Jennifer did not say anything for a while. They watched the changing of the guard on the Paris gate, and some young men who were struggling with wooden practice swords and shields. A wagon load of hay came in the Breton gate and headed for the barn, and then Jennifer spoke.
“It must be beautiful over by the Rhine,” she said. “I’ve never been there. Father brought us over from the new world because he felt called. He said you were calling him, by the way. I don’t know. It was a long journey, but we came to Amorica, and Queen LeFleur welcomed us, so here we stayed.”
“Are you glad you stayed?”
Jennifer nodded. “I am glad for everything, but I miss Aden terribly. I know human life is short, and I am prepared for that, for myself, but I never thought to lose Aden so young.”
“Not so young,” Margueritte said.
“Mercy is just eleven. She has had Sylvan for company for a long time. I am glad she has Brittany and Grace here, and Walaric’s daughter Gertrude, who is twelve and more company for Brittany, I suppose.”
“What do you think of Walaric’s wife?”
“Alpaida?” Jennifer thought a moment. “She seems very nice. I can’t believe she is talking about getting pregnant.”
“I know. I can’t believe Margo and Elsbeth are pregnant.”
“I believe it about Elsbeth,” Jennifer said. “She lost one young. That must have been hard. But she says she never felt better than when she was with child. I don’t understand that.”
“Peeing in the bed in the middle of the night, rashes and a butt bigger than a horse,” Margueritte shook her head and Jennifer covered her mouth as she laughed.
“Well, Ingrid calls her home Wesel. It was Horegard’s father’s name, who I never met. But the river is about like the Loire, too wide and deep to cross without a boat. Ingrid is building a bridge across the river there and plans to build a walled village on the other side, where the Lippe River meets the Rhine. She says she can’t resist, now that she knows there is a bunch of undeveloped river land there that is claimed by the County.”
“But you are building a place, too.”
“Another castle,” Margueritte nodded. “And they are cutting great blocks of stone for the walls and towers. It is on as close as the area gets to a hill and overlooks the Rhine and all the county land that Horegard probably did not even know belonged to him. You see, the March around Wesel, that is south and west of the Rhine stops several miles from the Meuse. But on the other side, it is bordered mostly by rivers. The Issel River forms the north border until it meets the Bosch. That is where the county bubble begins as I call it. North of the Bosch, east of the Dinkel, south of the Vechte, and then west of the Issel until you reach the place where it turns away from the Rhine. Draw a straight line to the Rhine, and that is quite a bit of land.”
“A big bubble,” Jennifer nodded, but she could not really picture it. “But are there not people living on all that land. It seems to me the human race is moving in everywhere.”
Margueritte nodded. “More people of old Frankish descent than you might imagine, But Saxons moved into the eastern part decades, maybe a century ago, and the Frisians filled up the western part. It has been difficult claiming the land, and some Saxons and Frisians who were not Christians or not willing to acknowledge Roland and pay their taxes were moved.”
“It sounds like terribly hard work. And how did those people take to being moved off the land?”
“No reaction yet. They understood the rules well enough so there was no misunderstanding. And I think it is not that many years since Charles whipped the Saxons and the Frisians, so maybe there is not enough support to go to war over it. I hope anyway.” Margueritte smiled for her friend who had truly become like a sister. “You could come visit, and I could show it all to you.”
Jennifer shook her head. “When I was Little White Flower, I could not keep still. I wanted to go everywhere and see the world. My father brought us all the way across the ocean because he had to move.”
“The little ones are like the wind,” Margueritte agreed. “They carry the seeds and drive the animals to new places and help them adapt to new environments. They fall with the rain and snow, and push the heat up from beneath the ground, and keep the earth balanced, green and growing. They keep the world turning, and the human race has no idea.”
Jennifer nodded to all that she said but continued her thoughts. “But since I have become human, I find home is the place I most want to be, even though I cry in the night for missing Aden.”
“And you still have young ones,” Margueritte pointed out.
“Yes, but in ten years or so, when Mercy is happily married, I think I may visit Saint Catherine’s de Fierbois. My faith is not what it should be. I feel the nuns there may be what I need, perhaps for many reasons.”
Margueritte said nothing to argue or talk her out of it. Mercy was eleven. Jennifer would have plenty of time to make her own decision.
Margueritte took him to where he could help himself, and then opened her letters. Roland’s got opened first, and Jennifer, Margo, Elsbeth and Owien, and Alpaida were all there waiting for her to read the letters out loud, so starved were the people in those days for any such news.
Margueritte read quickly, and her face turned red from anger. She tore open Charles’ letter and got confirmation. Then she spoke.
“The minute I left, the minute I left!” she repeated the words. “An army of five thousand Saxons crossed the Dinkel and began rampaging though county lands. Bertulf quickly raised all he could get on short notice, while Theobald waited for men from Cologne and as far away as Tournai and Metz. Bertulf had five hundred foot soldiers and five hundred lancers, mostly squires, but only those who had three or so years of training, and that included the older men. He did not want to risk recruits on horseback.” Margueritte let out a loud, “Grr,” and slapped the papers to her knee. Owien took them to read for himself as Margueritte continued.
“Roland says Bertulf and the lancers drove an army ten times their size right back across the Dinkel.” The women looked happy and Elsbeth applauded, but Margueritte made them pause. “Wait. They found ten thousand more Saxons and Turingians massed on the other side of the river. Facing fifteen thousand men, Bertulf withdrew and affected a strategic retreat all the way back to the Rhine, where he crossed over to my castle and prepared to make a defense. Fortunately, it was not much later Roland showed up with Charles and the whole Frankish army. Right now, Charles is driving the Saxons back. And according to Roland, he intends to crush the Thuringians, maybe as far down as the Main River.”
“But that is good news, isn’t it?” Margo asked.
“They will probably have to stop when the weather turns. And if Charles thinks I am going to take on the work of patriating a bunch of stubborn, two-faced Thuringians, he has another think coming.”
“Roland says it was Oswald, the elf King in the area that said the Thuringians were behind it all,” Owien reported. “Maywood confirmed it. He says they egged on the Saxons, calling them cowards and such.”
“The minute I left!” Margueritte repeated.
“Your reputation as a witch scared them,” Elsbeth said with her best, sisterly smile.
“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled. She felt obliged to respond with appropriate volume to the sisterly dig.
“Charles says he is impressed with what your lancers can do, and Roland says he is trying them in different settings and, I quote, drooling like a boy presented with a new toy.”
Goldenrod flew in the nearest window and came straight to Margueritte. “We got mail? I like mail.”
Owien finished reading and handed the letters to Margo.
“And where are the girls?” Margueritte asked.
“Sorry. They had to go around the long way,” she said, even as the young girls burst through the front door. The young women, Morgan, Lefee, Gisele and Larin came a few minutes later.
Margueritte sat down right away and wrote long letters to Roland and Charles. She told Roland she missed him, and he knew where she was. She would be returning to Wesel in the spring of 733, but she hoped to see him before then. She also said if he did not knight Bertulf right then and there, and probably several others as the campaign moved into Thuringia, she would just have to do it herself.
She told Charles that she would gladly work his suggestions into her training regime, but she did not expect a forty-five degree turn in full charge would work. She would think of something, and meanwhile, how dare he take half-trained men and especially boys into a war like that. He could have them to play soldier in 734, and not before.
Margueritte reminded Charles that these were still summer soldiers, who planted in the spring, came to train in the summer, but went home in time for the harvest. True, they took their horses and equipment with them, and they were encouraged to continue their training and their learning over the fall and winter. In some cities, like Cologne in the east and Laval in the west, the young men often gathered to continue their training together, but they were still summer soldiers. She was glad he had found them disciplined. They needed to be on horseback. He needed his permanent foot army to be equally disciplined, but he knew that.
Charles brought his army to Reims after dealing with the Thuringians. Reims was a city in Neustria, but near the Austrasian border, and not too far from Burgundy. From Reims, he could bring his army out and be anywhere in Frankish lands, short of Provence and Vascony in less than a week. But until Charles built his army and kept it together and quartered it for the winter, he, like every other Germanic king and lord, had to settle for summer soldiers. Armies in northern Europe went home in the face of winter. They might come out to fight as early as mid-March, but if the issue was not decided by mid-October, it would not be decided that year. In general, it was not a good way to build an army. No telling if the farmer could use his sword, or if he might run away at the first sight of the enemy.