Margueritte sat, still patting Brittany’s back, though Brittany had gotten quiet. She thought through what Gerraint proposed. If Abd al-Makti was not permitted to get to her directly, either to have her killed or remove her from the picture in some way, he could still get to her through her family. He could tie her up with worries and being needed at home, and thus keep her preoccupied forever. She had no proof that Abd al-Makti might have been responsible for her father’s stroke. God knew Father did not exactly eat right or properly take care of himself over the last few years especially, but it felt suspicious enough to get her thinking, or get Gerraint thinking. She squeezed Brittany for a moment and let out a few tears.
“What is it?” Mother asked.
“The building is going well.” Father felt he had to change the subject, even if there wasn’t any subject yet.
Margueritte nodded and wiped her eyes. “All of it is going as well as might be expected.”
“Yes, but all the expense. I scrimped and saved my whole life, and you are making me a pauper.”
“Father,” Margueritte looked up. “Nobility is supposed to be land rich and cash poor. Besides, it is worth it. I will do almost anything to keep the Ahlmoreds of the world from coming here and taking over.”
Father nodded and reached out his good hand to take Mother’s hand, which she gladly gave him. He looked at her and let out his crooked smile. “I met the man, you know.”
Jennifer came in from the back where she had been out by the kitchen generally hiding from all the humans. The servants, Marta and Maven were good friends, and Lolly was a dwarf as well, so that all seemed fine, but that was enough, especially when her hands were full of children. LeFee kept trying to help, like a grown-up girl, but the boys, Martin, Cotton and Marta’s boy, Weldig Junior, the oldest boy at nearly three-and-a-half, were too much to handle. Marta’s older girl, Morgan turned seven, but she seemed content to play with Margo’s three-year-old girl, Larin.
“Boys. Sit.” Jennifer ordered, and the boys got more or less up on the couch while Jennifer collapsed in a soft chair. “I never imagined.”
Margueritte smiled at her own thoughts. “It won’t be long before the boys go sneaking off to go fishing without telling anyone. Before you know it, they will be getting into big trouble.”
“Getting into trouble is what boys do best,” Elsbeth said, as she came in holding Owien’s hand.
“It is not,” Owien protested.
“It is,” Mother confirmed.
“What we have to look forward to,” Jennifer said.
“Not my problem,” Margo said, but Margueritte shook her finger at the woman.
“Careful, or you will end up with junior there running after these three sixteen-year-olds yelling, “Wait up. Wait up.” Margueritte made a face and waved her hands. People laughed at the image, but Brittany interrupted.
Margueritte hugged her baby. “You heard that. You all heard that.”
Brittany continued. “Da-da-da-da.”
“Dada is not here,” Margueritte said. “Here, sit with your aunt Elsbeth for a minute.” She handed Brittany to Elsbeth and stood to fetch Martin off the couch. He had started to squirm, so she put him in her lap and brushed her fingers through his unkempt hair, like a nervous twitch while she talked. She told them about Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, and some of the harrowing experiences she had been through. She shared her suspicions about him turning on her family to keep her occupied and out of the way. Then she apologized, like it was her fault in some way.
“Don’t be stupid,” her father said.
“It’s not your fault,” Mother quickly joined him.
“But maybe what Abd al-Makti does not realize is I don’t have to be in Saxony to work. The important work is being started right here. But I am afraid he may figure it out, and then I will be afraid for you all.”
Not me,” Margo said and moaned a little. She held her stomach. “I would be more afraid for him if he gets you upset.” The others generally agreed, but Margueritte thought of something else, and she called.
The half-dwarf doctor appeared, took one look at Margo, and scolded everyone. “How long were you planning to keep this woman in labor before getting her to bed and calling me?”
“Oh,” Jennifer stood right away and Margueritte also went to Margo. Mother followed while Margueritte and Jennifer helped Margo get back upstairs to bed.
“Boys. Stay right where you are and don’t move an inch.” Elsbeth’s words were sharp, and the boys stopped whatever they were doing and thinking. Father chuckled.
“Sweet Babushka, you have another grandson,” Mishka said.
“Wait up, wait up,” Jennifer said, made the face and waved her hands. Mishka joined her in a laugh and Mother tried not to snicker as she went in to see her new grandson.
Roland and Tomberlain showed up around November first. Roland said they beat the Saxons back and moved down to thrash the Alemanni. Charles finally had to let the army disband for a time, and anyway, he promised to meet Boniface in Paris. Apparently, Boniface made a good start on organizing the church and reducing some of the overlap, but there was more to do, and he was anxious to see what land Charles had to offer. A few prime spots would help the church, greatly.
It turned November thirteenth when they all sat down to supper in the Great Hall for the first time. Margueritte thought she had to get more tapestries or something on the walls to deaden the echo. Father called it the best room he ever saw, and four new rooms upstairs, which they struggled one day to get him up there to see, he said were perfect. Now he knew his family would be well taken care of.
Brittany turned one on the thirteenth. Martin would turn three on December second. Jennifer would probably have her baby between the two, somewhere in those two weeks. Margueritte probably wouldn’t have hers until after Christmas. Roland and Father Aden were talking like old friends who had never been apart. Margueritte thought the only one missing was Thomas of Evandell. She had to interrupt.
“I trust in Boniface’s mind he is concerned about bringing peace to the church, but what I want to know is why are these bishops so greedy?”
Father Aden, who arrived a whole month before Roland shook his head. “I would like to think it is not greed, even if I don’t know what else to think. A monastery needs enough land to support itself, and that is all. A bishop needs to provide oversight in matters of faith, and that is all. That is what a bishop is, an overseer. Anything more than that is of the devil, as Jesus said. You can’t serve God and money.”
“But it does look like money and power are in the front of the mind of some of these men, and some women,” Roland said. “Too many noble sons and daughters being elevated as a way to give them something when they are not going to inherit.”
“Money and power,” Margueritte concluded. “They are generally not worth the trouble, but it does not look good for the church.”
“Attention.” Father banged his spoon against the table. He sat at the head of the big table. The children had their own smaller table off to the side, and Giselle and Goldenrod volunteered to help, now that Margueritte had figured out how to let Goldenrod into the house without setting her father to sneezing his head off. “Attention.”
Mother sat beside Father so she could cut his food to bite sized pieces. Elsbeth and Owien were beside her while Tomberlain, Margo and their new baby boy, Adalman were right beside him. Margueritte made Roland sit next to Tomberlain. Father Aden sat next to Owien, which put Margueritte and Jennifer on the end, with four seats still empty at the table, but being at the end made it easier if they had to get up for the children, especially Margueritte who expected Brittany to start fussing any minute.
“Attention. I just want to say how proud I am of all of you.” Mother stopped him for a minute because he started drooling. She wiped his chin, and he began again. “You are all the best a father could hope for. It was touch and go for some of you for a while.” Mother wanted to interrupt, but he brushed her off. “Let me speak. Tomberlain was a hardhead ten years ago, and Margueritte kept getting whisked away by some monster or other, and Elsbeth.” Father patted Elsbeth’s hand. “But you all grew out of it, and this hall, this home is the proof that everything is about perfect. You have the best children. You are the best children, including all of you that married or got like adopted. I am not leaving anyone out. And right now, Owien wants to say something.”
Owien had no idea this was coming. He looked at Elsbeth, looked to Mother, back to Elsbeth. He looked embarrassed. He stood up. “Elsbeth said yes.” Everyone applauded and cheered. “I mean, we were going to wait until Elsbeth’s birthday to announce our engagement, but I guess we can say something now.” He sat down, and Elsbeth gave him a kiss in front of everyone. All Margueritte could think was now Goldenrod did not have anyone to tattle to that Elsbeth and Owien were getting all kissy face.
Father banged his spoon. “I say, let al-Monkey do his worst. I got the best family a man can have, and nothing can change that or take that away.”
It was a good little speech, and Margueritte saw Giselle, of all people, crying. She meant to ask her about it later but forgot for a long time. Father died within the week.
Margueritte discovers there is far more land in their land grant than she ever suspected. She will have to survey it all for Count Tomberlain, and in the process, accidentally start the Middle Ages. Until Monday. Happy Reading