Wulfram got the men to set up camp on the pasture next to Ragenfrid’s people. They figured they would have to wait, maybe until morning. He took the extra precaution of setting the men in defensible positions, because he said there was no telling if Ragenfrid might show up with an entire army.
Tomberlain praised his sister. “I am so glad you came along. I never know what to say in those kinds of awkward situations.”
“I am not sure Margueritte said the right thing,” Roland admitted, with a glance at Margueritte, who sulked. “We shall see what Ragenfrid comes up with.”
“Walk with me,” Margueritte grabbed Roland’s hand and stepped over to talk to Ragenfrid’s sons. “Adalbert and Fredegar.” Margueritte tried the names. The young men looked but said nothing. “May we sit?” Adalbert waved at the grass, and Margueritte sat, but not without a cold look at the man who sat there on a log where he could keep his pants free from grass stains.
“Did father really hold you hostage?” Fredegar blurted out, and Margueritte nodded.
“I was young and pregnant, and he was not cruel to me, but he was not kind to me.”
“Sounds like father,” Adalbert said, gruffly. “He decides something, and everyone is supposed to jump and do it, while he puts it completely out of his mind and moves on to the next thing.”
“Sir Roland, I’ve heard of you,” Fredegar interrupted. “You fought for Charles the Usurper.”
“That’s Charles, son of Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of all the Franks, as was his father,” Margueritte corrected.
Roland nodded. “Charles and I have been friends for a long time. I hope your brother Bernard has the good sense to explain things well to your father. I would like to wrap this up amicably and not get Charles involved.”
“So how long have you boys been coming to this side of the river?” Margueritte asked casually.
“Oh, all my life,” Fredegar insisted. Adalbert looked more thoughtful.
“We only have Father’s word that his father came to this side of the river before him.”
“And these are all of you cows?” Margueritte asked, sweetly.
“Oh no,” Fredegar said. “We have two other herds out in other pastures.”
“Really?” Margueritte sounded fascinated. “How many would that be?”
“Over two hundred,” Fredegar said proudly before Adalbert hit him. “What?”
Margueritte spoke directly to Adalbert. “Don’t worry. The tax will be reasonable.”
As expected, Ragenfrid did not arrive until mid-morning on the next day. He came with roughly fifty men of his own, but it was easy to tell who the soldiers were, and who had the collection of farm hands. Also, as expected, Ragenfrid had no bill of sale.
“My father sometimes has the bad sense to take what he wants,” Bernard all but apologized.
“I understand, but in this case, he can’t have it unless he pays for it,” Tomberlain said. “I am not willing to sell this land, but I might be willing to rent it for ten years, for a price and on conditions.”
Ragenfrid balked on the down payment price, but Margueritte and the others agreed that he had to suffer some penalty for using the land for three generations without paying. That was three cows for each generation, a cheap price all things considered. He also balked on the payment price of three cows per year, but as Roland pointed out, if his herd of over two hundred could not produce three replacement calves per year, at a minimum, then they could not help him. Finally, he threw a fit about the conditions. Any refusal or failure to pay, whether he used the land that year or not, no excuses, and they would take his three sons as hostages.
“No. Absolutely not. I will not sign the agreement,” he steamed.
“Larchmont,” Margueritte called. The fairy appeared, but in hunter’s garb and full sized so as not to cause a panic. “Have your people located the other two herds.”
“Yes Lady, we await only your word.”
“Let’s start with the herd we have here,” Roland said. “Wulfram. These cows are trespassing. Please slaughter the herd.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Wulfram said and did not bat an eye. Wulfram turned to shout orders, but Ragenfrid interrupted.
“Wait, wait.” He stepped up to the table where the clerics had everything written out in triplicate. Ragenfrid signed and sealed the papers, one for him, one for the count and one for the king. Tomberlain did the same. “Take your stolen property and be gone,” Ragenfrid said, and Margueritte smiled because it looked like he almost said, take you stolen property and get off my land. That would have been a great choke.
Outside, Margueritte paused to speak to the boys.
“If your father screws up, I look forward to showing you the wonders of Potentius and the castle we are building,” she said, and mounted Concord, a horse the boys were admiring, and rode to the top of the hill to wait.
After that, they had to go some distance to the ford of the Mayenne, but then went straight across the land to home. They stopped in Gontier and in Craon, where they visited with Peppin and his family, but then they went straight on. It became the end of August, and Margueritte missed her children. Wulfram told Roland and Tomberlain, too bad Ragenfrid conceded to the demands. He had been looking forward to giving his men a workout against Ragenfrid’s men and really see what they could do with all the new training. Margueritte chalked it up to the age being a bloodthirsty age and laughed before she spent the rest of her time, all the way home, asking forgiveness for wanting to see Ragenfrid suffer.
Margueritte barely got in the house and hugged her children before she heard the news. As Margueritte suspected, the Muslims came out of Septimania and laid siege to Toulouse. Duke Odo, being forewarned, escaped. He went to Bordeaux where he raised the army, and on June ninth he returned to Toulouse, crushed the enemy, and drove them out of Aquitaine. It proved a great victory for the duke and a crushing defeat for the Muslims who were not used to losing. Margueritte felt happy to hear the news, but she puzzled over the fact that there were no reports of heavy cavalry among the Muslims.
“Something is wrong here,” was all she said, until she added, “This isn’t right.”
“Right or not, I think it is great news,” Roland responded.
“Are you talking about a boy?” Elsbeth asked.
“I’ve felt that way sometimes,” Jennifer said.
“What did Martin do now?” Margo asked.
“I am sure it will all work out in the end,” Mother said.
“What?” Goldenrod asked, and after Margueritte explained it and everyone else said now they understood what she was talking about, Goldenrod still said, “What?”
Margueritte stepped out to check on the construction of the castle if she could call it that. Ronan, the general contractor had laid out pairs of stones the width of the expected wall. The pairs ran all the way around the proposed castle, every three yards.
“I spent the winter checking the fortress where you said Charles had been held prisoner some years back. It is well made, and solid, but I think we can improve the design in some ways.” He explained how the proposed wall could be angled at points to allow for a crossfire of arrows and strengthened in between with strong towers. He detailed his thoughts on how to shape the wall to resist catapult blows, and how he wanted to construct an inside walkway to allow a second layer of defense where men could use slim windows to cut down ropes and push down ladders, or just add to the arrow barrage as may be.”
“An inner hallway between the towers,” Margueritte said, and blinked to keep her eyes awake. Ronan was long winded and technically minded.
“You could call it that,” Ronan nodded and got interrupted. Margueritte breathed.
“Lord Ronan,” two workers came up.
“Sven and Gunter,” Ronan introduced them, and added that Gunter gave him the idea of the inner hallway and some thoughts on how to catapult-proof the walls.
“What is it?” Ronan turned to the workers.
“We have marked out the four gates,” Gunter, the short, dark, and ugly one spoke. Sven, the big, blond, ogre-looking one merely nodded. “We got the two main gates, east and west on the old Roman road, and the big back gate by the barn, but I want to try once more to speak against the small postern gate by the kitchens. All that makes is an additional way for an enemy to break in.”
Ronan looked at Margueritte, but she merely shook her head. “We are building a defensible home, not a fortress. I hope to make it impossible for raiders, brigands, and small forces, and maybe discourage an opposing army from making the attempt, but I do not want to see the walls splattered with blood. For an army, we negotiate.”
“Very good, milady,” Ronan gave a slight bow before he turned to his workers. “There you have it.”
“Fine,” Gunter said, though he did not sound too happy about it. “But what about the little Serveen River. I’ve surveyed the area. It would not be too hard to divert it into the hollow where that little stream runs. It would make a nice little lake there on the west side and a nice barrier against the Bretons. And you could stock it with fish; good eating for the ladies.” Gunter tried to smile, but his bulbous nose got in the way.
“Not at this time,” Margueritte said, but she wondered what sort of technology the dark ages had that could divert a river, and who, in that age, would even think of such a thing.
Sven sneezed all over Gunter’s head. Gunter turned and hit him in the arm.
“Watch it,” he said, as he wiped off his head. “I don’t want your germs.”
“Leave the river where it is,” Ronan said.
“Very good,” Gunter turned and tried a pleasant face before he turned back to Sven and hit him again as they walked off.
“I don’t know where the man comes up with such strange ideas,” Ronan said.
Margueritte just smiled for him and told him to keep up the good work, but she walked away with some strange thoughts. Who, in her day, would even imagine diverting a river? And that walkway through the stone wall—that would require some serious engineering skills. She doubted Ronan had such skills. She doubted Ronan could do the math with Roman numerals.