M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 2 of 3

Charles built his permanent army around his veterans, but then he had to pay them so they could support their wives and children, most of whom moved to Reims, so they could be there where the army quartered for the cold months.  Charles also worked his men sometimes in the cold months.  He knew what was coming, and in 732 it came.  Europe and even Rome trembled, but Charles felt vindicated.  The only thing he did not guess correctly was, instead of coming out of Septimania, the Muslims brought their massive army right over the Pyrenees from Iberia.

In March of 732, Margueritte got a letter from Duke Odo, and another from Hunald, even as they were appealing to Charles for help.  “Here is the way it went,” Margueritte said over supper.  “The old duke, and he must be well into his seventies at this point, he made an alliance with one Uthman ibn Naissa, a Berber ruler in Catalunya.  He feared the Muslims, that they would try again, and at his age he did not imagine he had the strength to fight them off again.”

“I am understanding something about age these days,” Peppin said quietly

“But he won the battle of Toulouse.” Walaric said, while Tomberlain and Owien sat silent to listen.

“Handily,” Wulfram added.

“But there were circumstances, like the Muslim commander got lazy and did not set a good watch during the siege, and Duke Odo came on them unprepared, and took them by surprise.  He cut them down before they could mobilize their cavalry, and the odds of all that working a second time in his favor are like none.  But according to Hunald, Duke Odo thought an alliance with the rebellious Berber would put another friendly land between himself and the Emir of Al-Andalus.  Apparently, Odo gave his daughter Lampagia to the Berber as a bride.”

“You mean a bribe,” Margo said quietly, and Margueritte nodded.

“But it all came down in 731, last summer,” she continued.  “Charles came out of Bavaria to march up to face the troubles in Saxony, but Odo did not know that.  He feared Charles would attack him for making the alliance.  The agreement with Charles was Odo could rule in Aquitaine, but he would defer to Charles on dealing with any outsiders.  So Odo kept his army at home while Charles marched through Burgundy, up along his border.

“Meanwhile, the Wali of Cordoba…  Wali is like a governor-general, like the Romans used to have a Magister Millitum for a province.  The Wali, a man named Abu Said Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al ‘Aki Al Ghafiqi, brought his first line troops against the Berber.”

“There’s a mouthful of a name,” Elsbeth said.

“Worse than a name for a Beanie,” Jennifer interjected.

Margueritte nodded.  “And it seems the Berber, without help from Odo, got killed.  Hunald says his sister probably got sent to some harem in Damascus.  But now Odo is between Charles and the Muslims, the old rock and the hard place, and he doesn’t know what to do.  And now the Muslims have an excuse to cross the Pyrenees and take Odo’s land, and the Duke does not see any way to stop them.  Hunald says Abdul Rahman brought his army over the mountains, in early February, and he fears the Vascons will not resist, and Abdul Rahman will overrun Tolouse this time, and they won’t be able to escape.”

Margueritte stood and put down her papers, while Owien asked the operative question.  “What can we do?”

“Go home and train your young men, as planned.  Tomberlain has the Sarthe area.  Peppin has the Mayenne.  Owien, you have the Mauges, south of Angers, south of the Loire, while Wulfram has the north and east, between the rivers and Baugeois.  Walaric, I want you here in Pouance and to work with Captain Lothar on all the men from Segre and Haut.  I will write to Count Michael and Count duBois to be sure they are ready.  We follow Charles.  We have to wait and see what Odo and this Abdul Rahman do.  But be prepared to come on short notice.  No one under eighteen, and no first-year students, but you will need to bring as many as you can, footmen as well as horsemen.”

“Where?”  Tomberlain asked.

Margueritte thought a minute.  “Tours,” she said.  “We will all pay Amager a visit.  From Tours, we can head wherever we need to go in Aquitaine, and we can see what men he might add to our numbers.”

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It became a warm June before Margueritte got another letter from Aquitaine.  Odo got badly defeated around Bordeaux, and now the city was under siege.  Margueritte sat down and wrote to Charles, who stayed in Reims.  What was he waiting for?  Odo would not be able to fend off Abdul Rahman by himself.  It became a scolding letter, and she would have to think about it before she sent it.  She went for a ride.  Concord had gotten old, at eleven years.  A ride for him became more like a walk.  Calista rode with her, but no one else bothered them.  They went out into the Vergen forest, on one of those trails Festuscato marked out years earlier.  This one came near the main road to Vergenville, and Margueritte eventually turned her horse to the road.

“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted.

“I don’t know if you have to do anything,” Calista said.  “Of course, I don’t know how humans work, exactly.  I know what you have told me about Islam, and it sounds terrible and dangerous, but I have heard from some of your little ones living in Iberia, and they say it isn’t so bad.  Of course, that is from an elf perspective.  I don’t know how humans work, exactly.”

“You said that,” Margueritte sighed and she saw Calista whip out her bow.  An arrow from some foe hidden among the trees struck Margueritte in the side, and she had to cling to her horse.

“Quickly,” Calista helped get the horses off the road and helped Margueritte get down and sit, leaning against a tree.  Calista fired an arrow, and quickly fired two more, and Margueritte had a stray thought.

“Poor Melanie.  You are going to get ahead of her.”

“No, Lady.  She got six Saxons and two Thuringians back east.  I am still six behind.”

“Wait six and two is eight.”

“Yes, Lady,” Calista let loose an arrow and announced, “Five to go.”

The arrows trying to get at them stopped, and a half-dozen Saracens charged.

“Hammerhead,” Margueritte yelled the name that came to mind, even as she once yelled the same name close to that very place, so many years ago.  The ogre came, and so did Birch, Larchmont and Yellow Leaf.  Only Luckless and Grimly were missing, but they had duties to attend back in the castle.

The Saracens did not last long.  This time, one made it back to his horse to ride off, but Larchmont and Yellow Leaf went after him, so he did not get far.  Fairies can fly much faster than any horse can run.

Calista complained.  “Thanks.  Melanie is still three ahead of me.”

Margueritte tried not to laugh.  It hurt too much.

“Lady.”  Hammerhead picked her up, gently, and Margueritte tried not to throw-up from the smell.  She closed her eyes and thought about flowers while Hammerhead carried her to the Breton gate.  The guards on duty balked at letting in the ogre, but they knew Birch, and Margueritte, of course, in the ogre’s arms.  They also knew Calista and the two horses she brought that shied away from the ogre.

“Open up, and be quick,” Birch said.  He stood in his big form and looked like a true Lord.  They opened but kept well back as Hammerhead brought Margueritte to the house.  He laid Margueritte down and backed off so men could carry her inside.  Hammerhead remembered he was not allowed in the house, so he sat by the oak sapling and the bench and waited.

Elsbeth and Tomberlain held Margueritte’s hands and called for Doctor Pincher.  He came and scooted everyone from the room, but let Jennifer stay.  Margueritte lost a lot of blood, but he said she should recover.

“It will be a few weeks in bed and several more of low activity.  We will have to watch to be sure she does not get it infected.  Keep it clean and clean cloths,” he said, and Jennifer said not to worry.

After those three weeks, as Margueritte first stood and thought about trying to go downstairs, Roland came roaring into the castle with twenty men on horseback.  They were all older men, traditional horsemen, Childemund among them, but they had all seen the lancers fight the Saxons and Thuringians, and they were anxious to get their hands on such weapons.

Roland held Margueritte and carried her down the stairs.  He became so cute and attentive, Margueritte almost got tempted to stay injured for a while.  Soon enough, though, she was able to sit for supper in the Great Hall, and she spoke from the end seat, where her father used to sit.  She wanted Roland to take the end seat, but he would not hear it.  He took her mother’s old seat so he could cut her meat, if she needed his help.

Jennifer sat on Margueritte’s left, opposite Roland and next to Tomberlain and Margo.  Owien and Elsbeth sat next to Roland.  Margo kept Walaric’s wife, Alpaida next to her.  Alpaida was still not entirely comfortable with the fairies, elves, gnomes, and dwarfs that occasionally popped up around the castle, though she had no complaints about Lolly’s cooking.  Walaric sat next to his wife, and Wulfram sat beside him.  On the other side, Childemund sat next to Elsbeth and Sir Peppin, and Captain Lothar sat across from Wulfram.

Tomberlain stood and toasted his family, and he counted everyone at the table like family because they had become that close.  Then Margueritte asked a question that started everything.

“What is Charles playing at?  He knows he has to come out and fight while there is time.  Odo cannot do it alone.  He should have gotten the message from Bordeaux.”

“He wants Odo taken down some before moving.  And I agree, it is a dangerous game.  Odo may lose entirely, and Abdul Rahman may be emboldened by the victory.”

“We will be ready,” Owien said.

“But we fight for Charles,” Tomberlain reminded him.  “Right now, we have to wait until he calls.”

“He may be waiting for winter,” Wulfram suggested from the far end of the table.  “These Saracens are used to the hot weather.  I was thinking they have not experienced the kinds of winters we have.”

“I just hope he does not wait too long,” Peppin said, and he nudged Childemund who looked up with a dumb look on his face.

“What?  I’m just enjoying this apple pie that Lady Elsbeth did not make.  I am attacking it, and the pie is going to lose.”

M4 Margueritte: Prince of the Franks, part 3 of 3

The first evening across the border, they had a visit from a rider.  He caught the captain by the fire, and Margueritte sat right there, listening.  The rider said the duke had moved on to get behind the stout walls of Bourges and they were to meet him there.  From Bourges, he had plans to send word to Languedoc and to Bordeaux and Poitiers to call up the army.

“So, you expect the Franks to follow?” the captain asked.

“I don’t know what to expect,” the rider answered honestly.  “But the duke has the Neustrian king with him, so someone is bound to follow.”

“What happened?”  The captain missed all the action.

“It was a complete disaster,” the rider answered with a heavy sound.  “The king and his mayor were only able to raise six thousand men, and I think they were only the ones dependent in some way on the mayor.  They were able to double that number with conscripts, but you know militia doesn’t always fight well.  The numbers were more even when we got there, but still.”  The man paused to sip his drink.  “It was an utter defeat.  Charles, the Austrasian and Ragenfrid the mayor stared at each other for three days, and Ragenfrid blinked.  That is the only way I can explain it.”  He shook his head.

“So how did the duke end up with the king?”

The rider shrugged.  “I assume the king asked for protection, maybe sanctuary.  All I know is the duke said he was lucky to get out with as many of his men intact as he did.”

“How many?”

“About a thousand.  Nearly three thousand of our men ended up dead, wounded or captured.  It was a disaster.  And I don’t think the king of the Franks saved that many.  Ragenfrid appears to have fled.  Who knows where?”

“And now Duke Odo thinks Charles may be coming here?” Margueritte asked.  The two men turned to stare at her, the rider with his jaw open.  “What?  I’m sitting right here.  You didn’t think I was listening?”

“I heard she is a witch,” the rider said, calmly.

“Hello.  I’m right here.  Are you asking if I’m a witch? I may become one if you don’t answer my question.  Does Duke Odo think Charles is coming here?”

The rider shook his head and spoke plainly.  “I don’t know what the duke thinks, but I think Charles is bound to come, for you if not for the king.”  He turned again to the captain.  “When the duke heard who you captured, he got bad angry.  When he calmed down, he said maybe she would make a hostage, but he said to tell you if Charles or his advanced scouts catch you, don’t harm the woman.  Give her back, unharmed.  He said, no point in pissing off Charles more than necessary,” The rider took another sip.  “I tell you the duke was badly shaken by the way the battle went.  He said Charles was like a cat playing with a mouse.  It was bad.”

“So, wait a minute,” Margueritte interrupted.  “If the duke did not send you to take me prisoner, who sent you.  And how did you know it was me?”

The captain stared at her again and the rider kept looking back and forth between the two of them.  The rider looked for an answer, but in the captain, Margueritte could just about see the millstone grinding away at the wheat in the desperate attempt to make flour.

“I don’t know.  I don’t remember.”

“Well, someone sent ground castor seeds to spice the soup.  Deadly poison.  My friends at the inn where you found me are probably all dead, and I want to know who did it.”

The captain nodded and fingered his lips, like it might magically help him remember.  Margueritte could just about see the water wheel this time going around and round but not getting anywhere.  “So do I,” he said.

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Captain Gilbert and his men stuck around for three months.  They watched the army gather in May, escort the duke, the king and Margueritte to Toulouse in June, and get bored in July.  It started to look like everyone guessed wrong, and Charles was not coming.

Margueritte staved off the boredom by playing chess with Odo.  He seemed a nice enough man, and she did her best to keep the conversation pleasant.  She wanted to be clearly distinguished from Chilperic II, who was an annoying and demanding sort of person that no one would ever guess used to be a monk.  Margueritte, by contrast, got Odo to talk about his favorite subject, himself.  She asked about his people and his land, his staff and counselors and such.  She asked nothing about his army, so he had no reason to be suspicious.  But in all that time she got no indication that anyone might have sent the captain and his men to kidnap her, and she found out nothing about castor seeds.  It seemed like whoever stood behind the crime simply vanished, or maybe they vanished.  She admitted the poison and the kidnapping might have been two different people. 

She heard nothing to indicate it was not Abd al-Makti, but nothing said it was, until an ambassador from Cordoba showed up in Toulouse and became smitten with Margueritte.  All he could talk about for four days was her hair, her fascinating green eyes, her figure.  Good grief, she had gotten four months along and began to show.  Apparently, that did not matter.  The fact that she was married did not matter either.  He got overheard saying unbeliever marriages were not real marriages.

On the fourth night, he offered Odo a great deal of gold for ‘the girl’.  Odo stayed strong and refused.  In fact, everything the ambassador did and said seemed to offend the duke.  The duke prepared to escort the man back to the border, when the ambassador tried to steal Margueritte in the dark.  The man would not settle for no.  All he could talk about was putting her away in his harem.  He said he had to lock her away where she could be safe and not get into trouble.  Captain Gilbert had to kill the man.  His company had to make sure none of the Ambassador’s people, mostly Visigoth slaves, escaped.

The duke went into a tizzy.  Naturally, Charles showed up.  The duke tried to stay strong with Charles, but he mostly worried about what he could possibly say when the Iberians came looking for their ambassador.  He suddenly felt surrounded by strong enemies, and at this point, due to recent experience, he feared Charles more.  He only knew the Muslims by rumor.

Charles made it easy.  He offered to confirm Odo as Duke of Aquitaine for life, as long as the duke did not make any outside alliances with anyone but the Franks.  He also offered to take Chilperic off the duke’s hands, which the duke was eager to allow, so in all, it became an amenable discussion until Charles brought up the issue of money.  Duke Odo got testy.  He had an army of his own.  But then again, he saw what Charles’ army could do, and the money was not worth the risk of losing everything.

“What about the ambassador’s gold?” Margueritte whispered in Odo’s ear.  “That leaves no evidence that the ambassador ever arrived here.”  Odo smiled at the thought and said he could do that.  As a result, the down-payment for Charles’ standing army got paid for by the Caliph.

Roland carried Margueritte out of Toulouse, talking the whole way.  “Charles gave Chilperic a choice.  He could proclaim Charles Mayor of his palace in front of the assembled Neustrian nobles, and Charles would proclaim him King over all the Franks.  Then Chilperic could stay in the palace or go back to the monastery, his choice, as long as he shut up and kept his opinions to himself.  The alternative was to go and meet his maker.”

“He didn’t really say that did he?” Margueritte asked.

“Basically.  Those were his words.”

Margueritte wondered when she stepped into a grade B western movie.  She laughed, then she told Roland about her experiences and concluded with, “That is twice now.  Someone wants me out of the way, and it is getting serious.”

“Poison is serious,” Roland agreed.

“I almost went into a harem,” Margueritte objected.  “If I ended up there, I would look for poison myself.”

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MONDAY

Battles and the political struggle for dominance is nothing. What is hard is Margueritte birthing child number two and them traveling all the way to the Saxon March to introduce herself to Roland’s family. Until then, Happy Reading.

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