“Let Ragenfrid live. Charles, have you talked to him? He is not just beaten in battle. He is a defeated man. He knew this was his last chance. The men will not come to his call again. He poses no threat, and can do no harm, unless you turn him into a Martyr. There are still plenty of nobles in Neustria, and some in Austrasia who wonder about you taking your father’s place. They may not be looking over your shoulder, but they are watching. They are afraid you might turn into a tyrant. You kill Ragenfrid and it will be like a festering boil on the nation.”
“How do I let a rebel live and not appear weak?”
“An act of Christian charity. A statement that says Franks should not be fighting Franks, that the nation needs to be united against the external enemies that threaten us all. Then take back the treasure of Austrasia that your father gained, that Plectrude stole and used to pay off Ragenfrid at Cologne. That will hurt him worse than anything. Then draw up a Plectrude agreement, and tell him if he is good, and his sons prove themselves in loyalty, bravery and Christian virtue, they may be allowed to inherit his land and home.”
“You know, Maine and Anjou are not signed off yet. I all but promised Wulfram a title,” Charles said.
“Excellent.” Margueritte did not react the way he expected. “Give him to Count Owien to be baron over the portion of Owien’s land that happens to include Ragenfrid’s home. Let Wulfram collect Ragenfrid’s taxes with the rest of his barony. Wulfram can be the bad cop and Owien can be the good cop, and together they can watch over Ragenfrid and keep him in line, and the kingdom does not have a festering boil, and the lords in Neustria and Austrasia will not doubt that you want peace and unity in Frankish lands and are concerned about outsiders. If you explain it the right way, they may even help you with your army.”
Charles let out a small laugh again. “Your logic is so flawed I hardly know where to begin. But I like the part about the Austrasian treasure and holding his sons’ inheritance over his head. I suppose a Plectrude-like peace may be possible.”
“Charles, please let him live. You don’t want all your nobles thinking you are a cruel tyrant. There has been enough killing. Make peace.”
“Enough,” Charles turned to walk away, but Margueritte stopped him.
“I saved the third thing, the most important thing for last.” Charles paused and Margueritte had to speak up. “It concerns Rotrude.”
Charles came back without a word.
“Charles,” Margueritte put her hand on his and showed all her sympathy in her eyes. “Her lungs are filing with fluid and there is nothing anyone can do.”
“No, Charles. Lung cancer, and she has only a short time to live.”
“Are you sure?” Roland asked.
“Greta examined her, and Doctor Mishka concurred.”
“Doctor Pincher?” Roland asked.
“Everyone examined her and agreed. I am so sorry.”
Charles nodded. “All the doctors in Paris agreed. I will take her home. You have two counts to worry about now, and I expect my heavy cavalry in ten years, no less, and no excuses.” He left, and Margueritte grabbed Roland and made him go with her up to their room.
Margueritte did not get the full ten years. Six years after Ragenfrid’s rebellion, in 730, Charles finally began to build his permanent standing army. He filled it with veterans from his many battles, and then he had to pay for it. To that end, the treasure of the Caliph, taken from Duke Odo of Aquitaine, and the treasure of Austrasia, retaken from Ragenfrid, went a long way to get things started the first few years, but he could not sustain the army without regular help. He repossessed numerous church lands that he had given away when negotiating with Boniface all those years ago. There was a row in the church. At one point, the Pope threatened to excommunicate Charles. Margueritte intervened directly with Boniface, and Boniface intervened with the Pope. Boniface well understood what Charles was trying to do and given all the barbarity he had seen in Germanic lands, he did not blame him, and in fact supported Charles in the way Charles always supported him.
The spring after Ragenfrid’s rebellion, which is to say early March 725, Margueritte had her last child, a boy she named Gerald. Martin turned eight and a half by then and not particularly interested in babies, though he said he was glad to have a brother. Brittany turned six and a half, and Grace turned five and a third, and all they could talk about, and fight over, was the baby. Some days were hard.
Of course, Owien and Tomberlain stayed home for a few years to settle all of their properties and appoint honest men to watch over various parts of the land. Margo had another child, and Elsbeth had two more, almost as close together as Brittany and Grace, and she started to look plump, though Margueritte would never say so out loud. Lucky for Elsbeth, the elder of the two was a girl, and the younger was a boy, so their rivalry would not be quite as sharp as the rivalry between Brittany and Grace.
It did not take too long, though, before Owien and Tomberlain gathered their men, as many as they could muster, and marched off to join Charles on the frontier. That happened about April 727, the same month but a year after Margueritte got Walaric, some volunteers among the men, two clerics who knew surveying, and a bundle of mixed Frankish charger and Arabians and headed out for the Saxon march.
Horegard had passed away in 723, about the same time Margueritte lost her baby. But Rosamund was still around, and though she had become very old, she greeted Margueritte with open arms and a warm smile. Aduan and Cassius were happy to see her. Geoffry looked happy as well, and Sigisurd shouted with joy. She had two children of her own by then and never felt happier. Theobald was nice, as he had always been nice in their limited contacts, but Ingrid got cold.
“I thought you went away,” Ingrid said.
“I did, but in a short while I fear I may be mistress of all this land, and I need to know what it entails.”
“What right do you have to this land? You did not work it and slave over it for all these years. You can’t come in here now and just take it.”
“We are women,” Margueritte said in a very flat voice. “Like it or not, the land already belongs to Roland as the eldest son.” Ingrid spit, but Margueritte continued. “But one reason I want to survey the land is because I have seen the grants of the king, and there is more land than you probably imagined. I want to know where to build the fortress where Roland and I and our children will live, and how would you like this house and the surrounding fields.”
Ingrid paused and smirked. “What is the trick?”
“No trick. How would you like a title, like say, baroness? That would make Theobald the baron. Of course, there will be taxes, to help build roads and keep men at arms against the Saxon border, and to help the poor, and support the church, but it should not be enough to inconvenience you, and you could levy a small tax yourself on the villages and land holders in the barony, as long as you help the poor and not make more poor.”
“Wait, wait. Why would you do this? I don’t understand.” Ingrid looked confused.
“We are family. Why would I not do good for family?”
Ingrid shook her head and went away, baffled by what she heard, but the others crowded around, and Margueritte had to assure them. “Yes, yes I mean it. You can look at the maps yourselves, later. Yes, Aduan. We can get you a nice home and some serfs to keep the fields, the house, and keep you fed. Maybe you would like to live near Relii. Yes, Geoffry. I won’t leave you and Sigisurd out, but please, let me get unpacked. The surveying work has not even started. Let us first see what we are talking about.”
Rosamund hobbled over to the wagon, and so missed most of what got said, but Calista and Melanie were there with Gerald, Brittany and Grace, and the girls were complaining about bumps and bruises even though in June the road seemed fairly clear. Rosamund fussed over Gerald, and Gerald liked being fussed over, so Margueritte knew they would get along great even if Gerald was being spoiled rotten.
Margueritte took Geoffry and Sigisurd aside and whispered like they were the oldest and dearest of friends. “Meanwhile, I have picked up a terrible case of elves. Shh! Her comes one now.”
“Lady,” Calista stepped up and frowned. “You know elf ears don’t miss much.” Calista pointed at her ears, but they presently looked like regular human ears because of the glamour she wore. She made friends with Geoffry and Sigisurd, something elves do easily, and Margueritte grinned an elf worthy grin and moved on.
“Captain Ragobert. Please show Walaric’s men where to set up camp. Same as last time?” she said the last like a question as her eyes turned to Theobald. He stared into space, no doubt thinking about being a baron of means. Margueritte thought maybe in six or seven hundred years, but not so much in the eighth century.
“What?” Theobald snapped out of it. “Yes. Ragobert, you know where to camp. Same as last time.”
“Very good,” Ragobert responded as Walaric walked up.
Margueritte introduced the knight as one knighted by Charles himself. She explained how a knight needed to be loyal to the king, brave in battle, and a paragon of Christian virtue.
“Sorry that I am still a sinner in need of a savior like anyone else,” Walaric excused himself.
“He and his men are the main reason I came here,” Margueritte said. “They are going to teach you and all of your men to ride, and to lance, and fight and become the pride of the Frankish lands. And we are especially interested in young men, sixteen to eighteen-years-old, that we can train from their youth, and yes, that means we will have to do some building around here.”