Charles moved at the beginning of September. Abdul Rahman had groups of men looting and pillaging all over western Aquitaine. He met Odo at the river Garrone and defeated Odo a second time. Odo limped north and begged Charles for help. Charles moved and expected to meet the Wali at some point in early October. He noted that Abdul Rahman’s men had not moved into eastern Aquitaine, had avoided Tolouse, and had not come up to Bourges, but the rest of the duchy was being burned.
Margueritte and her family, and all the horsemen and footmen they could muster went to Tours. She made a note of the flags and coats of arms on display. Flags and painted shields became yet another relatively new thing, not well displayed in the past, if the lord even had a flag to display. Then there were tunics with symbols worn over the armor so men could better tell the good guys from the bad guys. But they were becoming the Middle Ages, leaving the old Roman world well behind, like ancient history, and making a new way of living and doing business. Margueritte felt saddened by the fact that she could not build any public schools for all the children of the Franks, and Bretons for that matter, but she dared not. She had introduced enough innovations and was already in danger of going too far. Besides, the first university of sorts would not be built until Charlemagne and that monk, what’s-his-name, got around to it.
When Charles arrived in Tours he was impressed by her turnout, but he said something that Margueritte had forgotten. “Do you think this is what that assassin meant when he mentioned the battle of Tours?”
Margueritte shrugged. “It may be, and he said he wanted to change the outcome. Too bad he did not say how the battle came out.”
“I know,” Charles agreed. “And it has bothered me for these ten or so years.”
“Not yet. The ten years are not up.”
“And I know this too. I am fully convinced of the great potential of your heavy cavalry, but they are still like a half-cooked meal. You need to keep them here with yourself in reserve. If my veterans break, we may need them to defend Tours.”
“Between Tomberlain, Owien, Wulfram, Walaric and Peppin, we have over a thousand veterans, though not veterans who fought with a lance.”
“Keep them here. I will take your footmen, and Tomberlain, Owien, Childemund and Wulfram. You keep Walaric and Peppin with you.”
Roland wanted to say no, but he nodded. “You are still weak from your wound. The battlefield is not where you belong.”
Margueritte frowned. “But maybe I do belong. I have no doubt Abd al-Makti has come out of his isolation and is with Abdul Rahman. In fact, it has been confirmed for me. No doubt Odo’s men were affected by the man’s sorcery, and I fear your men, veterans though they be, may be affected in the same way unless you have some extraordinary protection.” Margueritte got as blunt as she could.
“I will overlook the aberration in your defense of Pouance. You once said we humans have to fight our own battles, and this we have done. My men need to stand on their own feet or not, as God will decide.”
Margueritte looked down before she nodded. “You are right. The Almighty will decide.”
“Besides,” Roland added, though he almost started it up again. “I suspect Abd al-Makti was behind your attempted assassination in the Vergen forest.”
“You need to live long enough to finish training the men,” Charles said, thought for a second, and added, “And hopefully a long and happy life.”
“Abd al-Makti was behind the attempt, but not for the reasons you think. The man is a scholar, not a general. For all his time hanging around armies and military men, I doubt he has learned anything and has no idea how it works, and he does not care. He is a man who is so enamored with his own bits of power, he does not have room for such a strange subject. He has others to do that work for him. No, it is simple. He has been told I am a danger to the plan, and for that reason he has tried for years to remove me or have me removed from the playing field. The attempted assassination was desperation on his part. But will he warn Abdul Rahman about our cavalry? I doubt he could tell heavy cavalry from plow horses or describe the difference between a sword and a sheath.”
Charles’ hand went to his side. “Caliburn served me well,” he said.
“And this battle may be the reason I gave it to you,” Margueritte said, and she took Roland out from the tent to have a little private time before he rushed off again to war.
Two days later, Charles, Roland and all their officers and lords, including Tomberlain, Owien and Count Amager of Tours, sat around a great fire with the Bishop of Tours who came to offer a blessing for the troops. That done, they sat and relaxed, and took an early lunch. They would be moving out in the morning.
“It would be wonderful to know God’s will in all of this, to hear his voice, but that would be too much to ask,” the bishop said.
“I would like to know what pit of Hell these Saracens came from so I can put them back where they belong,” Charles suggested.
“To actually hear God’s voice would certainly be something,” Count Amager said.
Roland saw Margueritte come up to talk a moment with Tomberlain, and he spoke up. “I don’t see why that should be so special. I talk to God every morning when I wake up, and God talks to me and reminds me of everything I need to do that day, and how I need to set a good example for my children and the people in my care, how I always need to consider grace and mercy, and justice, and how peace is better than war. Let me tell you, talking to God sends shivers down my spine.” The others looked at him with staring, open-mouthed expressions. “Yes,” he continued. “What is most remarkable, however, is how much God sounds like my wife.”
The men paused before the laughter broke out. Their eyes turned toward Margueritte, who had turned and heard enough. She felt a response was necessary, so she said, “In the immortal words of my sister, Elsbeth,” and she gave Roland her best raspberries before walking off. Of course, the men merely laughed harder.
When Charles moved down from Tours, he put Saint Catherine’s behind him and took a position off the road to Poitiers. He set his men behind a wood at the top of a slight rise and waited. Charles had ten thousand men in his army, and another five thousand veterans from various campaigns. He also had five thousand conscripts whom he sent off to gather the necessary food stuff from the countryside, and while twenty thousand was not the largest army in the world, he was confident that his was the best
Abdul Rahman would have to travel up the road with his main force if he wanted to get at Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier, which was Saint Martin’s. The abbey was said to have riches beyond dreams, which it did not have, and Christian relics, which the Muslims loved to destroy.
“He could sidestep in this area and go across country,” Wulfram pointed out.
“We need to hope he does not,” Charles said. “There is no better position for what we are facing between here and Tours.”
“Let me see if I can do anything,” Roland said, and he left Charles’ tent to talk to Margueritte’s people.
Since our Lady is in Tours,” Birch spoke. “She said it would be best to help you here, but it is for you to decide how we may best serve.”
Roland considered the elves, brownies and kobold, the hundreds of gnomes and dwarfs, and the goblins who waited his command. Hammerhead the ogre even brought his whole family to help, if they could, and there were trolls and hobgoblins and others that he had never seen, but he knew them all, being married to Margueritte. It became a heady experience, but he felt a deep, abiding love for every one of them and he hated the idea that any of them should be hurt. Then he had a thought.
“Can you make yourselves appear to be Frankish soldiers?” he asked.
“What did he ask?”
“Eww,” the little ones objected.
“It’s a terrible idea, Lord,” Grimly said. “You ask a lot”
“Just pretend,” Roland said. “To trick the enemy is all. I thought you liked to trick people.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” the little ones said.
“Well, just do it,” Roland responded. “And here is what I want you to do.” He explained his plan, and they understood right away. Roland thought, for people who did not like tricking people, they took to the idea without a second thought.
“Right Lord,” Luckless said at last. “Now where do you want us when the battle starts?”
“Nowhere near the battle,” Roland answered, and some of the dwarfs and some others threw a fit, until a hobgoblin named Ringwater stepped up with a proposal.
“Since you are forcing us to do terrible, nasty tricks on the Saracens, the least we can do is set a haunting in the woods to scare them when they move through to attack the Franks.”
“As long as you don’t have to stay in the woods,” Roland said. “Margueritte would be very upset if I let any of you folks get hurt.” The little ones all nodded and smiled at how much they loved their goddess and how much she loved them.
Roland finished by sending Larchmont’s men to scout the Muslims and keep Margueritte informed as to their progress. The very next day, Larchmont himself came in with Duke Odo, Hunald and five thousand men of Aquitaine. Charles shook his head, but since this was their land, he could hardy tell them to go away. He set them on his right where the hill went steeply up. He figured there they would be less likely to break and run
The men of Aquitaine made the old duke stay at the back of the formation. Hunald took command and placed two dozen horsemen around the duke. They were to whisk him away if the Muslims broke through the line. Charles said the Muslims were not going to break the line, so he had no need to worry.
“We have been practicing for this very engagement over the last ten plus years,” he said. “I think we know our business by now,” but he had some private concerns. He figured he could count on fifteen thousand men, while the men from Aquitaine and his conscripts could help, but he could not count on them. Abdul Rahman came up the road with twenty-five thousand men in tow, and Charles figured they were all battle-hardened veterans.
Tours. There is a battle to be fought. Until Monday, Happy Reading