Lady Brianna came home, greeted her guests cordially and hoped they had their fill of war stories before she arrived. Soon enough, they were seated around the supper table, Maven and Marta serving. Lord Bartholomew sat at the head of the table with Lady Brianna, Margueritte and Elsbeth to his left. Charles, Roland and Tomberlain were to his right, and Tomberlain would hardly leave poor Roland alone. By necessity, Margueritte paid some attention to the more adult conversation her father and mother had with Charles. He explained the queen’s birthday trouble and the false accusation of Ragenfrid, though it was hardly necessary. Sir Barth had already decided that Charles was in the right and Ragenfrid must be a “Turd.” Naturally, Brianna scolded him for the word.
“Well, I’m glad I’m not in Paris,” Bartholomew said. “I hate politics. I wouldn’t last ten seconds the way those vultures circle around.”
“It is hard at times,” Charles admitted. “But I try to remember our nation and the people. I believe if men like us don’t step up and lead, then men like Ragenfrid will take over.”
“Leading. That’s what I keep trying to get through my son’s thick head. You have to be decisive and patient. You have to decide which way to go and start right out. But then you have to be patient enough to let the others catch up to where you are. Isn’t that right, Tom?”
“Yes, Father.” Tomberlain had long ago learned to keep one ear out for his name on his father’s lips and “Yes Father” was invariably the right answer. Still, it made no difference in his monopoly of Roland, and Margueritte finally got mad enough to kick him under the table. He did not even feel it!
“Yes, Marta,” Lady Brianna affirmed. “Please do so.”
“And so, my dear.” Lord Bartholomew let his guest eat for a minute. “How was your day?”
The lady shook her head. “I do not like this cold or flu that has come on some of the people.”
“What are the symptoms?” Charles asked.
“The usual,” Lady Brianna answered. “Runny nose, cough, congestion.”
“And?” Bartholomew knew there was more.
Brianna turned a little red. “Loose stools.”
Lord Bartholomew started to laugh. “Runny turds,” he joked. Everyone smiled, a little, except Brianna who turned red but did not scold her husband this time. He apologized all the same. “I’m sorry, dear,” he said and laid his hand on hers. “Gentlemen, I will tell you this woman is the best woman and wife a man could ever have.”
“Hush.” Brianna turned a little red again, but this time the smiles around were genuine. Everyone felt warmed by the sentiment and Margueritte rubbed her mother’s arm in support. Finally, Charles spoke.
“This is quite a feast you have made. Your cook is very good.”
“Excellent.” Roland spoke his mind as Tomberlain paused briefly to stuff his face.
“A dwarf.” Bartholomew admitted and pointed at Margueritte while Charles nodded that he understood. “And worth ten times her weight in gold, only because she weighs so little,” he said. He made a joke again. “But to be honest, times have been good of late.” He got vocal now that he entered familiar territory. He could not help talking farm talk. “We lost our eight sheep some years back now and I had to spring for six to start again. Now we have twenty, and the cattle have increased as well.”
“We have more milk than we can use, and the fields have been prosperous, too.” He pointed again at Margueritte.
“Bartholomew.” Lady Brianna squeezed his hand.
“Now, he has seen them,” Bartholomew explained. “I don’t mind giving credit as due.” He turned back to Charles. “I got some Arabians some time back and I have been breeding them with my chargers to see what they might produce. So far, I must say I am impressed with the results, eh?”
On the word Arabians, Charles gave Roland a sideways glance. “And how did you come by these?”
“The Moor.” Bartholomew answered, and then said a bit more. “The Saracens sent an ambassador to Amorica some years ago. I wrote to Paris about it, perhaps you saw the correspondence?”
“No,” Charles admitted.
“But I bet Ragenfrid has,” Roland added.
“What happened?” Charles ignored Roland’s comment.
“Well, he lasted about four years, exactly, before King Urbon threw him out of the country. He was an arrogant, er, man. Why?”
Charles hid nothing. “The Moors invaded Iberia last year, and all the squabbling Visigoth kingdoms there will not be able to withstand them. Earlier this year, the Saracens, as you called them, sailed into Narbonne and made a quick incursion into Aquitaine, all the way to Toulouse. Many were killed and much loot got taken. Pepin concluded that the people of Aquitaine can look after themselves, but I suspect the Arabs may be testing the waters, if you know what I mean.”
“Eh?” Bartholomew thought hard.
“M’lord Charles always likes to think about ten steps ahead,” Roland added.
Bartholomew continued to think for a moment before he answered. “Ten steps ahead is a good thing for a military man. Baron Bernard on the south March in Atlantica always said Lord Ahlmored seemed more likely a spy than an ambassador.”
Charles nodded, but said nothing more about it.
Margueritte took that moment to rise. With Marta upstairs, she would help with the dishes. She picked up her own and then bent forward a little to touch Sir Roland’s plate. She did not mind at that point what he looked at and was rather hoping he would look. “Unless you would like some more?” she said.
Look, he did. Then he pushed back his chair a little and sighed. “No thank you. If I ate one more bite, I could never ride that invisible horse of mine.”
Margueritte smiled and thought he had a wonderful sense of humor. She took his plate and turned to see Elsbeth holding her plate up to also be taken. “Not a chance,” she said. “You help, too.”
“Grrr,” came Elsbeth’s response.