The mail finally came in March. She found two letters from Roland. The first, a short note, such as he wrote, which told what they were doing on the frontier and professing his love for her and for her children. The second seemed a response to her letter from a year earlier. He assured her that the loss of their son was not her fault, and she should be assured that he was more determined than ever to give her and her children a safe and secure home, and he would in no way be distracted in his duty. That letter had a note at the bottom from Tomberlain and Owien which essentially said, “Me too.”
Margueritte also received two unexpected letters. The first came from Rosamund, Roland’s mother, and it came filled with news about the family, especially Geoffry and Sigisurd’s marriage. It was signed with a hello at the bottom by Relii, who undoubtedly wrote the letter. Margueritte was not sure if Rosamund could read and write.
The second letter was from Boniface, written about a year ago, dated April twelve, anno domini, 723. He said with the full blessing and support of Charles, he was headed at last into the Saxon lands to bring them the good news. He asked her to pray for him in the work, and she did right then. She shared that letter with Aden and encouraged him to begin a correspondence with Boniface as they both faced such similar difficulties in their work. Aden thought he might, and Margueritte prayed for them, too, that they might be mutually encouraging, and maybe even become friends.
Margueritte read Roland’s second letter for the tenth time and remembered when they were young and she wrote to him every day, whether she had news or not. She laughed at her foolishness when Mother, Margo and Elsbeth came to her with concern etched all over their faces. They carried Giselle’s letter.
Margo and Elsbeth babbled for a bit before Brianna handed the letter to Margueritte to read for herself. Giselle confirmed that Abd al-Makti was behind the poison that killed her baby. She said he had her family, and her own six-month-old son, and forced her to become as a servant to Margueritte. She poisoned Margueritte’s father, but wrongly justified it in her mind as a mercy. But she had no excuse for what she did to Margueritte’s child.
Giselle said she expected to never see her family again. She knew now that the sorcerer had been lying to her all along. But she wanted Margueritte to know that she felt eternally sorry, and miserable, and she loved Margueritte, and all her family, and all of her children, and she was willing to accept whatever punishment Margueritte might wish, even death. She was going to Saint Catherine’s de Fierbois and stay with the nuns, but meanwhile, Margueritte should know what she heard in Anjou.
Margueritte finished reading and stood up to walk out. Everyone wanted to ask her what she intended to do about Giselle, but they did not.
“All of the squires should be here by the first of May, but I expect some to straggle in any time in the first two weeks of May. I am preparing a good speech to yell at them,” Peppin said as they looked down from the half-finished castle wall on to the Paris road. Charles’ wife, Rotrude, was on the road with a hundred men at arms to escort her.
“Not a good time for a visit,” Walaric said.
“Now, we don’t even know if Ragenfrid is ready to bring out his army,” Brianna said.
“And I don’t know why he would bother with us,” Margo added. “It is Charles he is after, not us women and children.”
Elsbeth and Jennifer both looked like they wanted to agree with Margo, but both looked at Margueritte as Margueritte explained.
“Ragenfrid won’t turn on Paris as long as we are at his back. After Charles, he probably hates us most. We humiliated him in front of his sons and made him pay rent for using the land. Besides, with Charles’ wife and children here, the opportunity for hostages is too great for him to pass up. He probably cannot beat Charles on the battlefield, but with the right hostages, he might negotiate for whatever it is he wants.”
“I’m not sure if we can negotiate anything to satisfy him,” Brianna said.
“We don’t have the strength to stand against him,” Jennifer said. “Not without help.” She looked at Margueritte, but Margueritte felt reluctant to involve her little ones if she did not have to. Mother Brianna understood, but Margueritte thought she better speak again.
“We have sent word on short notice, but five hundred men have gathered from the county. Stragglers due throughout May. We will have five hundred young men learning the lance and almost a hundred better trained men and horses to lead them.”
“Can’t count much on the young men,” Pippin said. “Some of them still need to practice sitting the horse.”
“If they can ride and point their lance, that is all we need for now. I’ll not ask more. But then we have a hundred arriving right now with Rotrude. That is almost twelve hundred men, a goodly number for defense.”
“Not so good if Ragenfrid shows up with five thousand or more.”
“But even five to one against us, we have at least half-finished walls to defend. Defending walls should give us at least a three-man advantage. Pray he brings no siege equipment.”
“Still pretty-slim odds,” Walaric admitted.
“Let us see what Baron Michael brings from the south march, and Count duBois from the north against Normandy. Even a few hundred from each might be enough to hold the fort until Charles can arrive.”
“Assuming our riders got through” Pippin said. “They had the Paris road covered all year. The post turned back three times before they found a way through.”
“And Bavaria is a long way from here, even if they did get through,” Walaric added.
“Let’s see who shows up before we surrender,” Brianna said sharply. “Right now, we have a guest to welcome, and I expect all of you to keep your mouths closed about Ragenfrid and this whole business.”
“Yes,” Margo agreed. “I was looking forward to pleasant conversation and hearing all the latest gossip, if you don’t mind.”
They went down off the wall and found the whole town turned out to see Rotrude and her soldiers march through the caste gate. It had not yet become the fortress door Margueritte designed, but it stood a solid oak double door that would be hard to bust down. Rotrude and her wagons came right up to the old oak which still stood at the edge of the courtyard, beside the house. The captain of the troop looked to Peppin and Walaric for directions, which surprised the women until he removed his helmet. It was Childemund, the man they thought of as their personal Paris postman. They were all glad to see him, but they followed Margueritte up to the wagons where she spoke.
“Welcome to our home,” she helped Rotrude down from the wagon back. She noticed Rotrude looked very pale, and she thought to say something. “If you are not too black and blue to move, please come inside and refresh yourself.”
Rotrude grinned, but only a little. She turned to introduce her children who were standing around looking uncertain. “Carloman is my eldest. He is eleven, and the studious type. Carloman, say something to your hostess in Latin.”
“You have a lovely home,” Carloman said.
Margueritte responded in Latin. “And you have lovely manners. Thank you.”
Rotrude shook her head. “He doesn’t get it from me,” she said. “Gisele is his twin, also eleven.” Gisele curtsied and Margueritte did not finch on the name, but Morgan, Marta’s eldest at twelve, and Jennifer’s Lefee, who was eleven looked happy to see someone their own age. Margueritte could only imagine the pre-teen trouble they might cause.
“Pepin is my scoundrel,” Rotrude continued. “He is nine going on trouble.” Rotrude had to pause and cough. It sounded unhealthy, like some serious fluid in her lungs.
Margueritte pointed out Weldig Junior and Cotton, both eight, and her own Martin who was the youngest at seven and a half. “But Martin is not slow on the trouble department.”
“It’s the age,” Rotrude nodded as she recovered from her coughing fit. She waved Margueritte off and pointed to her last two, both girls. Aude was seven and Hitrude was just six. Brittany was five, and Margueritte felt she could go either way, because Grace and Jennifer’s Mercy and Margo’s Adalman were all four, and Mercy and Grace were especially close, almost like twins, so there was not always room for Adalman or Brittany.
“Are you well?” Margueritte asked and reached out to take Rotrude’s arm. This time she would not be put off.
“Yes, yes.” Rotrude said and tried to smile again. “My doctor said I needed to get out of the city and visit in the country. You have been twice to my home and been attacked by every man and priest with a request or complaint. You know, and you were just my husband’s friend.”
Margueritte nodded. “I promise to keep the annoyances to the minimum,” she said, though that was hardly going to be possible if Ragenfrid showed up with an army.
“My thanks,” Rotrude said again, and once more began a brief coughing spell.
It is hard for Margueritte to get anything done when she is face with so many disturbances. MONDAY Disturbances. Until then, Happy Reading.