They eventually got to discussing just Neustria, and Margueritte pointed out that Orleans, Chartres, Paris, and Soissons all failed to come to Ragenfrid’s call, which was the eastern half of Neustria
“I did not call for their help yet,” Ragenfrid lied.
“Well, even so, I can guarantee Lord Tomberlain, Marquis of the Breton March, will never support you. His taxes as well as his right arm belong to Charles.”
“He can be replaced,” Ragenfrid threatened.
“Count Michael, what say you?”
“My loyalty is to Tomberlain as it was to his father, Bartholomew, and the people of Nantes and the whole southern march listen to my wife.”
“Here, here,” duBois said. “And to be honest, I don’t know if Normandy will accept Lord Ragenfrid as Suzerain.”
Ragenfrid yelled. “This is all nonsense. I will decide who will be on my border.”
Margueritte smiled, because it was a concession that the Breton March would be on his border, not his territory, though she expected him to backtrack.
“And so will I,” King David spoke up. “I have a small force here on short notice. Do not be foolish to think this represents the strength of the Breton people.”
“But he does not know how many men and resources we may have right now,” Margueritte said, coyly.
“Or maybe we were just hoping we could come to an agreement without the need for further bloodshed,” Childemund suggested.
“I will appoint men to hold the march that will be acceptable to King David,” Ragenfrid said, with a smile that made Margueritte want to gag.
No one believed him, including his own men.
Eventually, the idea of Marquis of Neustria came up, a title equal to Tomberlain, but not over him. Ragenfrid insisted on the mayoralty, but that was not going to work. Charles would see to that, and not be giving it up.
Then Margueritte brought up eastern Neustria again, and Tomberlain’s independence, and offered the title, Marquis of central Neustria.
“But I don’t know if Normandy will accept that,” duBois repeated.
“It had better be acceptable,” Ragenfrid said gruffly
“Of course, that would mean sending taxes and men to fight on the frontier, and accepting Charles as your suzerain,” Margueritte pointed out.
Ragenfrid yelled again that the suggestion of submitting to Charles was totally unacceptable, and no land deal would suffice without the march. Obviously, he wanted the land to take what he wanted for himself and use the rest to pay off LeMans and Talliso for their loyalty.
Margueritte signaled, and Peppin stood and growled. “Totally unacceptable. Lord Tomberlain will not give his place to a rebel.” He did a credible job, and the Childemund stood and spoke in a quiet voice.
“I don’t believe Charles will allow you to take fully half of Neustria, like a king. You are not a king, but I will talk to Peppin and Lady Rotrude and find a compromise.” He walked off, and Margueritte stood, so David, Michael and duBois stood.
“Please,” she said in her most forlorn voice. “Give me tonight to try and talk sense into Peppin. Give us tonight,” she said, pointing to the others. “I know it is my brother Tomberlain whom you would beggar, but I would do almost anything to make peace.”
“Why?” Creasy asked for his own reasons, whatever they might be, and Margueritte suddenly wondered if Ragenfrid promised the man Tomberlain’s place.
“Because if you fight, I will not be able to save you from Charles’ wrath. If you fight, he will come and destroy you, and your families will be the ones beggared, and the whole Frankish nation will suffer. Please, give me tonight to talk sense to my friends, and we will have pork tomorrow, if you like.” She looked at Amager.
“Pork would be fine,” he said, with a smile and a nod.
As she turned to walk up the hill, Baron Bouchart added, “Looking forward to it.”
Margueritte wondered if the baron understood enough of what was going on to have second thoughts. At least he heard things from a point of view she was sure he never considered.
When she reached the top of the hill and climbed up the half-wall this time, Peppin and Childemund were waiting, and David, Michael and duBois followed her up. Calista and Melanie, being elves, no doubt heard every word of the meeting and reported as much to the women. This time the women were as quiet as the men.
“He will attack,” Margueritte said. “My guess would be first thing in the morning when the sun is in our eyes.” No one objected to her assessment. “Even the Storyteller came to that conclusion, and he is a minister, what you would call a priest, and about the most non-violent person I know.”
“Then we better prepare our men and strengthen the sentry posts,” Peppin said. As sergeant at arms, it was his duty to think of such things.
Margueritte nodded. “But we are going to have to shift our positions. I talked to my fairy spies last night. Ragenfrid has moved away from the castle and toward the town. I don’t know if he has become aware of the short wall facing the town or not. Ronan and his men have been working like mad, and they have the wall just short of seven feet tall, so it is too high to jump, but not so high that it cannot be easily climbed. Gerraint and the others who know about such things say we have to protect the wall.”
“I can move Bedwin and his men to the wall,” King David suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.
“LeMans and Amager are facing the castle, and I have hope that Amager may refuse to fight. He is still suffering from the enchantment, but he has enough of his own spirit now to where he should be able to fight the enchantment. I hope Bouchart may also back away, but I have less hope with him, and it should not seriously diminish Ragenfrid’s numbers for the attack on the town. The people of the town have all been evacuated to Vergenville, so, if necessary, we may all withdraw to the wall. It is best if we can defend the property, but not imperative. David, your men fight best together. DuBois, I need you to stay where you are, at the corner of the castle and the town. Michael, you need to make a space between the town and the wall, which sadly means tearing down a couple of houses. Then you need to get whatever wagons, boxes, barrels, and such to build a wall in front of the castle wall, one that your men can get behind. You need to practice your archery skills.”
Peppin groused. “You want my men inside the castle?”
“No,” Margueritte said. “You need to stay in reserve. Let your veteran men on horseback and foot support David and duBois in the line as needed, and let the rest, the young men on horseback, be ready to sweep in on the flank if it looks like Michael’s line is going to be overwhelmed.”
“And me?” Childemund did not exactly protest. “You expect my hundred men to hold the castle alone? If LeMans is facing the castle, I doubt we will be spared from the assault, even if Tours backs off.”
“I want twenty men on the Breton gate, thirty on the postern gate by the kitchens and forty on the main, Paris gate. I want the other ten outside Rotrude’s room, unless we can convince her to go to Vergenville, at which point the ten can escort her safely there. I will take care of the defense of the castle walls, and woe to LeMans if he attacks.”
“Lady,” Jennifer objected again. “It has always been your way to refuse to put your little ones directly in the battle.”
“The Princess put little ones in the battle, I remember. Generally, you are right, but in this case, Rotrude, Margo, Elsbeth and you, along with all the children who will be held captive underground, no exceptions, makes a difference. The women and children must be protected, and if you will not evacuate, I have no choice. I just hope whichever one of you said we could hold him off for a day, two at the most was right.”
“And you are one of the women with children we will gladly protect,” Melanie said.
Margueritte shook her finger, and her voice was stern. “And you better not get hurt, either.”
Battle seems inevitable. The defenders need to hold out long enough for help to arrive. Good luck. Until Monday, Happy Reading.