Three days after Gerald turned six, the day the last of the local snow melted, Margueritte packed everyone, got up on old, faithful Concord, and set out. Gisele bravely rode in a wagon with Brittany, Grace and Gerald. Carloman, Pepin and Martin had horses of their own. Walaric was going home to the Breton border where he confessed his wife and children had not seen him in five years. His troop got filled with most of the border men he brought when Margueritte came to the Saxon March in 726. They were all going home.
“Drogo, my number one, the man knighted by Roland when he came with Pepin, Carloman and Gisele, is more than qualified to take over the training of the squires,” Walaric explained. “With the Baron Theobald and his brothers, Cassius and Geoffry, they will build a whole army of horsemen. What is more, the baroness Ingrid’s daughters have their new husbands involved in the work.”
“Clara in Tournai and Thuldis in Metz,” Margueritte nodded. “And Clara has already said her daughter will not marry any man unless he is knighted.” The medieval world progresses, Margueritte thought.
“Well, you have your Sergeant Bertulf watching the lands on the other side of the Rhine, and your Oswald and Maywood have both pledged to watch over the area. Plus, Luckless has Lolly’s family on the watch in the hills, and Grimly has gathered a whole tribe of gnomes under Chief Horshank, and they will help with the animals, as may be.”
“Sounds like you have everything figured out,” Margueritte said.
“They are your resources, but I try to be thorough.”
“And what do you think about all these resources?” It could be a lot for ordinary humans to take in, and she never really asked the man. She just stuck him with a bunch of little ones and let him figure it out.
“Well,” Walaric took a moment to consider the issue. “Most of the men and boys have no idea that such is the case. Luckless got very good about making sure everyone kept quiet and people generally did not find out the truth.” He paused to think again. “It is a strange world you live in, but in truth, it has made life kind of interesting.”
“That is what Julius used to say.”
“A Roman. He lived three hundred years ago.”
Walaric grinned. “I’m glad I keep telling people you are not a witch.”
“Are you happy to be going home?” Margueritte changed the subject, and Walaric nodded.
They stopped the night at Aduan’s house, at the edge of the march, near the town of Aldeneik. Aduan’s eldest boy, Dombert, who had just turned eighteen, said hello to Gisele, but he talked all about the virtues of a young lady named Bertrand. It took Margueritte a few hours to figure out that Bertrand was the daughter of Hildegard, Count Adelard’s daughter-in-law. Margueritte remembered the awkward dinner party that she and Sigisurd and Boniface attended in Count Adelard’s home. Hildegard and six-year-old Bertrand said nothing during the meal and kept their eyes lowered the whole time, while Hildegard’s son, Poppo, made rude noises and threw his food. Poppo was a page now, and as annoying as ever. Margueritte felt glad that Captain Ragobert was one who would not put up with any funny business. Then Margueritte thought she really needed to keep her twentieth century expressions to herself.
Aduan’s daughter, Corimer turned fourteen and she could not decide who she wanted to eat with her eyes, Carloman or Pepin. Fortunately, Pepin and Martin escaped before dark, and Aduan’s youngest boy, Lavius, a twelve-year-old, followed them to the barn. Lavius complained about wanting to be a page, and how terrible it was that he had to wait another two whole years, and how if he was made page to squire Dombert, his brother, that would stink worse than rotten eggs.
“I think the rule is you can’t be page or squire to a member of your family,” Pepin said. He had memorized everything.
“Still, it would be funny,” Martin said, and Martin and Pepin ran off laughing, with Lavius chasing them.
The trip from Aduan’s to the town of Aldeneik took less than two hours. Margueritte remade Hildegard’s acquaintance and met Bertrand all grown up. Bertrand, a lovely young woman, thrilled to take Gisele shopping, and she wanted to talk about Dombert, and no doubt Childebear. Meanwhile, Hildegard curtsied to Margueritte, went right to the ground in the market square, which embarrassed her.
“Countess,” Hildegard said loudly, and Margueritte could not help returning the curtsey, even if it was not so deep.
“Viscountess,” she said, but not so loud.
People heard all the same, and they quickly scrambled to put out their best, and at reasonable prices.
“I think I may find what I want today in the market. I hope you don’t mind.”
Margueritte did not mind. “Have we come out of our shell and become our own woman now?”
“We have,” Hildegard said. “We had no choice. The count is so feeble these days, and most of the time he has no idea who I am or thinks I am his maid, and Thierry will not leave Charles’ side long enough to come home.”
“So, we are making all the decisions these days.”
“That’s how royalty talks, now you get back to work.”
“We are going,” the boy imitated, and ran.
“We are not amused,” Margueritte whispered. “I always wanted to say that.”
Hildegard ignored her, looked at the linen on the stand, and checked the colors against the sun while she resumed the conversation. “I have men clamoring at this point to be knighted. Apparently, you started something.”
“Tell them it isn’t that simple. They must prove their loyalty to the king, that is Charles, and to their country. They must prove their bravery in battle. And they must show true Christian character by their acts of charity. Gerraint says they must live up to the Christian ideals, to support the church, help the poor, defend women and orphans and so on. If they qualify, and that is a big if, then the count can confer knighthood, but only on his own subjects.”
“The count can’t confer anything these days. I doubt he would even remember who the men are.”
“But he won’t come home.” Hildegard looked sad for a minute and Margueritte slipped an arm around her shoulder.
“I haven’t seen Roland but for a dozen weeks in these last five years. Would you like me to write to Charles?”
“No. I’ll be fine,” Hildegard said, as she wiped her eyes.
“Well, then the countess may do it. Your act would do it, subject to your husband so to speak, but it is not something I recommend if it can be avoided. I don’t normally think it is a good thing to have women reward men based on their ability to kill other men.”
“Yes, I see what you mean. I’ll have to think about that, but I am pleased that by your qualifications, I can take most of the men off the list already.”
Hildegard shook her head. “Not exactly loyal or brave. I don’t see them riding off to fight in support of Charles any time soon.”
Margueritte nodded and said, “I like that shade of yellow.”
“Our finest work,” the shopkeeper said, quickly.
Margueritte spent the afternoon in the abbey, visiting Relindis after acknowledging her sister Herlindis, of course. Margueritte made Gisele, Brittany and Grace go with her while Calista kept Gerald and Carloman tried to keep Pepin and Martin out of trouble. The girls protested, Gisele in particular, because she wanted to hang out in the market with Bertrand. She came but pouted until Margueritte whispered that Relindis was a witch.
“You shouldn’t tell such things,” Relindis said, as she brought them into the mess hall where there were plenty of chairs to sit and talk. “I am trying to be good. The monastery finally got finished and dedicated this last year, and I have minded my prayers and my duties without complaint since then.”
“And so, you deserve a little reward,” Margueritte said. “Tulip,” she called, and the fairy appeared. “I have an old friend of yours,” she said, while Brittany and Grace clapped their hands in excitement.
“So had I,” Gisele said. “I never saw the women. Lefee said her mother used to be a fairy, but I could not see it.”
“Lady Jennifer,” Tulip said. “She used to be Little White Flower, and I heard she was very nice.”
“She is nice,” Gisele said.
“And you remember Lefee?” Margueritte asked.
“Oh yes,” Gisele said. “And the housekeeper’s daughter, Morgan, and the little one. What was her name?”
“Larin. She was Margo’s and Count Tomberlain’s daughter. She should be about fifteen by now.”
“Still young,” Gisele said.
“But not so young when you are twenty-eight and she is twenty-five and you both have young children running around your feet.” Margueritte smiled. “It is all a matter of perspective.” She turned to Relii and Tulip who were remembering when they met. “Tulip,” she interrupted. “Would you like to travel with us for a while.”
“Oh, yes,” Tulip said. “That would be lovely.”
“You would have to ride with the girls here. Could you do that?”
“Yes, if they would like me to.” Brittany and Grace squealed in anticipation.
“Yes,” Gisele said, softly.
“That includes riding with a seven-year-old boy, Gerald, my youngest.”
“I don’t mind. And Martin will be going with us?”
“Yes. And Tulip, this is Gisele. She is the daughter of Charles, the Mayor of the Franks.”
“Really?” Relii and Tulip both looked. “I didn’t know Charles had any children.”
“Oh, yes,” Margueritte assured her. “Her twin, Carloman is right now watching Martin and her younger brother Pepin get into trouble.”
“And I have two younger sisters,” Gisele said. “Aude is fourteen and Hiltrude will be thirteen soon, and a younger half-brother, Grifo. He is almost five. He is Swanachild’s son.”
Margueritte interjected before Relii or Tulip could speak. “Now Tulip, if you want to come with us, you will have to promise to hide around humans, and if you can’t hide, you may have to get big for a bit. I think you should get big now so the girls can see what you look like.”
“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and she got big, and she appeared very beautiful, as all fairies should. Gisele drew her breath in, and Relii spoke.
“I had forgotten.”
Tulip turned to the nun and scolded her. “Now Relii. Your memory is not that bad.”