“Do you know the story of Gerraint, son of Erbin and his relationship with Arthur Pendragon?” she asked. She paused a moment because they all knew something about Arthur, and a bit about Percival, but less about Gerraint. Margueritte told about when Arthur was young and faced a rebellion of his own. She told all about Loth, and how he sided with the rebels, yet Arthur, in victory, did not remove Loth from his place, and Loth, she said, became a great supporter of the Pendragon. That was not always true, but that was the way she told the story.
“But I thought you were going to tell about Gerraint,” Baron Bouchart reminded her, and Amager and LeMans echoed the thought.
So she told about how Gerraint first met Enid and drove the Irish out of Caerdyf, and by the time she said the part about her trusting him which made him confess his love for her, and the men laughed, Gerraint arrived there, in Margueritte’s place, dressed in his armor, and telling his own story. The men quieted and listened. More than one man’s eyes got big at seeing Gerraint, but no one dared interrupt.
Gerraint told how Merlin tricked him and infected him with an incubus that made him believe Enid cheated on him. When he got word that his stepfather was ill, he took her out and drove her over Mount Badon. Amager could not hold back his words.
“I heard there was a great battle at Mount Badon.”
“That came much later,” Gerraint said. “I may tell you about that another time.” He went on to tell about the first village and the three robbers he killed. Then he told about the little man and his people. Then he told about the giants who attacked the young couple and how he had to slay all three, but by then became so grievously wounded and bleeding from so many places he could not go on. He believed Enid would be happy if he just died and she could take whatever men she wanted, but Enid wept for him as he fell unconscious. He awoke in a great tent. The Lady of the Lake came and set him free from his enchantment, Gerraint explained with a sharp glance in Amager’s direction. And then Arthur, Percival and so many others came and helped him finish the journey to Cornwall. When his stepfather died, and his mother grieved for him, Gerraint got invested as King of Cornwall. All the Lords of Devon Tintangle, Exeter, and even Lyoness acknowledged him as King.
“But Arthur was the Pendragon. That was a place apart. He was not a king, and I ruled in my kingdom without interference, sending only some taxes to Arthur to maintain Caerleon and the rapid defense force stationed there. But when Arthur called, I did not hesitate to raise as many men as quickly as I could and ride to stand beside Arthur, ready for battle.”
Gerraint went on to explain how individually they would have been eaten alive. But by acting together under a war chief, they beat back the barbaric Angles, Jutes and Saxons. They kept the Scots north of the wall and ruined the Picts. They drove out the Irish and broke the back of piracy on the seas and in the channel. They kept back the tide of barbarism and paganism that threatened to overrun Christian civilization, but they only succeeded because they did not question the Dux Belorum Britannia, the war chief of Britain, Arthur Pendragon.
“In this place, Charles is the one who is out there beating back the barbarians and pagans on this continent, and he needs all the help we can give him. He has already taken on the Frisians, the Saxons, and Alemans. Right now, he is fighting the pagan Bavarians, keeping the world safe for the Frankish people, the faith, and the church, and we should be glad he is doing the hard work. I believe even Lord Ragenfrid will say he is the best man for the job. He has proven his worth in battle after battle.
“You know, I always found ruling a royal pain. I collected the taxes, and everybody hated me for that. Then I had to use the taxes to upkeep the roads, and educate the children, and train men for war, and supply horses and equipment for all the men, and deal with things like trade agreements and promoting the general welfare. I didn’t get much for myself and my family. Let me tell you, trying to find honest and honorable men to sheriff and magistrate, to keep the law and keep the peace is hard work. I gave it up and made my sons take over as soon as possible.” Margueritte came back and hardly took a breath in the telling.
“Tomberlain, and Owien too, they hardly know the headaches they have gotten themselves into, let me tell you. And my husband, Roland on the far side of Austrasia, on the Saxon Mark. He will get the same troubles, trying to be fair to all the people that depend on him and expect him to take the lead in defending the border. But let me tell you this. When the Muslims break out of Septimania and overrun Aquitaine, and they will not make the same mistakes twice, you can be sure when Charles calls, Tomberlain Owien and Roland will all be there with as many men as they can muster. And you all better hope Charles can raise enough strength to gain the victory, because if we lose, all of you, including you, Lord Ragenfrid, will be overrun and reduced to slaves to the Caliph, and that is not a fate I wish on anyone.”
Margueritte looked at Ragenfrid who seemed to be deep in thought. She did not care what anyone else thought. She stood and looked at the sky as if judging the time.
“The sky is darkening,” she said. “It may just be my eyes that are tired, but it looks like it may rain. I am very tired. Telling the story of Gerraint makes me feel like I suffered the wounds myself, and Arthur and Percival are not here to carry me. We have hopefully said many things for us all to think about. I promise, tomorrow we will discuss land and compensation, as well as title and control of the lands. Please forgive me. Lamb tomorrow.” She did not wait for a response. She started back up the hill, slowly, and soon King David, Michael and duBois caught up with her. Peppin and Childemund were delayed assuring LeMans and Talliso of Angers that they were authorized to speak for Tomberlain and Charles.
“Don’t underestimate the wives,” Childemund said. “Lady Rotrude will give the assurance of Charles, and the Countess Margo will insure Tomberlain’s word.”
“Or Lady Margueritte will beat both men up and that will be that,” Peppin said with a grin that made Childemund laugh. Neither LeMans nor Talliso found it funny, but they accepted the word.
Back up top, Margueritte went for her critique.
“Nice to see Gerraint again,” Elsbeth said through her grin.
“Lady,” Jennifer remembered the last time she saw Gerraint, and she flushed with embarrassment. It happened when she met Aden for the first time, and she was still a fairy. “You should not have revealed yourself so.”
“Gerraint was willing,” Margueritte responded to say it had not only been her idea. “The stories were pertinent, it made them pay attention, and it wasted another day.”
“That was truly the Lion of Cornwall, friend of Arthur the King?” Rotrude sounded amazed.
“Gerraint was willing,” Margueritte repeated. “So, I borrowed him for a bit.”
“I suspected, you know,” Thomas of Evandell had joined them that day and sat on the wall next to Walaric and Aden who sat in their own little male enclave. “I suspected, even when she was a little child. I did not know the connection, but she corrected a few of my stories of Arthur, and always when Gerraint came into the story.”
“My Lady knows fairy food would bring a quick end to the negotiations,” Melanie said.
“They would become her slaves forever,” Calista agreed. “But she would never do that.”
“It would be cheating,” Margueritte nodded.
“Poison would work,” Margo said.
“Hey, I know,” Elsbeth sat up. “Maybe Doctor Mishka could whip up something to give them twenty-four hours of the runs. Hunald should be here by then. Then all we have to do is make them hesitate for a day, so Charles can get here.”
“Cheating,” Margueritte, Jennifer and Aden all responded.
“Besides, I would never ruin Lolly’s good cooking. I just have to keep them busy for the pork and venison dishes,” Margueritte said and stood. “I have to go see the children,”
“I have to go in, myself,” Rotrude agreed. “It looks like it is going to rain.”
On the following day, Margueritte had to negotiate, and it was going to be hard to keep it up all afternoon and extend it into tomorrow. Ragenfrid, Lemans, and Talliso wanted the land they claimed, and it added up to more than the participants imagined, and they wanted it for free.
“That is not a reasonable expectation,” Margueritte pointed out. They went on like that for a while, until Amager of Tours and Baron Bouchart looked like they were about to come over to Margueritte’s side. Then Ragenfrid backed off. Finally, Margueritte felt she might be losing LeMans and Talliso, so she went to the rent idea.
“Lord Ragenfrid. You have already broken your rental agreement, though I do not intend to invoke your penalty at this time.”
“Not when I have an army at your gates,” Ragenfrid said flatly.
“But I might consider revising the agreement. Let us say a hundred head in a one-time payment for fifty years of use without interference.”
Ragenfrid spit. “It would take fifty years for my herd to rebuild itself to its present number and I would be right back in the same mess.”
“Perhaps so,” Margueritte responded, but by then you would have had fifty free years of milk and beef, I say again, without interference.”
“That is no deal.”
“It is a very good deal if you are able to tax your neighbors in some degree. You want the fields and meadows on the march because they are prime for your beef. With sufficient land, you may be able to contrive a way to add to your herd more quickly.”
“We are talking Neustria, at a minimum.”
“The Austrasians have fully accepted Charles, and Roland will not bow to your Suzerainty.”
Ragenfrid got mad at the mention of Charles and Roland. He needed to stand and take a break. That rule was laid out at the beginning of the negotiations, that they could call for a brief break if they needed to step back and make a decision, “Or to calm your anger,” Margueritte said first thing.