Come Mayday, Grace turned a full sixteen months old, and Margueritte was not pregnant, as far as she could tell, though she was thinking about it. Giselle and Mother had the children, and Margo and Jennifer promised to help. Margueritte knew better than to ask Elsbeth who stayed too busy with her new husband. On a fine day, they set out, and Roland, Tomberlain, Wulfram and three clerics good with math skills, who were learned to read and write and reported to be honest men, moved south along the Breton border, protected by a troop of fifty men on mixed Charger-Arabians and with mule pulled wagons. Margueritte rode Concord and did not have to worry about getting beat up, bouncing around in one of the wagons. That made her happy for most of the trip.
They brought six wagons with them, one of which was all Margueritte’s stuff, and a copy of the maps, which they updated as they went, traveling inland from the border on a regular basis so they zigzagged through the countryside. Most people were not against paying taxes, but many complained that they already paid their taxes to the king. Margueritte always asked which king? As often as not, the answer was King Urbon of Little Britain. One man said, King Odo of Aquitaine, and she laughed about that for a whole week.
Part of the deal was Tomberlain, at least in name as the count and ultimate landowner, would pay the king’s taxes for the whole march from now on. The locals would only have to pay one tax, but it would be to Tomberlain. This put Tomberlain in a position where he had to ask a bit more than the king expected so he could pay the king’s tax and have enough left over to pay his own bills. It all came up one evening over a campfire.
“And how am I supposed to be able to police the whole land and get what is due?” Tomberlain asked after some considerable thought. “I will need a whole army of tax collectors to keep things straight.”
Margueritte bit the bullet. She risked history, but it was all going to happen soon enough anyway. “Tomberlain. You are the king’s tax collector for your whole province. He has many men, such as yourself, policing their own lands. What Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton march needs is in the same way to have barons answerable to him to do the work. Section your land into as many reasonable departments as necessary. Let the cities like Laval raise their own taxes. Let your barons do the work in their departments. They should be knighted barons, and like Father’s original contract with Peppin’s father, let the barons be responsible for raising and training the men in his department for times of war. as well as for the taxes for his department.”
“Even then I would need hundreds of barons to cover all the ground.”
Margueritte shook her head, but mostly because she was going to hate herself in the morning. “Not at all. A dozen would do. You see, the barons can appoint and contract with knights in much the same way you contracted with them. The barons can further divide the land, and the knights can even further divide it by inviting free Franks and fighters, like chatelains, homeowners, perhaps former and distinguished army men, perhaps men who are themselves knights, all with your approval, of course. Then the free Franks collect from their neighborhood, the knights from their area, the barons from all over the Barony, and it all comes to you. You see? All without you having to pay an army of men to collect the taxes for you, personally.”
“What would entice a man to take on such work and responsibility?” Wulfram asked the natural question.
“Land,” Margueritte answered. “The produce of the land will be the wages of the barons, knights and so on. It is the land that can be taxed in what it produces. Land that can be passed down to sons or daughters, and it can be written in the contract if there are no legitimate children, the land reverts to the count, Marquise of the Breton Mark, who can then make a new appointment. Keep in mind, you in no way stop being the actual owner of the land. The appointed baron and so on down the line are merely renting the land from you, and the taxes are like the rent payment. You can decide how much authority your barons and knights can actually have on the land and in determining land use, and so on, but that can be debated. Also, you have the right to reserve certain sections for yourself, like a hunting preserve or whatever.”
“It all sounds very organized,” Wulfram said.
“It needs to be. But Tomberlain, keeping track of Peppin, Owien, Wulfram, and a half-dozen more barons will certainly be easier than trying to do it all yourself. And Laval and the bigger towns, with a reasonable amount of land around the towns, can make their own collections, and pay the count directly. And the villages within the barony might pay a village tax in a lump sum to the local fief holder or the baron directly as the baron sees fit.”
“Wait a minute.” Roland started thinking. “If there are too many layers, it is going to be impossible to live, if each one adds a bit more to the tax price.”
“That is the one thing to watch out for.” Margueritte felt glad Roland had been wise enough to bring it up. “If the king wants one, the count needs two, the baron needs three, the knight needs four, the free Frank asks the man for five, which will be difficult if he works hard all year and only makes six, and impossible if he works hard and only makes four. Tomberlain. You must never lose sight of the people. People need more than just to live. They should be able to set a little aside for their old age, and maybe to buy their grandchildren a treat.”
“So, what are the knights and barons supposed to do with their money?” Wulfram asked. “I see self-indulgence and a heavy burden on the poor.”
“Well.” Margueritte wanted to say lots of things, but she knew she had entered historical quicksand, so she got careful. “Look at Laval. They have a council of city fathers who make the decisions, rather than one baron or knight, but what they decide affects the city and all of the residents, equally. They pay for a city watch, a standing group of men who police the town. They hear cases of the law when there is a theft or a dispute. They maintain the roads and encourage the education of the young. They also provide the men and weapons to man the city walls when under attack, and some men who are fighting with Charles right now, I am sure. They support the church in the community and help the poor escape poverty, and in some sense care for the sick and elderly. A baron and his knights should do all of these things. The money should mostly go towards roads, education, police, defense, and supporting the church, the sick and the elderly, and judging rightly in cases of the law, and many more such things.
“I hardly know where to start,” Tomberlain said. “Sister, I have just found out I have land and you are already dividing it up for others.”
“In a way. But I have already said too much. Brother, you have Roland and Wulfram here, and Peppin and others at home to help you in whatever way you decide to go, but you must decide, my count.”
“Cheeky,” Roland called her, and Wulfram just nodded as Margueritte stepped off to bed.
Margueritte and company crossed the Mayenne near Angers. She insisted on checking all the land that the map said was in Anjou Province before returning home. Margueritte thought everything had worked out well so far. Apparently, father made trips now and then, and quite a large number of people knew they were living on the March, and Bartholomew was their Lord. Margueritte figured this was the part Mother knew, but why Father did not share this information with his children felt beyond her. Margueritte finally figured her Father was just a sort of private soul who probably thought he did not want to burden his family, is all.
The group came to the Sarthe River about ten o’clock one morning and found a well cleared pasture where a small herd of cattle grazed lazily in the morning sun near the riverbank. They saw a half-dozen young men sitting around a campfire, their horses tied nearby. Margueritte thought it looked like a lovely scene, but maybe one that belonged in the old west. All they lacked was the chuck wagon with the four essential food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey, and lard.
Margueritte, Roland, Tomberlain and Wulfram, with a dozen men rode down to talk. “Whose cattle are these?” Roland asked.
Tomberlain smiled and shook Bernard’s hand. Wulfram kept a straight face. Roland looked at Margueritte and got out of the way while Margueritte exploded. “Get your cattle off my land,” she said, in a voice that sounded calm and controlled, but very cold.
Bernard raised his brows but kept his cool. “This is my father’s land, as it was his father’s before him. Our land is all the land from the ford, on this side of the river for several miles upriver and inland. Why do you claim it is your land? Who are you?”
Margueritte made the introductions after she swallowed her anger. “My brother is Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton March, and this land is part of the Breton March. Sir Wulfram, Captain of the Count’s guard. My husband, the Viscount Sir Roland, heir of the Saxon March, and I am the Lady Margueritte who was made prisoner and held hostage by your father, though I was an innocent young girl with child.” Some anger got out in the end despite Margueritte’s best attempt.
Roland added a thought. “Everything west of the Sarthe River is granted by King Chlothar, son of Clovis to the Count of the Breton March, so unless your father has a bill of sale, this remains land belonging to the count.”
“Son,” Wulfram said in a kind voice. “I think one of you better go fetch your father and any documents he has to substantiate your claim.”
“Then we can talk about the back taxes you owe for three generations use of the land,” Margueritte added. She turned and stomped off, and poor Bernard hardly knew what to say. But he could not argue with fifty men at arms, so he turned at last, left Adalbert in charge, took two of the men with him, and rode downriver toward the ford.
Of all people! Ragenfrid suggests trouble on the horizon. Time is pressing. Charles needs something to help him earn that name, Martel–the Hammer. MONDAY: The Sword of the Five Crosses. Until then, Happy Reading.