M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 1 of 3

Carloman and Gisele were both there to support her.   “But come,” Margueritte encouraged Rotrude, and introduced her to the women.  “My mother Brianna, and Jennifer, who is like a big sister.  And this is Elsbeth, my little sister, and Margo, Countess of the Breton March, your real hostess.”

“I am looking forward to hearing all the news from Paris,” Margo said softly with a look at Margueritte which wondered what might be wrong with the woman.  Brianna stepped up and gave Rotrude a hug.

“Welcome to our home, as Margueritte said.”  Brianna guided Rotrude inside where Lolly had fixed a fine repast, with Marta there to serve, and Maven missing as usual.

They all had a lovely day, what remained of it, and got Rotrude settled into Jennifer’s big room, while Rotrude sat in a comfortable chair in the old downstairs hall.  Jennifer moved herself, Lefee, Cotton and Mercy across the castle courtyard to her home beside the chapel.  Rotrude did not want to put Jennifer out, but Jennifer said she expected Father Aden home any day, and they always stayed in their own place when he came home.

“In fact, we are building a new home beside the new church, Saint Aubin’s”

“Ah,” Rotrude sounded very interested.  “You are the bishop’s wife.”

“Yes,” Jennifer said softly and looked down.  She never wanted to be the center of attention.

“And the dearest woman in all the world,” Brianna saved her, took Jennifer’s arm, and directed her toward the food, where she got Rotrude some cider.

Margueritte mostly sat back and watched that afternoon.  Rotrude and Margo had much in common, being from Paris and wanting to gossip.  But Rotrude also shared some traits with Mother Brianna, and the two of them hit it off very well.  Margueritte concluded that her mother could not help it.  She was such a kind and caring person, and Rotrude evidentially so ill.  Jennifer almost relaxed after a time, and Margueritte felt glad to see it.  Elsbeth did not say much, which was probably for the best.

They ate supper in the old hall, on the old family table.  Childemund, Peppin and Walaric joined them, but mostly the women talked through the meal, while the men kept busy enjoying the food.  When the chicken came in, roasted to perfection and filled with the most delicious sage dressing, Rotrude made the expected comment, that if she ate like that all the time she would be as big as Margo’s house.

“All credit to the cooks,” Brianna said, and Childemund smiled, being used to the dwarf cooks.  Lolly had a whole bevy of dwarf women who were all excellent chefs, wives mostly of the crew Luckless got to help Redux, the master smith, with the forge and smithy work for the new heavy cavalry.  The women cooked for the castle, about a hundred people altogether, and no one ever complained except a few of the dwarf men for whom complaints seemed an automatic reaction.

All the young men, their horses and their equipment, were with the soldiers in a tent camp that stretched out on the edge of the long field just down the road from the unfinished castle.  Small groups of young squires got assigned to seasoned soldiers who had a few years practice learning the lance and shield.  They would camp, like an army camp, all summer, and go home in time for the harvest.  And they would learn how to be men, and hopefully how to be knights.  They had rations of bread, weak mead and cider sent down from the castle and village, and vegetables when the gardens began to ripen, but mostly they had to hunt and fish and feed themselves, just like a real army, which meant they had to cook for themselves, and learn to cook something edible.

Elsbeth excused herself before desert.  Her Bogart turned almost two and ate solid food, but still needed his mom more than the other children.  Rotrude had brought two women with her, attendants, more like nurses, to help her in her illness, with the children, and in the night.  They were joined by the half-dozen young women from the town, only two of which were disguised house elves, who had the mass of children in the Great Hall.

“I’ll send one of your ladies back to you,” Elsbeth said, and in fact, the one lady came with two locals who helped clear the table.  Margueritte watched and neither Brianna nor even Jennifer got up to help clear the table, and she decided the medieval world might be moving rapidly forward.  They were the nobility.  They had servants to do the dishes.

Rotrude went to bed early, right after supper.  She looked worn and mother Brianna asked Margueritte what might be done for her and wondered if Doctor Pincher might help.  The men stayed silent to listen and eat apple pie for dessert.

“No, mother,” Margueritte responded sadly.  “You have been to Avalon.  You know how it works.  Theirs is a world apart, and I abuse my privilege as it is.  And I have a feeling I will abuse it much more if Ragenfrid shows up.  But some things I am not permitted to do, and sometimes things carry eternal consequences and I dare not interfere.”

“But it would not hurt to have Doctor Pincher take a look at her, would it?”

“Or Doctor Mishka,” Margo suggested.

Margueritte shook her head.  “Greta says she might take a look.  She says she is less likely to do something extraordinary.”

“Doctor Pincher might look,” Brianna said.

“Please,” Jennifer asked sweetly.

“Pleasy,” they heard a voice from above to which Margo responded.

“Goldenrod, you might as well come down here from the rafters and join us.”

Childemund and Walaric looked startled, but not surprised when the fairy fluttered down to the table to stand beside Brianna and Margueritte and look shy.  Peppin laughed.

“You should have seen it when the queen of the fairies showed up just before the Curdwallah battle.”

“Ha!”  They heard a voice from the doorway.  “You should have seen the ogre.”  It was Aden, home as promised, and Jennifer hurried to him to hug him and welcome him home.  After that, the conversation turned to Ragenfrid, Goldenrod retreated to Brianna’s shoulder where she could hide in Brianna’s hair, and Margueritte breathed, but she imagined Greta and Doctor Pincher might pay Rotrude a visit in the morning.  All things considered, Margueritte had a lovely time that evening, and just as well, because it became about the last lovely time she would have for a while.

Early the next afternoon, the fifty they sent to retrieve Ragenfrid’s tax of three cows came home without the cows.  John-James reported to Margueritte and the assembled captains.

“The three of us went in as expected, like we were innocent and not suspicious, like you said.  We went to retrieve the three cows, like normal, but there were about three hundred men on our side of the Sarthe.  I did not see Ragenfrid, or the younger sons, Adalbert or Fredegar, but the older son, Bernard was there.  They had some horses, about thirty, and when Bernard shouted and pointed at us, we rode off.  The thirty were slow to start, but they followed us until we rejoined the fifty.  Then they backed off.”  He took a breath, like he had just run that distance.

“We would have run into trouble if we went the way we came.  The ford on the Mayenne we crossed just the day before now had three hundred more, guarding it.  I did not stop to count them.  The fairy Lord, Larchmont, saved us from riding right into the middle of them.  He did a good deed for us, I say.  We would have been back here last night if we came the way we went, but it took half a day to go upriver to find a place to cross over.”  He took another deep breath before he added a last thought.  “Just so you know, I say Lord Ragenfrid is coming our way or he would not have the ford on the Mayenne blocked.”

“They might be there to stall us if we come to the aid of Paris or Orleans or wherever he has in mind to go,” Walaric suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.

“He would block the main road, which would be the Paris Road.  The ford he is talking about is between the Paris and Loire roads.  The ford Ragenfrid has blocked is a ford for crossing an army without announcing your presence.  I suspect John-James rode up and crossed without opposition where the Paris Road crosses the river.”

“Even so,” John-James said.


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