As if on cue, which is the sort of timing the little ones often exhibit, Luckless came from one direction and Grimly came from the other. Luckless complained first.
“We are going to have to tear down that primitive blacksmith forge and build a proper one from scratch,” he said.
“Lady,” Grimly had something to say. “We better get started building those stables right away. Even though it is June, the way you humans build things, the cold weather will be upon us before we have a place to keep the horses warm and healthy.”
“And the barracks,” Walaric said. “Some word of what you have been doing in Maine and Anjou has reached here, and all the ones we talked to on the way will send their young men soon enough. I’m surprised some of them did not get here ahead of us.”
“It sounds like real work,” Cassius said.
“It will be, but the real work will be in the learning and teaching. I brought a nest egg to get the work started, but we have to get our surveyors out starting yesterday so we can get the population settled and properly taxed.”
“I already know how to fight and ride,” Theobald caught up with the conversation.
“Good. I was hoping as much,” Margueritte said. “So, you can help teach the young ones.”
“That is not what I meant.”
“Baron needs to set a good example,” she said and smiled.
It took until the following spring before the family really began to understand what this was all about and how this was going to work. Gerald turned two, and then Margueritte turned thirty in the spring of 727, and she felt too old to have a two-year-old. Theobald spent Margueritte’s birthday complaining that he would never get good with the lance. Cassius teased him.
“Easy for you,” Theobald said. “You are younger and carefree.”
“What about Geoffry?” Cassius rubbed it in. Geoffry was a natural, and Theobald just frowned.
“Subject to you, of course, and my stupid brother.”
“And to Charles and the king, of course. But you are a good person and will do good for the people on your land and under your care, and your brother and I will love you even when you feel like yelling.”
Ingrid walked away, confused as usual.
In 728, some of the first young ones really seemed to be getting it. The number of true heavy horses that could reasonably carry the weight of all the armor and weapons remained small, but the herd grew under Grimly’s care, and Luckless found local dwarfs and a couple of dark elves to work under cover in the night, and the stockpile of weapons, armor and shields also grew.
Early on, Aduan proved to have a real talent for silk screening, as Margueritte described it. She made the figure of a black eagle that impressed everyone. The large version went on the flag that hung outside the barracks, which were really more like dormitories for the youth. An annex where the teachers lived and held classes got built beside it, connected by a hallway. Another flag flew outside the growing fortress, several miles upriver, on a hill overlooking the Rhine.
Aduan made a pattern of smaller eagles, and three in a red stripe ran diagonally down yellow-colored shields. Aduan wanted to do a dragon, but Margueritte said no, she already did the dragon. Instead, she made a design of simple red and white stripes for the lower Rhine, no animal images, and shortly decided on one horizontal white stripe across about a third of the red shield. When she changed the bottom third of the shield to blue, she said it looked more Dutch, even if no one knew what she was talking about.
By 729, Margueritte felt confident enough in her men, mostly the older men, to cross the Rhine and reclaim all the land that got named in the original grant of Dagobert. There were old Frankish families on the land, and plenty of new families since Charles came through and beat back both the Frisians and the Saxons. But there were also plenty of Frisians and Saxons on the land, some of whom came back after Charles and his army left the area.
She gave no choice to the Franks, and for the most part that seemed fine. They would rather answer to a Frankish overlord than be subject to either Saxons or Frisians. For the Saxons and Frisians, she made it simple. Acknowledge Roland, settle down and build a village, build and support a church, pay taxes and supply men when called to fight. Do that, and they were welcome to stay on her land. Refuse any part of the deal, and they would be given a peaceful escort to the border as soon as the surveyors laid it out. Most stayed. Some, both Saxons and Frisians, left. A few started trouble but quickly discovered that a fight was not a good idea. A very few paid with their lives.
Margueritte selected a man named Bertulf to be her sergeant at arms. He worked right there from the beginning, with Ragobert and Walaric, both teaching and training the men, and he picked up the lance like he had been born to it. He had a good and cheerful disposition, and always respected her and her family, though he learned to give Ingrid her space. He also had a good eye for men and understood when to press them and when to back off. He was the main reason Margueritte became successful with the Saxons and Frisians living on her land. Margueritte praised him when they finally crossed back over the Rhine, not far from Ingrid’s home.
Three days passed before Margueritte left the house, and almost before she left her bed, and then it was only to saddle her horse and take a ride in the country. Calista went with her but parted when they returned. Calista made for the house. She said she wanted to check in on Sigisurd’s little ones, and Gerald, just to be sure.
Margueritte smiled for Calista’s and Melanie’s loyalty to the children, and went on to the stables, but stopped short. Martin was there and in a fight with a boy who looked older by a couple of years, and bigger. Martin got in a good punch and the boy went down, and Margueritte thought that might be a good time to intervene. Some of the other boys standing around, saw her ride up and made the combatants pause.
“Martin?” Margueritte said, and she could not quite keep the scolding out of her tongue.
“He started it,” Martin pointed.
“Lady, we have work to do, and we don’t need children looking over our shoulder,” the boy said. Martin looked like he wanted to take another swing at the word, children. “Lady,” the boy repeated and made a poor attempt at a bow. He probably did not know who she was. This might have been his first summer, and she had been away all summer.
“And what did you learn?” Margueritte asked a surprise question. Martin and the boy stared at each other like they did not know how to answer. Margueritte helped them. “Martin. You should never let words rule your fists. You know that words can never hurt you. And you.”
“Dodo, son of Grimald of Cologne, your ladyship.” The boy looked prepared to be scolded
“Dodo, son of Grimald, you should learn not to antagonize your enemies unless you want a black eye.” The boys laughed but stopped suddenly when Ingrid came around the corner with Aduan’s Dombert and her own Childebear on her heels. They were both sixteen and had paged for a couple of years, so were no strangers to stable fights.
“Margueritte,” Ingrid acknowledged her before she lit into the boys. They were supposed to be cleaning the stables, not fighting. She should give them a whole week of kitchen duty. She should give them a whole week of laundry duty. And Martin, “You have been told to stop hanging around the pages and getting into trouble. It has been all summer with you. Go up to the house and get cleaned off, er, with the countess’ permission, of course.”
Martin looked ready to shuffle off grumpily, even as Dodo figured out that he was in a fistfight with the viscount of the whole march, when Martin suddenly shouted, “Father!” Margueritte turned and saw Roland ride up, three riders following him.
Margueritte smiled and wanted nothing more than to lean over and give him a kiss. He had only visited a few times in those years, and never for more than a few weeks at a time. She would have said something, but Martin shouted again.
Pepin returned the shout. “Martin!” and Pepin bounded from his horse so the two boys could hug. They had not seen each other in years, but nothing had changed. Margueritte noted the other two riders were Carloman and Gisele, Charles’ eldest. Roland quickly mentioned that Margueritte had two new recruits, and she felt something needed to be said right from the beginning.
“Pepin and Carloman. You will report to Walaric whom you should remember from the battle of Pouance. He will assign you to page for a squire and assign your duties according to the order of the day. You will do your duties without complaint, you will learn something worth learning, and you will receive no special treatment for being Charles’ sons. Is that clear?”
“Yes mum,” Pepin said with his eyes as wide as they could get. “She hasn’t changed a bit,” he added softly and nudged Martin.
“Perfectly clear,” Carloman said as he got down and took his and Pepin’s horses into the stables where Grimly waited.
“And Gisele, why are you here?”
“Now that I am sixteen, Father’s new wife does not have room for me,” she said, sadly, and looked twice at both Childebear and Dombert.
“Swanachild doesn’t mind Aude and Hiltrude,” Roland explained. “They were young enough to learn to call her mother, but Gisele rubbed her the wrong way from the beginning. Strong willed. Charles said he has had enough of the boys fighting and the cat fights, and you’re a girl, maybe you can talk sense into the child. He says all Gisele wants is boys, and her other choice is a convent.”
Margueritte nodded. “Clara is twenty-one and just married. Her sister Thuldis is eighteen and has the same problem. Boys everywhere. This is Boy Central, you know.” She turned to Gisele. “Would you like to meet the girls? They can tell you all about it.”
“Yes please,” Gisele said.
“Ingrid?” Margueritte asked.
“I might as well,” Ingrid said. “I have the experience. Get down from the horse and come on up to the house. I’ll introduce you.”
Gisele slipped down from the horse and watched the boys watch her before she turned and followed Ingrid.
“You were never like that,” Roland said.
“Martin, up to the house and get cleaned off. Pepin scat. You can catch up later.” Margueritte turned to Roland. “When I was sixteen, I already knew what I wanted.”
“And did you get what you wanted?”
“Not when one or the other of us keep going away,” she said, and they dismounted, and Roland held her for a good long while before he took the horses into the stables.
Margueritte has a few words as too much time is spent apart from Roland… until Monday, Happy Reading.