“Wait,” Childemund shouted at Peppin, having put it together in his head. “The question is, why are we stalling Ragenfrid. We don’t have the numbers to hold him off more than a day or two, so it seems like we are just stalling the inevitable.” Peppin looked at Margueritte and waited for her to explain.
“We are talking to try and find a way to make peace. That much is true, and if we can settle things peacefully, everyone wins. The thing is, if any of you say the wrong thing so Ragenfrid figures out we are stalling, he will attack immediately, and we will be fighting for our lives. I will tell you this, but in the meeting, you must promise to keep your mouths shut. You may directly answer a direct question, but any more would be risky.” She waited until the men all agreed to stay silent before she told them.
“Maywood flew all the way here from the Rhine with the news.”
“What do you mean, flew?” duBois interrupted and asked about the unusual term, but concluded with an, “Oh, you mean flew.” He waved his hand in imitation of a fairy.
Margueritte nodded. “Charles and his whole army are roughly four days out, not counting today. Larchmont got word to Roland, and they are on their way. What is more, I got word last night through the dwarf grapevine. Duke Odo of Aquitaine has sent his son, Hunald with five thousand men from the Bordeaux region. They are three days away after today. If we can stall Ragenfrid for three more days, we will have the men to equal his numbers, and on the fourth day, the rebellion will end.”
The men on the wall smiled and congratulated each other, like the battle had already been won, but Peppin had to say something. “I don’t know if I am a good enough actor to do what you ask.”
Margueritte explained. “Depending on how the talks go, on a prearranged signal, Peppin is to stand up and protest on behalf of Count Tomberlain and suggest Tomberlain will never agree to whatever it is. He stomps off, angry. Then I say I can control my brother and please give me the night so I can talk sense into Peppin’s stubborn head. I figure that should gain us one more day.”
“I could do that,” Childemund spoke. “On behalf of Charles, I mean.” Margueritte stared at him and thought about it. “I’ve seen plays in Paris,” he went on. “I always thought it would be fascinating to get up on stage and pretend to be someone else for a while.”
“I’ll write some lines and we will practice,” Margueritte suggested. “But only back-up. The best option is with Tomberlain. I can’t hardly suggest I can control Charles.”
“Ha. I would like to see someone try,” Rotrude said, but then she began a coughing spell and since she had to go inside, they all went inside.
The following day, just before noon, Margueritte and her men made the trek to the canopy beside the Paris Road. Ragenfrid and his men came out as soon as they saw Margueritte descending
“The lady is well?” Ragenfrid asked. He was polite but sounded short tempered.
“Quite well, thank you. And prepared to make peace,” Margueritte said, but waved and directed everyone’s attention to the beef. It had been as well prepared as the chicken had been, and again, few words were spoken until the dwarf women brought dessert. Even Ragenfrid, tempted as he might have been to get on with it, paused long enough to savor the food. Margueritte felt glad the meal took up an hour or more. That meant an hour less time she had to babble and delay things.
They had apple pie for dessert and cut nine pieces per pie so in the second pie there were six pieces left over. It was deliberate. Peppin helped himself to a second piece and Childemund went right there with him. LeMans took a second without asking, but Amager of Tours asked, and when Margueritte offered he added a comment.
“If I had cooks like yours, I would never leave my home.”
“I made the pies,” Margueritte offered.
“A woman of talent,” Baron Bouchart praised her.
Creasy took a second piece, so one remained in the pie plate, but Ragenfrid started getting impatient to talk, so Margueritte had to talk. She would try to guide the conversation.
“Yesterday, I asked what you can do about Charles,” Ragenfrid started right in.
“Quite a lot,” Margueritte answered with a perky smile. “But first, let me apologize for yesterday. It was impertinent of the sorcerer to interrupt the proceedings before they hardly got started. I am sorry for reacting, but I felt he needed to be answered, and most strongly.”
“Yes, yes.” everyone agreed, remembered, and were not about to argue, given what they saw. Margueritte felt glad one of them did not have the bad sense to call her a witch.
“I want these negotiations to be open and fair and honest, and to that end let me see if I can introduce everyone and suggest why you may be here and that might help us understand the stakes.” She waited for objections, but she did not wait too long.
“King David is here to make sure the peace between the Franks and Bretons remains secure. I don’t blame my cousin for not liking an army on his border. And the Counts Michael and duBois wish the same, to leave Brittany undisturbed. Beyond that, Michael and duBois have answered the call to arms sounded by the Marquis of the Breton March, Count Tomberlain, and Peppin speaks for him. Childemund speaks for Charles, and the Lady Rotrude, and please hear me concerning the lady. If any of you injure that sweet woman at any time or in any way, there will be nowhere on earth where you will be safe.” Margueritte coughed to clear her throat. Men held their tongues.
“Now, Lord Creasy and Baron Bouchart are here by invitation. Creasy is here more on mercenary terms, wondering what he might gain in the way of power, or title, or money, or land, all reasonable commodities in his thinking, such as it is.”
Margueritte looked at Ragenfrid as she spoke and saw by his expression that he suspected as much. Creasy, who was only minimally paying attention, said something else.
“Is anyone going to claim that last piece of pie.” He grabbed it before anyone could answer.
“Chew your food,” Margueritte scolded the man. “You are as bad as my children. You don’t want to choke.” She noticed Ragenfrid looked like he would not mind if Creasy choked.
“It is a wonder where the little man puts it all,” Peppin joked
Baron Bouchart, by no means a small man, responded with a laugh. “Indeed. Though it was an excellent pie.” He and Peppin shared a friendly look over Creasy’s head.
“Enough!” Ragenfrid made his word sound like they were getting off topic, but Margueritte understood that Ragenfrid’s real concern was that these were supposed to be enemies. He did not want them getting friendly.
“Quite right,” Margueritte said, and she picked right up where she left off before Ragenfrid could get another word in. “The baron, quite to the contrary, believes in Ragenfrid’s cause, but it is a limited cause as Lord Ragenfrid will admit.” Margueritte held up her hand to forestall Ragenfrid’s objections.
“Ragenfrid, LeMans and Angers all claim, or would like to claim land which is clearly land granted by the king to the Count of the Breton March. Something equitable may be worked out. It may cost, and you may not be entirely happy, but I am sure Tomberlain and Margo will not be entirely happy either, but let it be enough so there may be peace.” Margueritte looked at Peppin, and he merely nodded.
And yes, Talliso of Angers, yesterday you heard me threaten your god, Abraxas, the one in whose name you practice so much cruelty. That came as one god to another, you might say. And, unless he has become a fool, I suspect you will not be hearing from him for quite a long time.” Margueritte did not pause. “Count Amager is the only one I do not understand. My Lord Count, why are you here?”
“Because…” he paused. The man had clearly been enchanted, but under the canopy and the protective spell of Pomadoro and his monks, he started shaking it off. “I am not sure.”
Ragenfrid said nothing, but he denied nothing. Margueritte continued.
“Now apart from wanting the land, which as I said may be negotiated for a fair price, the whole thing boils down to Lord Ragenfrid wanting the position of Mayor of Neustria— or do you now want all of the Frankish lands?”
“All, but…” Ragenfrid paused, and everyone felt great anticipation in that pause. “We Franks have lived with two or more kingdoms in the past. There are options.”
Margueritte smiled a genuine smile because he told her he might consider alternatives to taking everything.