Come the spring of 722, Roland, Tomberlain and Owien packed to go join Charles for battles and adventures on the frontier, while Margueritte got to sit around and watch stone masons stack one rock on top of another. It did not feel fair.
“But what about all the land around the Mayenne River? What about Laval? We promised to visit and set tax rates and talk about security questions for the people there and check on any bills of sale.” Margueritte turned to her brother. “As count of the mark, it is up to you to show yourself to the people.”
“Forget it. He isn’t even listening,” Margo said. Tomberlain hugged their mother.
“Owien is leaving me,” Elsbeth cried. She entered her last month of pregnancy, due any day, and tended to tears. Margueritte almost asked Owien why he did not want to see his child born, but that was not her culture. People did not think that way. In her world, women bore and raised the children while men went off on whatever business the men thought important.
“I’ll be back,” Owien assured her. “I’ll make you proud.”
Elsbeth stomped her foot. “I don’t want to be proud of your glorious death. I want you alive.” She grabbed Owien and cried into his shirt.
“Don’t worry, Margueritte,” Tomberlain said, as he turned to hug her good-bye. “You are the smart one, and the only one who can get all this organized. You don’t need me to muck it up.”
“But Margo is the countess,” Margueritte countered.
“No way. I would muck it up worse than Tomberlain,” Margo said, as she kissed Tomberlain good-bye with no fanfare.
“Roland?” Margueritte turned to her husband as her last hope, but he had five-year-old Martin in his arms while Brittany at three and Grace at two, remained inside with all the little ones, watched by Jennifer, and the servants, Marta and Maven, and Lolly the dwarf who could actually make faces that made the little ones giggle.
Roland set Martin down and hugged Margueritte. “I’ll miss you every day,” he said, but Margueritte looked past his shoulder. There were three hundred men down on the long field. The two hundred infantry looked sloppy, but the hundred horsemen looked to be in well trained order. Wulfram and his lieutenants, Lambert and Folmar rode up, and Margueritte turned on the man.
Wulfram almost laughed at the word defenseless coming from Margueritte’s mouth, but he thought it better to look at Roland.
“Now, don’t be that way,” Roland said kindly. “Peppin is staying, and Wulfram is leaving his number one, Walaric, to help train the young men and horses.”
“I’ll miss you too,” Margueritte said, pecked at Roland’s lips, and let go.
The women watched the men ride back down the gentle hill and start out, Margo waving and Elsbeth crying most of the time. Margueritte finally broke the frieze by heading toward the house. The others followed, Margo and Mother Brianna helping Elsbeth.
Margueritte waited for Elsbeth to deliver a fine boy that she named Bogart, though she said he had not been named after the current Breton King Bogart, who in any case called himself David. That was fine. It was not a name Margueritte would ever pick out. But once Elsbeth delivered, Margueritte packed herself and Giselle, as they did when they went to Saint Catherine’s. She gathered her clerics from the school she had built for the young men from all over her piece of Anjou province who were learning to lance and ride, took Walaric and fifty of the best trained men she had, and set out for Laval. She started throwing up regularly in the mornings by then, but only Giselle knew, and she was sworn to secrecy.
“But shouldn’t you stay home and rest for the baby’s sake?” Gisele asked. Margueritte shook her head. The exercise at that point would be a good thing, and she would be home by the time she really began to show.
“I’ll be fine,” Margueritte insisted. “I am fine, but what is the matter?” she asked, because Giselle started crying softly.
Giselle shook her head. “I miss my family, sometimes.” That was all Margueritte could get out of her when she found her now and then softly crying all summer long.
“Maybe this fall we can arrange to send you to Paris for a visit,” Margueritte said to encourage the girl, but Giselle cried all the same.
Poor Margueritte had to remember everything, and for the first time she had to start writing things down to remember. She thought she might be getting old at twenty-five. She was looking for a few good men, as she said, and the horses to go with them. She had to keep track of claimed land and fallow land and arrange for taxes and for military service. She looked for land that might go to the church, and for land they might keep as a preserve. She also looked for land to support the barons Tomberlain would be appointing to oversee different areas of the grant. Realistically, she had to find good knights and noble families already living on the land to elevate, and that was not going to be easy. If she elevated one man over his neighbors, it had better be the right man.
Margueritte kept her clerks busy writing rental agreements. She kept her surveyors busy making an accurate map of the land. She settled a number of disputes where there were overlapping claims, and got wined and dined, as she called it, in every manor house and village she came across. It became exhausting, and come September, she only had two thoughts in mind. First, it would take another whole year to get through it all. Second, she felt glad to be going home.
Back home, she watched stone being set upon stone as her castle slowly took shape. It felt worse than watching grass grow, she said. She thought of Roland with Tomberlain and Owien having exciting adventures while her life seemed so dull. And church every Sunday, she thought. All she did was make clothes for the children who grew out of things almost before they were made. Naturally, Brittany became slim and petite, like her mother, and grace was round like her grandfather, or maybe her grandmother Rosamund. She had no chance to hand down outgrown clothes. Things brightened briefly when Brittany turned four in November. Martin turned six on December second. Grace turned three at the end of December, and Margueritte could hardly hold Grace in her lap as her baby took up all the room.
“Baby is too big,” Grace pointed out by putting her hand on Margueritte’s belly. Margueritte laughed, but had to stand, then had to go upstairs and lie down. About an hour later, Giselle brought her a small cup of cider. Margueritte sipped and looked at her companion.
“You have been a wonderful help to me and the children. I know they all love you very much. But I have been wondering why you don’t seem interested in having any children of your own. With all the men, mostly young men around training to the horse and the lance, I’m surprised one has not sparked your interest.”
“But here, I thought you were happy,” Margueritte said. “The only time I ever saw you cry before this summer was right before my father died.” Margueritte’s eyes got big as everything came crashing together in her head. “Giselle. What have you done?” She leaned over and threw up.
“I’m so sorry,” Gisele said, and while Margueritte began to convulse and have a fit on her bed, Giselle ran out of the room, shouting. “Something is wrong. Help. Get Doctor Pincher. It is Margueritte. Something is wrong.”
Brianna raced up the stairs, just ahead of Elsbeth and Margo. Brianna called Doctor Pincher, and he came, but immediately he sent the women to fetch Lolly, or Luckless, or Goldenrod.
“We need to open the way to Avalon. Hurry,” he said.
Giselle ran down the stairs with the others, grabbed her cloak, and ran to the stables. Grimly was there, and she hurried him to tend to the Lady. Then she got the horse she had ridden all year and saddled the beast. She had secreted a few coins into her pocket, but not much. She thought a bit of bread would be nice, but she dared not waste time. She rode off into the falling snow and hoped it would cover her tracks.
Giselle thought to cross the Loire at Angers, but by the time she got there, she thought instead to seek shelter at Saint Martins in Tours. The abbot would give her sanctuary, and paper and ink. She would write to Margo. Margo would listen. She would confess herself, and she would warn them. All she saw and heard in Anjou was war talk. With Charles away fighting in distant Bavaria, it looked like Ragenfrid started rebuilding his army. She overheard that he was gaining pledges from many Neustrian nobles. It sounded very bad.