After the Count of LeMans got driven from the farm fields, and the Viscount of Angers got prevented from encircling the village, Margueritte opted to talk and Ragenfrid obliged. King David, Count Michael, Count duBois, Peppin in the place of Count Tomberlain, and Childemund in the place of Charles, all accompanied her down the hill. Besides the Count Garrold of LeMans and Viscount Talliso of Angers, Ragenfrid brought Count Amager of Tours, Baron Bouchart of Vendome and Sir Creasy, Lord of Dun from the other side.
Margueritte tussled with the Count of LeMans when she surveyed the lands west of the Sarthe. She found that over the years, LeMans claimed a large portion of the land. She took it back, one might say she liberated it, and the people were glad to get out from under the greedy count. LeMans twice sent men over the river, but Margueritte’s troop drove them back, decisively. If that had been it, Margueritte might have let it go, but know it or not, this rebellion would be the end of Count Garrold’s lands and title, if Margueritte had anything to say about it.
Margueritte also met Count Amager in Tours. The man seemed a reasonable and honorable man, at least in front of Charles. She felt rather disappointed to see him supporting Ragenfrid, and she wondered if she might talk to him privately and help him have second thoughts.
She did not know the other three, but the cruelty of Talliso of Angers had been reported to her by more than one man who moved his family out of Talliso’s territory. The Baron Bouchart came across as dim witted. And Sir Creasy of Dun seemed too slick and smarmy for his own good. Margueritte felt surprised Ragenfrid put up with Creasy. She figured the man must have a large number of soldiers, or money, or both.
Margueritte sent men first to put up a canopy and set a dozen chairs and a long table on the neutral ground at the bottom of the hill beside the Paris Road. When she walked casually to the meeting with Ragenfrid, she had the dwarf wives bring a light meal of chicken, with a fine dwarf cheese, elf bread, and several bottles of an excellent Bordeaux wine, a gift from Duke Odo of Aquitaine. She took the end seat and put King David and Michael to her left. She set duBois on her right and placed Childemund and Peppin beside him, though their backs would be toward the enemy.
Ragenfrid did not hesitate to take the other end seat, and Garrold of LeMans sat to his right. The others were not sure what they were supposed to do at this unusual gathering. Count Amager of Tours started to sit next to Garrold, but Margueritte stopped him.
“No, no. Amager, please sit next to Michael, Count of Nantes, and it is wonderful to see you again.”
“Lady,” Amager acknowledged her and took his assigned seat. That got the others to sit. Talliso of Angers sat between LeMans and Amager. Bouchart and Creasy sat in the last two seats with the little Creasy next to the imposing Peppin. Margueritte felt sorry that Peppin would probably get indigestion watching the greasy little slime eat.
“Gentlemen,” Margueritte said, and raised her glass. “My treat, and please enjoy it before it gets cold.” Again, the enemy hesitated until Ragenfrid laughed and dug in. Once the meal got started, not much got said. The food tasted that good. And when they had finished, the dwarf wives appeared out of nowhere, cleared the table, and left honey sweetened pastries, sliced apples, and a hearty burgundy for dessert.
At last, Margueritte began. “I have asked to speak with you so we may devise a way to settle all of our differences without the further need for bloodshed.” She raised her glass. “I would like to propose a toast for peace.” Her men joined her right away. The enemy moved a bit slow, but Ragenfrid lifted his glass and agreed.
“Peace is always preferred.”
“Exactly,” Margueritte agreed cheerfully. “And I have drawn up a list of the grievances these men have voiced, and I will gladly counterbalance that with your concerns, as you voice them, and then we will see if we can find common ground and a mutually equitable solution that does not involve war and blood.”
“As you well know, the grievance I have is ultimately with Charles,” Ragenfrid said. “And what can you guarantee about that?”
Margueritte got distracted. She looked up the hill to where Pomadoro and his monks were holding a magical shield around the canopy area, so that the sorcerer could not interfere with honest and fair negotiations. Suddenly, Pomadoro fell to his knees, and Margueritte stood and shouted at the sky. She raised her hands without realizing it and felt almost like an observer in her own skin as her primal calling took over. The sky overhead turned black, nearly as dark as night, and a great bolt of lightning struck the middle of Ragenfrid’s camp. It looked like the explosion of a cruise missile. Men, animals, tents, and wagons were shredded, thrown in the air, and charred beyond recognition. Then, as soon as it began, it all stopped. Margueritte lowered her hands, her hair stopped writhing in the wind like so many snakes, the sky returned to a beautiful spring blue, and Margueritte smiled. She sighed, sweetly.
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen. The spirits of the earth were threatened by an unnatural force. That has now been removed. Lord Ragenfrid, your sorcerer got taken away at the last second, but now I know who did it.” They watched Margueritte’s green eyes turn fire golden as she turned her head up and shouted at the sky.
“Abraxas. Nameless gave you the coward’s option of suicide. You could do the honorable thing and give up your flesh and blood and go over to the other side. In any case, you have no place in Frankish or Breton lands. You are coming very close to being banished from the Lands of Danna. And the lands of Olympus, and the waters of Amphitrite. If you want to play with the armies of Islam, Junior will only interfere if you screw up, but be warned. You come here at your own risk. You better hear me.”
Margueritte fell to her knees and King David and Count duBois were right there to lift her gently and help her back to her chair where she took a moment to recover before she spoke again.
“You will forgive me if I take a rest. I know our business is important, and I ask you please not to do anything rash in the night, but right now I have a need for a time of quiet. Please, let us begin again tomorrow. I will see what the cooks can do with a bit of beef, if you don’t mind.” She stood, looking a bit shaky.
David and duBois took her arms again and helped her back up the hill. Michael and Childemund followed while Peppin looked to see Ragenfrid and his companions march back across the field. Once they reached the top and were out of sight from the enemy, Margueritte let go, took a moment to brush the dust from her dress and turned to David.
“That was a frightening but fortuitous moment. I should have brought Thomas of Evandell with me. He is really an excellent actor as well as a bard.” She looked and sounded not the least bit tired. She smiled for the others. “I believe that went as well as could be expected. Peppin?” She walked to where Pomadoro and his monks were settled and chanting something.
“They will return tomorrow, at least. But Ragenfrid is not known for patience. No telling how long we may be able to keep it up.”
“I pray we keep it up long enough to negotiate peace, though that is the least likely scenario.” Margueritte leaned down, heedless of the elf ritual of meditation they were performing, an exercise which she knew perfectly well, and she kissed Pomadoro on the forehead. Then she went back to climb the castle wall to where Margo, Elsbeth, Jennifer, Rotrude, and quite a number of the women, including Calista and Melanie, were taking the sun and saw the whole thing. All the while the men were asking Margueritte and pressing Peppin for answers as to what they were doing and what they were talking about.
“Ragenfrid will break first,” Rotrude said.
“My money is on LeMans,” Margo said. “After the drubbing you gave him, it is a wonder he can show his face.”
Walaric came up to join the conference. He felt unhappy at being left out, but he understood someone needed to keep the men to their duties. Elsbeth saw him and thought to nudge him.
“The drubbing would have been worse five years from now, after all those young men get properly trained.” Elsbeth did not really know what she was talking about, but she heard Margueritte say things like that, and she looked up at Peppin, not meaning to leave him out.
“Yes, that was a remarkable use of horsemen, unheard of,” David said.
“Heavy horse,” Margueritte said. “It’s the new thing, very modern. You should get some.”
“I’m with Lady Elsbeth,” Peppin grumped. “It would have been a massacre with fully trained horsemen. But it is hard to train men and horses when we only have their attention for two or three months in the summer.”
“But it is all we have for now,” Margueritte sighed
There may be a chance as long as Margueritte can keep Ragenfrid talking. Too bad Ragenfrid is not known for patience. Until then, Happy Reading.