, Margueritte knew and shouted.

“Relii!”

“Margueritte!” Relii shouted back and they hugged around Brittany who was in Margueritte’s arms.

“What are you doing here?” both asked before Relii hugged Sigisurd and bent down to see Martin.  Sigisurd held Martin’s hand and Martin held his mother’s dress.  He turned his shy face into his mother’s dress when Relii spoke to him and said how big he was getting.

“Martin, you remember Relii don’t you?” Margueritte said, but Relii shook her head as she stood.

“He was very young.  But what are you doing here?” Relii guided them to a table to sit, and Margueritte spoke plainly.

“I am taking the children to visit Roland’s family.  Now that Charles has taken charge over all the Franks, he has turned first on Radbod and the Frisians before he goes after the raiding Saxons.  The plan is for them to be here by spring.  We shall see, knowing how rarely plans go according to plan.  But you?  I thought you were dead.”

“I knew you weren’t.  After I recovered, a man told me at sunrise he saw soldiers outside the inn and two women, and a baby being forcibly loaded into a cart and taken out of town.  I figured out who it was when they did not find your bodies.”  Relii reached out and covered Margueritte’s hand as the two older nuns came over and sat quietly to listen.  “They all died, Mother Mary and Rotunda, and that nice older couple.”

“Did you have any of the soup?” Margueritte asked.  “The poison was in the soup.”

Relii’s eyes got big.  “I knew it wasn’t witchcraft.  I told the people you would never do such a thing.”

“Me?” Margueritte felt shocked at the suggestion.  “I keep telling people, I am not a witch.”

“You can’t always tell a witch from her looks,” Relii said, and looked down at the table and worried her hands.  Margueritte understood that Relii had some power that was not normal.  Now it made sense why Abd al-Makti the sorcerer never came around at the same time Relii stayed in the camp.  She wanted to ask Relii her impression of Abd al-Makti, but with the nuns there, she thought it better to avoid that subject.

“Anyway,” Relii continued.  “Poison makes sense.  I know I was deathly ill for three days, and everyone died, but somehow, I recovered.  It could only have been a miracle, by the grace of God.  I was in the village, in a home when Charles and Roland came.  The villagers told them what they knew, and I know they looked in on me.  I don’t know if Roland recognized me.  You know, I always avoided him seeing me.  But anyway, they burned the inn to the ground and left.  I recovered, truly a miracle, and I felt then and there it was time to go home and follow my destiny.”

“But you?  A nun?  That is about the last thing I would expect.”

Relii turned a bit red and looked at her fellow nuns.  “It is my destiny.  Father built the abbey for his daughters who he said were never going to be defiled by wicked men.  My sister, Herlindis is the Abbess.  My real name is Relindis, but you can call me Relii.  It is what my mother called me when I was really young.  Of course, Herlindis was always Herlindis, full name.  Did I mention she is the Abbess?”

“Yes, you did,” Sigisurd interjected.

“Your father?” Margueritte asked.

“Count Adelard.  All of this land is his.  We are in the second line of the Saxon Mark, as he calls it.  If the Saxons ever break through the Mark, we need to be prepared.”

Margueritte had a moment of insight.  “It must have been hard for you in the camp, trying not to be recognized.”

Relii nodded.  “There were certain men I had to avoid.”

“I was not aware you avoided any men,” Sigisurd said, and Margueritte pinched her to get her to shut up.

“I was grateful for the way you and Sigisurd took care of me when I was with child and helpless, and the times you helped Rotunda with the cooking and Mother Mary with the washing and the errands,” Margueritte said.

“I didn’t do much,” Relii admitted.  “But I saw your example and I learned.”

“Please,” Margueritte looked down at Brittany and uncovered enough so she could nurse.  “I am no saint.”

“But you are, more than you know,” Relii said, and Sigisurd nodded vigorously.  “And you can do things, such blessings as most people cannot imagine.”

Brittany settled in and Margueritte looked up and got serious.  She looked also at the two nuns to be sure they were paying attention.  “I only do things that are perfectly natural for me.  If I walk or talk, or nurse my baby, no one calls these things miracles because they are perfectly natural things.  If I can do something most people cannot, it does not make it a miracle if it is natural for me.  As much as I love him, Roland would not nurse our baby very well.”  She smiled and the others smiled with her.

“But this is the important thing,” Margueritte continued.  “It has nothing to do with what you are able to do.  It has everything to do with what you are authorized to do.  If I can do some things most people cannot, it is only because I have been gifted, you might say.  But of those who have received much, much will be expected.  Like your sister, Herlindis, who has been given the authority to be Abbess.  She must make good and wise decisions and only do what God authorizes her to do.  She must not overreach her authority, even if she is able, because that would be the essence of pride and sin.  So, I try only to do what I am authorized to do, and it is not always easy to determine.  Just because I am able to do something, that does not mean I am authorized in a given circumstance to do it.  Sometimes I fail.  Sometimes I just plain mess up.  But I thank the Lord every day that I am a forgiven sinner, and I get up every morning and pray that today I may be a good and faithful servant and a good steward with all that God has given me.”

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