Margueritte spent most of January in the castle of Avalon, healing. Doctor Pincher’s quick thinking and work saved her, but he could not save her baby. She named him Galen and buried him in the sacred garden of the castle, beside the tower that held the Heart of Time. Margueritte spent the month alternating between fits of tears and fits of rage. In her angry times, everyone avoided her because she wanted to break things. Mother Brianna, the only one allowed to follow her into the Second Heavens, said Margueritte could not go home until she stopped feeling the urge to break things. They stayed the whole month. Brianna went back and forth several times between the heavenly castle and the castle they were building on earth. She updated Elsbeth, Margo and Jennifer on their progress, and invited Jennifer to join her, but Jennifer said no. Going to Avalon would hurt her heart in some way, she said.
Elsbeth volunteered to go in Jennifer’s stead, but Brianna said, “No. Absolutely not.”
By the end of January, Margueritte got over the feeling that she wanted to kill Giselle and instead felt sorry for the woman. She wondered what leverage Abd al-Makti had over her to make her do such a horrid thing. She had no doubt Abd al-Makti stood behind the death of her son. His sorceries and murderous prints were all over the act. But to what end? she wondered.
Margueritte spent almost the entire month of February inside, by the great fireplace, composing a letter to Roland. Mother Brianna, Jennifer, Margo and Elsbeth all helped her think through the events. Mother Brianna got the unquestionable word from the elf, fairy, dwarf, and dark elf lords and ladies that inhabited Avalon in the Second Heavens that Abd al-Makti was indeed behind the deed, so no one else doubted it.
“And I did like Giselle,” Margo kept saying. “Even though she was Vascon.”
“We all liked her, and trusted her,” Brianna kept responding. “She probably disappeared because she felt such guilt, she could not face us. But she was always a kind and loving woman, and I feel it is best to remember her that way.”
“If she had stayed, we might have found forgiveness in our hearts,” Jennifer suggested. “I have learned from Aden so much about grace and mercy.” It came as such an honest thought, the others agreed it might have been possible, but Margueritte did not feel so sure for herself. She spent many hours praying for forgiveness for wanting to see Ragenfrid and Giselle, and especially Abd al-Makti suffer horrible fates.
Elsbeth proved to be the most helpful in the letter writing. “Maybe the sorcerer expected you to fall apart and become useless and stop making your soldiers, and stop building your castle, and collapse and cry every day for the rest of your life. But that says he doesn’t know you. You have all the Celtic blood in you, and from all the stories I have heard, the Breton are best at getting mad and getting revenge.”
Later, Elsbeth added, “He probably wanted you to go crying to Roland, and Roland would be disturbed and distracted from his battles, and that would disturb and distract Charles, so maybe they lose the battles.”
Margueritte tore up her letter and started over. She wrote very carefully to Roland, and said she was sorry she failed him, but they had three healthy children who needed a good future, a future of peace, and the only way to insure that, was to beat the barbarians on the battlefield, and turn them to the faith of Jesus Christ, even as Father Aden, now called Bishop Aden, Apostle to the Breton, was turning the people to Christ.
Sadly, the pope will not confirm Aden as bishop, him being a married priest in the Celtic tradition, but everyone calls him bishop and treats him that way. Even the Roman priests call him bishop and praise the work he is doing, so I suppose the approval of Rome is less important to the work here. But likewise, you must concentrate on your more important duty of beating back the Bavarians, free Burgundians, Aleman, Thuringians, Saxons, Frisians, Lombards, Ostrogoths, and anyone else who might threaten the peace of Franconia. And if the Muslims ever come out of Septimania, woe to them, and woe to Abd al-Makti. But for now, our children need peace and a chance to grow up safe and secure in their lives. Take care of yourself and Charles. My love to Tomberlain and Owien.
She signed the letter at last and sent it with the post to Paris. It would eventually reach Roland, and Margueritte only hoped her letter would get there ahead of the rumors, but she doubted it would. For herself, she got to make clothes for the children, cook apple pies, watch one stone set upon another in her slowly growing castle wall, and go to church every Sunday. Her father’s sarcophagus got laid in the wall of the new Saint Aubin’s church where it helped Margueritte remember that he still watched over them all.
Margueritte felt glad when spring of 723 arrived and she could saddle Concord and ride the rest of the Breton March. A year earlier, Peppin, the march sergeant at arms, stayed home and got all the young men to train. He had nearly three hundred by summer’s end, and he put them through such grueling training on horseback, they were glad to take three afternoons per week to study Latin and geography (science), math, history, and military matters. This year, Peppin would be going with Margueritte, presumably knowing what sort of young men to look for, and Walaric would take over the training, and take whatever young men Margueritte sent to him all during the summer months. By then, word of what she was doing with the young men had spread around, and she found any number of free Franks who did not want their sons to be overlooked.
For Margueritte, she still had her clerics to write rental agreements, her surveyors still made their up-to-date maps, and her eyes were still open for who might be best to be elevated to baron, or secondary fief holder that she called vassals. It was not that the baron necessarily got more land, but he got made responsible for a larger area of the county that he could tax, and he got handed vassals of his own—mostly with little say in the matter. He got told to get along with his vassals as they were told to get along with their baron and the count or lose their land. Margueritte also probably overcompensated in retaining wilderness areas and hunting preserves between the various barons, to give some buffer space in the name of peace. She had no doubt some of that land would eventually go to the church, but she did not start out looking for church lands. Some of it would probably be settled someday. But by far, and about all she really stayed interested in, was finding horses and the young men she could train to be her heavy cavalry. She kept thinking about what she wanted to do to Abd al-Makti, and it motivated her.
Margueritte went home in early October. The weather turned early that year, and she wanted to get out of the cold. Mother Brianna and Jennifer were very worried about her, and when Margueritte assured them that she felt fine, Brianna smiled and said she hoped Margueritte did not break too many things while she was away.
“No, Mother,” Margueritte answered with a straight face, before she returned the smile. “But I thought hard about it several times.”
Margo, who seemed to take everything in stride and proved very good about going with the flow, said she had not worried at all. If anything, she felt worried about what Margueritte might do to her poor vassals.
Elsbeth said, “You went away?”
“Yes, little mother,” Margueritte called her that.
Elsbeth smiled. “I think I want to be a mother again.” Then, since she had everyone’s attention, she added, “I hope Owien is all right.” They had not heard anything from Paris since July.
The winter got rough, and men had to go out to hunt in the Vergen forest and in the county. The hunting was good, so no one went hungry, but Margueritte concluded they needed to farm more land come the spring. She laid out places where they had cut trees in the last several years. She thought it would be good if they had Hammerhead, the ogre and his family around to rip the stumps from the soil. She got the impression that they had moved out of the Pyrenees and up into Aquitaine, but it still felt too far away to be any help with the farm. They had to work the old-fashioned way, with shovels and torches to burn the wood in great bonfires. That was hard work in the snow, but then Margueritte understood what kept Roland’s brothers-in-law so busy the winter she spent on the Saxon March.
Soon enough, the children had their birthdays. Martin turned seven, Brittany turned five and Grace turned four and finally looked to be slimming a little. Margueritte cried a lot that winter. The feeling came upon her suddenly, every so often. She would weep, and if someone came around, they tried to comfort her, but nothing helped. It did not seem anything in particular triggered her tears, and nothing in particular stopped her weeping. She just wept every now and then, right up until March.