The women said nothing, but there was a noise at the door. A man spoke. “Brilliant.” Another man stepped in with another nun at his side. Margueritte looked and named the man who stayed by the door.
“Boniface!” That was all Margueritte got out, because the nun who came in wept and hugged her, and then went to hug and weep on Relii, and Margueritte guessed it was Herlindis. The man with her had to be their father, Count Adelard. He gave Margueritte the odd look of a man who did not like strangers much.
Boniface stepped over and gave Margueritte a kiss on the cheek and then introduced her. “Count Adelard, this is Margueritte, wife of Roland, son of Horegard.” The Count’s visage changed instantly.
“And these children?”
“Horegard’s grandchildren,” Margueritte said, with an excuse me. Poor Brittany started struggling. Margueritte stepped to the other table where she could have some privacy. Martin began to object, but Sigisurd picked him up and held him, and let him bury his head in her shoulder to get away from all the strangers. Too much talk and too many strange faces stood around for him to be comfortable.
Margueritte had to spend one evening at a difficult dinner party. Count Adelard, a mean and grumpy old man in his fifties, sat at the end of a long table with his Major-Domo, Gerold and Captain Ragobert to his right. Ragobert came from Count Adelard’s land and left as a young man to fight for Pepin of Herstal, the former mayor and Charles’ father. He and Gerold were friends of a sort and in their forties. The thirty-year-olds were to the Count’s left, his daughter Herlindis and Boniface. Margueritte spent some time studying the faces and conversation of the local men, and decided they were all like Ragobert, not too bright and with no sense of humor.
Margueritte sat at the other end of the table, like the children’s end, next to Boniface, but with Sigisurd to her left hand, and Martin squeezed between them. Martin had the good sense half-way through dinner to crawl down and go to the blanket where Brittany slept, so he could also lie down. Sadly, Margueritte did not feel she had that option.
At the actual end of the table, Hildegard sat and said nothing all night, and indeed, she hardly lifter her eyes from her plate. Hildegard was wife of Thierry, the Count’s only son, who had gone off to fight for Charles, and who Margueritte believed she met once. A dull knife, like his father, if she remembered. Squeezed between Hildegard and Relii, who sat opposite Margueritte, were Hildegard’s two children. Bertrand was seven and seemed a fine girl, but quiet as her mother, or as Margueritte figured, cowed to know her place, keep her mouth shut and mind her own business, or in other words, she was a girl. Her brother, Poppo, was a four-year-old brat. He sat between Bertrand and Hildegard and liked to make noise and throw food. In fact, the only time Margueritte ever saw the count smile was when Poppo got exceptionally loud and behaved especially bad. While Martin still sat at the table, eating, Margueritte put her hand over Martin’s eyes several times to keep him from watching Poppo and getting any ideas. Hildegard almost smiled to see that, and that told Margueritte a person might still be inside that shell somewhere.
Relii also stayed exceptionally quiet during supper. She said she was being good. Sigisurd stayed her natural quiet self, and also seemed to want to lie down with the children and escape the table. It was not because of the tension at the table, exactly. It felt more like a permanent pall that smothered anything approximating joy and good fellowship. Margueritte heard all about it the next day when Relii accompanied them on the journey to Roland’s family home.
They camped half-way to the Rhine, and the soldiers under Ragobert made a separate campfire for the women and children at the door of their big tent. Relii waited until they had eaten, but then Margueritte and Sigisurd could not wait to hear what Relii had to say. Curiously, she did not talk about the difficult dinner and the forced silence of the women, or the behavior of Poppo, or the attitude of the men. Mostly Relii shared about growing up, though in a way it helped explain those other things.
“My best friend is Aduan, Roland’s younger sister.” Relii said. “Herlindis and Ingrid, Roland’s older sister, were cordial friends, but I don’t think they were ever close. I turned nine when Mother got killed by Saxon raiders, and Aduan was ten. Herlindis, at seventeen, had a boyfriend, sort of. Father did not approve of the boy, so Herlindis got packed up and shipped off to a monastery in Reims, the old capitol. There, she took her vows and became a nun, so Father, not wanting her so far away, built the Abbey of Aldeneik for women, and brought Herlindis home to be the Abbess.”
“Good for her, I suppose,” Sigisurd responded. “But how did you end up a camp follower?”
“I got told from the age of thirteen that I was going to follow my sister into the abbey. It was not what I had in mind, but I did not have any choice.”
Margueritte looked up from Martin who had fallen asleep beside his baby sister. “You were to be the virgin sacrifice.”
Relii screwed up her face. “Sort of,” she said. “But in those days, Father and Horegard, Roland’s father, met all the time and discussed what to do about the Saxons. They said even with Pepin taking the best for the army, they could raise a solid company of three hundred men and maybe another three hundred that were not so solid. They played at soldier, and even talked of invading the Saxon lands. They went over maps and scouted out the blacksmiths and workers to equip the men, but nothing ever came of it. The only good thing was Aduan and I got close, being near the same age, and as we grew, we talked about boys a lot.”
“Not much else to talk about in this age,” Margueritte said, quietly.
“Yes, well, when I turned sixteen, Herlindis started to school me in the ways of Benedict, and I was not a very good student. Herlindis thought she had to take Mother’s place and treated me like a child, but I was almost ten when Mother died, and not grown up, but not a baby. Besides, I did just fine without Herlindis mothering me for three years while she was away in Reims. I was thirteen when she returned, and I thought I was all grown up by then.” Clearly, Relii still had some issues there.
“Father was the worst,” she continued. “He turned hard, if you know what I mean by that word, and not at all like I remember him when I was young. I think the loss of Mother changed him, but anyway, I put up with the schooling for a while, and snuck out often to visit my friends and boys, and got in plenty of trouble, but when I turned seventeen, I hatched a plan. Pepin’s army camped near, planning a campaign against the Saxons to push them back to the Wesser River. Aduan made it look like she and I got taken by Saxon raiders. She went to stay with her boyfriend, Cassius, and his Gallo-Roman family down the road. I went to Pepin’s army and attached myself to Mother Mary, who was younger in those days, and not called Mother. I made up some story about my family being killed by Saxons, and she took me in. I stayed with the army ever since.”
“But your father and Herlindis, didn’t they think you were dead?” Sigisurd asked.
“I suppose, for a while, but Aduan eventually confessed herself. Cassius made her confess before they got married, and good thing they got married because Aduan already got pregnant. Aduan did not know where I was, of course, but Father and Herlindis kept hope that I was still alive, and so now I am going to be a nun.”
“Good for you, I suppose,” Margueritte paraphrased Sigisurd’s words, and she and Relii both looked at Sigisurd.
“Don’t look at me,” Sigisurd said. “My family really all got killed, except by Alemans instead of Saxons, and I escaped because I was out tending the sheep at the time. I cried for a long time, and my neighbors helped me in my need, and offered to take me in, but then I also ran away. I have a distant cousin in Cologne, and I thought if I could find him, I could be safe. But Mother Mary found me when Charles first arrived outside Cologne, and she took me in for my own safety. We were all by the stream, washing clothes when we got captured. Then I met you, Margueritte, and you saved me for real, and we had children.”
“And now you want children of your own,” Margueritte guessed.
“Yes, please.” Sigisurd smiled and she looked back at Relii, who shrugged.
“If I could have children, I would have a handful by now. No telling who the fathers might be.” Relii smiled before she got serious. “The Lord saved me for himself, but it took me a long time to see that. If I become a nun now, it will be by my own choice. If Father and Herlindis agree, that is nice, but not important. Freely, the Lord has given me his heart, and freely I return it to him.”
The women sat quietly for a while. Martin and Brittany slept, so Margueritte imagined she could continue the conversation. “Haven’t you seen Aduan since you have been back?” she asked Relii.
“Yes, and all is good, but I came on this trip for you, and Sigisurd if she wants.”
“What do you mean?” Margueritte’s suspicious gland, as Festuscato called it, started to throb.
“I have come to tell you about the glory and wonder of life at the Abbey. I see wars ahead, and so much killing. But you will be safe at the Abbey. We pray all day and have wonderful fellowship, and the outside world has no hold on us.”
“Hold it,” Margueritte practically growled. “Just stop talking for a minute. Who told you to talk to me about becoming a nun?”
“Why? No one told me,” Relii said, and she sounded sincere.
“Tulip.” Margueritte called, and the fairy appeared. Sigisurd remembered her instantly. That was the way the spell worked. Relii reacted like a person being attacked by some horrible monster. She raised her hands, ready to unleash her magic, but she stopped there and remained unmoving when Margueritte stood.
“Lady?” Tulip asked. Margueritte did not stand there. Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts came through history to take her place.
“Tulip. There is a great enchantment here. It looks like a virus, transmitted from hand to hand.” Danna traced it back to Herlindis, to the count, to one of the soldiers of Ragobert, to a man in Paris, to a captain in the army of Ragenfrid, and to Marco, servant of Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, on whom she saw something like a fingerprint, and she sighed. Danna easily removed the virus from all the carriers, and she sent an unmistakable message to al-Makti. “Leave Margueritte alone.” Then Danna left, so Margueritte could return to her own time and place and think about what she knew. Relii moved again, dropped her hands in a moment of confusion, and promptly threw up. Sigisurd and Tulip helped her recover.