M4 Margueritte: Tours, part 3 of 3

Danna picked up Abraxas and flew to the English Channel in the blink of an eye, and she threw him out over the water.  “Stay off my continent.  It will be death for you to return here.  I am sorry for my islands, but this is it.  Do not interfere with the people.  Do not impede their faith, whichever way they turn.  Find your courage and go over to the other side where your mother and father are waiting for you.  I will not give you forever.”

Abraxas floated in the air, afraid to touch the churning water of the channel beneath his feet.  He turned and flew toward the white cliffs, but before he arrived, Danna got back to Abd al-Makti, who cried and looked like his mind finally snapped altogether.  She blinked the man back to his Iberian home in Al-Andalus and turned to recall her men from the enemy camp.

The men came, some reluctantly, and Danna changed back to Margueritte and asked, “So how did you do?”

“Melanie is still one ahead of me,” Calista complained.  Melanie only grinned.

“Well, we will be going home, to my home.  Maybe you can find a Saxon or Frisian to slaughter, you bloodthirsty mink.”

Walaric walked up and waved the last of the men to safety.  “Peppin took an arrow,” he said casually.  Margueritte nodded.

“Boys,” she said, and the boys, the four men and two elves fell in behind her and Walaric and followed them down the hill.  “We are going to have to get him and any other wounded to Charles before we stop.”

“I’ll work it out,” Walaric assured her, and stepped off.

Margueritte found Duke Odo at the bottom of the back side of the hill where the horses were being held by the men.  The old duke did not look like he had enough strength left to climb the hill, but he smiled as hard as he could.  He gave Margueritte a kiss on the cheek, and men came and helped him up on his horse for the ride back to the Frankish lines.

###

Greta and Doctor Mishka spent most of the late afternoon and night patching up who they could.  Many Franks died and many more would not live long, but Peppin would live if the wound did not become infected, and it was always a big if in those days.

Tomberlain and Owien burst into Greta’s makeshift hospital tent early on and did not even blink on seeing Greta in place of Margueritte.  “We got Abdul Rahman,” Tomberlain blurted out, and did a little dance.

“He was trying to rally his troops,” Owien explained.  “His men were all deserting the line, and I don’t blame them.  We had them beaten.”

“Owien hit the man with a javelin,” Tomberlain interrupted.

“You pulled him from his horse,” Owien turned on his brother.

“We both stabbed him, together.  We got him together.”

“We did,” and the boys hooted, a very Breton sort of hoot.

“They did,” Roland said, as he came in.  “Any chance I can see my wife soon?  I want to scold her for even being here.”  Roland showed a very loving smile which kind of negated his words.

Greta stood and put a hand to his chest to push him back.  “Not just yet.  I can still save some of these men, and Doctor Mishka can save a few more.”

“Is she around?” Charles came in the tent and saw Greta turn into Doctor Mishka.  He had met the Doctor, but this was the first time he saw the instantaneous change take place.  “Remarkable,” was his word for it.

Mishka stopped and faced the man.  “So now you have earned the right to be called Charles Martel.”  She started to clean one man’s shoulder wound as they talked.

“Many of the men call him that already,” Roland admitted.  “Ever since you, or Margueritte said it back in Saxony.”

“I would think more like an anvil,” Tomberlain said.  “The Saracens did the pounding, and we took it and were not moved.”

“Wrong image,” Mishka said.

“I like the hammer image,” Owien said.

“Me too,” Charles said quietly.

“So, Charles Le Martel it is,” Roland said.  “But now, what can we expect tomorrow, or tonight for that matter?”

Mishka spoke up first.  “In my opinion, they will argue all night.  Abdul Rahman did not strike me as a man who appointed a second in command, so it is not clear who will take over now that Rahman is dead.”  Mishka paused and gave Charles a hard stare until Charles got it.

“Roland,” he said.  “If I were to die, Roland will take over the army.  Everyone knows that.”

“Very good,” Mishka continued.  “Though not for Margueritte, I suppose.  But in the morning, I see three options.  Either they will attack again, though that is least likely, or they will retreat to look for a better place to hold the line, or if some commanders sneak away, they may grab whatever treasure they have left and leave altogether.  Pray for the third choice.”

“Yes,” Charles said and rubbed his hands.  “I saw the treasure you collected from the camp.”

“And the people we set free, so they won’t become slaves or end up in some harem.  The people are what matter most.  Never forget that.  Which reminds me, Carloman did his duty.  And no, you may not knight him until he is twenty-one.  Don’t break that rule.  No exceptions.  Pepin and the boys were kept out of it.  They were only allowed to watch and are very upset by that.  Too bad.  And your daughter Gisele is going to marry if you are there to give her away or not.  He is a fine young man.”

“Yes, I was thinking—”

“Don’t.  Don’t think.  She will marry her young man who will win his spurs, if he has not already after today, and she will live in a fine manor house with servants to help her, and she will have children and be happy, and let that be the end of the discussion.”  Mishka stepped around and kissed Tomberlain, Owien, Roland and Charles on the cheek.  “That is from Margueritte, and that is all you get.  Now go away.  These men are supposed to be getting rest and you are just spreading germs everywhere.”

They went, and Owien asked Tomberlain, “What are germs, anyway?”

“Hey, lady,” Peppin called from several men away.  He had been sitting up, listening.  Like all those in the know, he used the term the little ones used when he was not sure of her name.  “Lady, you forgot to tell him about Hunald.”

“Hush,” Doctor Mishka said as she examined Greta’s handiwork on Peppin’s leg.  “He will find out soon enough.”

Later that night, about an hour before dawn, Lord Larchmont came with a report.  The Muslims were escaping, and they did not look to be united in their retreat.  Yellow Leaf thought the Berbers started it, but Birch said it was the Syrians.

Mishka nodded and sent a mental message to all her little ones on the field and in the hills.  They could follow and harass the enemy, but not engage them.  They could take any strays, and any who couldn’t keep up, but otherwise they were to encourage the enemy to go all the way back over the Pyrenees.  If they stop short, they are not to attack, but come and tell her.  Understood?”  Mishka got the general response from a thousand or more that they understood well enough.  Whether or not they would keep her commands was a different question, and unlikely.

After that mental message, Mishka went away to avoid the inevitable migraine, and Margueritte came back, feeling as fresh as the morning.  Except for a couple of hours the day before, she had been away, like off sleeping, and others took her place most of the day.

Margueritte told Larchmont to take a seat on her shoulder and went to Charles to tell him what she learned.  She suggested Hunald and the men of Aquitaine with her horsemen from the march follow the enemy, at a distance.  They wanted encouragement to vacate Frankish lands altogether, and that included Vascony.

“Yes,” Charles started thinking again—a good trait for a general who just came awake from a sound sleep.  “It seems I will have to replace some of those Vascon nobles for their cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

“The Basques won’t like that,” Margueritte warned, but then Roland and Hunald came in, and Margueritte made sure they understood that Larchmont and his men would be keeping an eye on the retreating enemy.  “They will keep you informed of the progress, so you don’t get ahead and stumble into them.  If they stop and gather themselves in Bordeaux or Vascony, like they want to hold on to some territory, you need to get Charles to make them think again.”

“We can pick off some strays, maybe?” Roland thought out loud.

Margueritte shook her head.  “Any strays will be dealt with, and don’t send your own scouts out.  To be honest, some little ones have a hard time telling one human group from another.”

“Yes, I remember,” Hunald said, fascinated by Larchmont.  “I was at Pouance, if you recall.”  Margueritte recalled, but just then, Roland wanted some of her attention before he rode off again, and she wanted some of his.  They emerged around nine o’clock when everyone said the Muslims were not coming again.  Charles’ men scouted the abandoned camp, and indeed, they had packed up their goods and left.  Roland and his thousand, and Hunald and his men from Aquitaine followed, and the rest headed back up the road to Tours.

Charles pulled off the road at Saint Catherine’s de Fierbois.  Margueritte brought the nuns.  Three nuns came this time, and the same old priest who now had to be near eighty, even older than Duke Odo.  The nuns had the box, and the stone came up easily enough.  Margueritte said Charles might still need the sword, but he said he had plenty of swords, and Caliburn saved his life, and that was enough.

“You said there is another who will need this, from under the stone of five crosses,” Charles remembered.  Margueritte nodded, but when she got the box and placed the sword in its brown leather sheath into the box, she saw one of the nuns crying.  Margueritte recognized the woman right away.  They had been close.  Charles took a minute before he spoke her name.

“Giselle,” he said.  “My daughter’s name.”

“Lady,” Giselle wept.  “I can never make up for what I did to you.”

Margueritte put the box with the sword in the floor, and the men laid the stone gently on top and sealed it, so no one would suspect there was something beneath that spot.  Then Margueritte spoke.

“You have no need to make up for what you did,” she said.  “I forgive you.”

Giselle cried all the harder, but Margueritte hurried herself and Charles out of the sanctuary.  When they returned to the road, Charles asked if she really forgave the woman.

“I want to, but it is hard.  But I really want to.”

Charles seemed satisfied.  “It is good to know you are human after all,” and he said no more about it.

************************

MONDAY

There are loose ends to tie up and tomorrow to consider.  But tomorrow always remains a mystery, even to the Kairos, the Traveler in time, the Watcher over history.  Until Monday.  Toward Tomorrow Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 3 of 3

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 came into the tent and Margueritte turned on him.  “You put him up to this, didn’t you?” she accused.

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?”

“He wants us to pretend to be human beanings?”

“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.”

“What us?”

“No, never.”

“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.

************************

MONDAY

Tours.  There is a battle to be fought.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Settling Home, part 2 of 3

“Let Ragenfrid live.  Charles, have you talked to him?  He is not just beaten in battle.  He is a defeated man.  He knew this was his last chance.  The men will not come to his call again.  He poses no threat, and can do no harm, unless you turn him into a Martyr.  There are still plenty of nobles in Neustria, and some in Austrasia who wonder about you taking your father’s place.  They may not be looking over your shoulder, but they are watching.  They are afraid you might turn into a tyrant.  You kill Ragenfrid and it will be like a festering boil on the nation.”

“How do I let a rebel live and not appear weak?”

“An act of Christian charity.  A statement that says Franks should not be fighting Franks, that the nation needs to be united against the external enemies that threaten us all.  Then take back the treasure of Austrasia that your father gained, that Plectrude stole and used to pay off Ragenfrid at Cologne.  That will hurt him worse than anything.  Then draw up a Plectrude agreement, and tell him if he is good, and his sons prove themselves in loyalty, bravery and Christian virtue, they may be allowed to inherit his land and home.”

“You know, Maine and Anjou are not signed off yet.  I all but promised Wulfram a title,” Charles said.

“Excellent.”  Margueritte did not react the way he expected.  “Give him to Count Owien to be baron over the portion of Owien’s land that happens to include Ragenfrid’s home.  Let Wulfram collect Ragenfrid’s taxes with the rest of his barony.  Wulfram can be the bad cop and Owien can be the good cop, and together they can watch over Ragenfrid and keep him in line, and the kingdom does not have a festering boil, and the lords in Neustria and Austrasia will not doubt that you want peace and unity in Frankish lands and are concerned about outsiders.  If you explain it the right way, they may even help you with your army.”

Charles let out a small laugh again.  “Your logic is so flawed I hardly know where to begin.  But I like the part about the Austrasian treasure and holding his sons’ inheritance over his head.  I suppose a Plectrude-like peace may be possible.”

“Charles, please let him live.  You don’t want all your nobles thinking you are a cruel tyrant.  There has been enough killing.  Make peace.”

“Enough,” Charles turned to walk away, but Margueritte stopped him.

“I saved the third thing, the most important thing for last.”  Charles paused and Margueritte had to speak up.  “It concerns Rotrude.”

Charles came back without a word.

“Charles,” Margueritte put her hand on his and showed all her sympathy in her eyes.  “Her lungs are filing with fluid and there is nothing anyone can do.”

“Pneumonia?”

“No, Charles.  Lung cancer, and she has only a short time to live.”

“Are you sure?” Roland asked.

“Greta examined her, and Doctor Mishka concurred.”

“Doctor Pincher?” Roland asked.

“Everyone examined her and agreed.  I am so sorry.”

Charles nodded.  “All the doctors in Paris agreed.  I will take her home.  You have two counts to worry about now, and I expect my heavy cavalry in ten years, no less, and no excuses.”  He left, and Margueritte grabbed Roland and made him go with her up to their room.

###

Margueritte did not get the full ten years.  Six years after Ragenfrid’s rebellion, in 730, Charles finally began to build his permanent standing army.  He filled it with veterans from his many battles, and then he had to pay for it.  To that end, the treasure of the Caliph, taken from Duke Odo of Aquitaine, and the treasure of Austrasia, retaken from Ragenfrid, went a long way to get things started the first few years, but he could not sustain the army without regular help.  He repossessed numerous church lands that he had given away when negotiating with Boniface all those years ago.  There was a row in the church.  At one point, the Pope threatened to excommunicate Charles.  Margueritte intervened directly with Boniface, and Boniface intervened with the Pope.  Boniface well understood what Charles was trying to do and given all the barbarity he had seen in Germanic lands, he did not blame him, and in fact supported Charles in the way Charles always supported him.

The spring after Ragenfrid’s rebellion, which is to say early March 725, Margueritte had her last child, a boy she named Gerald.  Martin turned eight and a half by then and not particularly interested in babies, though he said he was glad to have a brother.  Brittany turned six and a half, and Grace turned five and a third, and all they could talk about, and fight over, was the baby.  Some days were hard.

Of course, Owien and Tomberlain stayed home for a few years to settle all of their properties and appoint honest men to watch over various parts of the land.  Margo had another child, and Elsbeth had two more, almost as close together as Brittany and Grace, and she started to look plump, though Margueritte would never say so out loud.  Lucky for Elsbeth, the elder of the two was a girl, and the younger was a boy, so their rivalry would not be quite as sharp as the rivalry between Brittany and Grace.

It did not take too long, though, before Owien and Tomberlain gathered their men, as many as they could muster, and marched off to join Charles on the frontier.  That happened about April 727, the same month but a year after Margueritte got Walaric, some volunteers among the men, two clerics who knew surveying, and a bundle of mixed Frankish charger and Arabians and headed out for the Saxon march.

Horegard had passed away in 723, about the same time Margueritte lost her baby.  But Rosamund was still around, and though she had become very old, she greeted Margueritte with open arms and a warm smile.  Aduan and Cassius were happy to see her.  Geoffry looked happy as well, and Sigisurd shouted with joy.  She had two children of her own by then and never felt happier.  Theobald was nice, as he had always been nice in their limited contacts, but Ingrid got cold.

“I thought you went away,” Ingrid said.

“I did, but in a short while I fear I may be mistress of all this land, and I need to know what it entails.”

“What right do you have to this land?  You did not work it and slave over it for all these years.  You can’t come in here now and just take it.”

“We are women,” Margueritte said in a very flat voice.  “Like it or not, the land already belongs to Roland as the eldest son.”  Ingrid spit, but Margueritte continued.  “But one reason I want to survey the land is because I have seen the grants of the king, and there is more land than you probably imagined.  I want to know where to build the fortress where Roland and I and our children will live, and how would you like this house and the surrounding fields.”

Ingrid paused and smirked.  “What is the trick?”

“No trick.  How would you like a title, like say, baroness?  That would make Theobald the baron.  Of course, there will be taxes, to help build roads and keep men at arms against the Saxon border, and to help the poor, and support the church, but it should not be enough to inconvenience you, and you could levy a small tax yourself on the villages and land holders in the barony, as long as you help the poor and not make more poor.”

“Wait, wait.  Why would you do this?  I don’t understand.”  Ingrid looked confused.

“We are family.  Why would I not do good for family?”

Ingrid shook her head and went away, baffled by what she heard, but the others crowded around, and Margueritte had to assure them.  “Yes, yes I mean it.  You can look at the maps yourselves, later.  Yes, Aduan.  We can get you a nice home and some serfs to keep the fields, the house, and keep you fed.  Maybe you would like to live near Relii.  Yes, Geoffry.  I won’t leave you and Sigisurd out, but please, let me get unpacked.  The surveying work has not even started.  Let us first see what we are talking about.”

Rosamund hobbled over to the wagon, and so missed most of what got said, but Calista and Melanie were there with Gerald, Brittany and Grace, and the girls were complaining about bumps and bruises even though in June the road seemed fairly clear.  Rosamund fussed over Gerald, and Gerald liked being fussed over, so Margueritte knew they would get along great even if Gerald was being spoiled rotten.

Margueritte took Geoffry and Sigisurd aside and whispered like they were the oldest and dearest of friends.  “Meanwhile, I have picked up a terrible case of elves.  Shh!  Her comes one now.”

“Lady,” Calista stepped up and frowned.  “You know elf ears don’t miss much.”  Calista pointed at her ears, but they presently looked like regular human ears because of the glamour she wore.  She made friends with Geoffry and Sigisurd, something elves do easily, and Margueritte grinned an elf worthy grin and moved on.

“Captain Ragobert.  Please show Walaric’s men where to set up camp.  Same as last time?”  she said the last like a question as her eyes turned to Theobald.  He stared into space, no doubt thinking about being a baron of means.  Margueritte thought maybe in six or seven hundred years, but not so much in the eighth century.

“What?”  Theobald snapped out of it.  “Yes.  Ragobert, you know where to camp.  Same as last time.”

“Very good,” Ragobert responded as Walaric walked up.

Margueritte introduced the knight as one knighted by Charles himself.  She explained how a knight needed to be loyal to the king, brave in battle, and a paragon of Christian virtue.

“Sorry that I am still a sinner in need of a savior like anyone else,” Walaric excused himself.

“He and his men are the main reason I came here,” Margueritte said.  “They are going to teach you and all of your men to ride, and to lance, and fight and become the pride of the Frankish lands.  And we are especially interested in young men, sixteen to eighteen-years-old, that we can train from their youth, and yes, that means we will have to do some building around here.”

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 2 of 3

Out where the town met the castle, the walls that came down from the Paris gate was nine feet for almost a hundred yards before it dropped down to less than seven feet.  DuBois was backing up slowly, trying to make the ground as costly as he could.  Michael and his men were ready to fight and had a hard time keeping still when they saw the men at the back of duBois’ troop coming down through the streets.  Olderon the elf had three hundred elves on top of the short wall to back up Michael.  He, and his command group of six elf lords followed the action as duBois backed away from the castle corner and got into the streets.

“Brave man,” Olderon said quietly.  The others kept silent.  They were on the wall when Ragenfrid’s catapults sent the first volley of stones over the castle wall.  “To your posts,” Olderon ordered as fairies came speeding down the lane Michael made in front of the wall.

“Keep back.  Keep your heads down.  Keep to your places,” the fairies shouted, until they reached duBois.  Then they shouted, “Get in the houses.  Get out of the street.   Get back against the house walls.”

Six hundred lancers, squires, and few knights among them, came roaring down the streets and roads.  Ragenfrid’s men fled back the way they had come, poured out of the town and raced down the Paris Road.  The lancers stopped at the head of the road.  They did not appear the best organized or most impressive looking group, but Ragenfrid’s army wanted no part of those lancers, after they heard what they did to the men of LeMans.

At the same time, Bedwin slowly pulled his men back, like duBois, as Talliso concentrated on the end of King David’s line in the hope of turning it.  Peppin, with three hundred men from the County who came up, and in Tomberlain’s name, drove back the men of Anjou.  When Talliso saw his own flank being turned, and the men of Ragenfrid fleeing, he pulled his men back and retreated carefully to his own camp.

LeMans did not get away with such ease.  His men assaulted the front wall in vain, as Birch and his fairies easily thrust down their ladders, cut their ropes, and kept them away with arrows that rarely missed hitting somewhere.  They saw Creasy withdraw and Talliso follow, so they pulled back without waiting to be told.  But LeMans was around the corner, among the apple trees, concentrating on the postern door.  Unfortunately, he could not figure out how to stick his head out from the trees without getting shot at by the kobold, the brownies, or both.

Luckless and a large party of dwarfs finally pushed up to the postern door.  “You can’t go out there,” Childemund argued.

“Can’t stay in here,” Luckless responded, and pointed at the sky where the rocks were falling.

“They busted the forge,” a red headed dwarf said as he cradled a two-headed axe as big as himself.  Childemund did not doubt these dwarfs were ready for battle.

“On condition,” Childemund said.  “If you succeed in driving LeMans off, let him go and come back into the castle.  You must promise.”

Luckless and all the dwarfs promised with great and colorful language.  After they were let loose, Ringwald the brownie Lord heard that the dwarfs promised, and he laughed and laughed.

“And you believed them?” he asked.  When Childemund nodded, Ringwald laughed harder.

“Heurst,” Childemund called to the kobold lord.  “Bring some men if you want to participate.  We need to go get the dwarfs.”

“They promised to be right back,” Ringwald said, barely, before he laughed some more.

In the end, they got Luckless, and everyone back behind the postern door, but in the meanwhile, Luckless and his dwarfs not only chased off LeMans, they also took a chunk out of the man’s leg.  The man made it back to Ragenfrid’s camp, but he would not live for many days.

Ragenfrid saw his men pulling back and decided on an early lunch.  He would have to revise his attack plans for the afternoon.  The sun would not be favorable by then, so he would have to make some change in direction.  He would also have to decide what to do about Count Amager and Baron Bouchart.  They promised to hold the camp and stay in reserve, but Ragenfrid doubted they would fight.

“What to do?” he said, even as a series of explosions occurred in his line.  He stood and saw the nearest catapult broken to pieces and burning.  He seriously underestimated the resources of the witch.  He would have to finish this quickly.  His source said Rotrude and her children were in the castle.  That was all he wanted.  He knew he could not get her by stealth.  It was going to have to be brute force and manpower.  He still felt confident he would succeed, but first he would have a good lunch.

Lord Yellow Leaf and his warrior fairies flew from Ragenfrid’s lines back to the Paris gate.  He laughed as he spoke.  “Those cat-of-puts won’t be bothering us anymore.”  He let out a Cherokee war cry, and Childemund’s men on the gate all applauded.

Margueritte, Margo, Elsbeth and Jennifer all came upstairs to survey the damage.  The chapel near the short wall looked undamaged.  “I would guess Ragenfrid did not want the stones landing too close to the wall he expected his men to be crawling over,” Jennifer said.

The barn and stables took some hits, along with the manor house.  The house, mostly the roof holes and one spot in the floor of Margueritte’s room all looked repairable.  The stables looked solid, with holes, but the old barn looked ruined.  One whole corner collapsed, the milk cows were out in the yard, one wounded, and the chickens were running wild while potatoes rolled around the yard.  The men would be getting pork for a while as the hog pen looked crushed.  It all looked like a real mess, but it could have been much worse.  The women all showed stiff upper lips until they found the big old oak that had stood all their lives out in front of the house.  It had a crack down the middle and could not have been killed cleaner if it had been struck by lightning.

Margo stared.  Jennifer cried.  Elsbeth wept.  And Margueritte wailed.  Her mother left the oak tree in the yard because it held mistletoe—the last gasp of her pagan, druidic days, when she first married and became a Christian.  She kept the tree up, and it became a sign of stability at times for the whole family.  Margueritte felt this atrocity too much, and everything felt broken in that moment.  Her father got poisoned.  Her baby got killed before he was even born.  Her mother got murdered.  This became too much.

Margueritte felt Elsbeth and Jennifer hold her as she sank to her knees.

###

Margueritte struggled in her funk, but finally resurfaced enough to pull back David’s troops.  She put them on the edge of town where they could fall back to Michael’s position, and she made sure they put out as many obstacles as they could.  On the one hand, it would give the enemy boxes to hide behind, but on the other hand, it would negate a concerted charge and make the enemy crawl around and over things, thus exposing themselves to arrow fire.  It would also give her outnumbered troops plenty of cover.

Peppin complained that putting out all those obstacles would negate his chance to charge with his cavalry.  Margueritte told him he already revealed himself and they now knew where he was.  She told him to send his footmen to reinforce duBois and protect the Paris gate, while his horsemen, dismounted, protected the Breton gate.  She told him, true knights had to be the best and fiercest of fighters, even when their horse got taken away.  In this case, they had to keep a path of access to the gates if they could, in case David and Michael had to retreat behind the wall.

Finally, Margueritte got Ringwald to move down and spread out and hold the front wall, while Heurst and his kobold covered both sides around the postern gate.  This freed Lord Birch and his fairies.  Lord Larchmont went with Peppin, and Lord Yellow Leaf went with duBois, but she borrowed them all, about five hundred fairies, and sent them to the roofs in the line where King David and Count duBois had been.  She knew fairies had to be big to fire their arrows, but she also knew they could get big, fire, and get small again quickly, and thus present a very little target for return fire.  They were to harass the enemy, and not be caught, if possible.  She knew she was tempting the enemy to burn the town to give the men over their heads no place to stand, but she wanted to make the taking of Potentius as costly as possible.

After that, she went back to her tears, but Margo and Elsbeth got her to climb again to the lookout roof which had miraculously survived the catapult bombardment.  Margueritte even roused enough in the climb to comment.

“At least we destroyed the catapults before they started in with the big, wall buster stones.”

“Yes, Lady,” Calista and Melanie echoed each other as they helped Margueritte climb.

Margueritte turned her eyes to Ragenfrid’s lines only long enough to see where he went.  He did, in fact, what she expected.  He concentrated his attack on the center of the town, and poured so many men up that easy incline, King David’s line would have busted open right in the middle.

As expected, Ragenfrid started burning the houses so Birch, Larchmont, and Yellow Leaf would have no place to land.  The fairies got off a number of good shots, and Ragenfrid’s men had to be nervously scanning the skies as they spread out in the streets and came up on King David’s position.

Margueritte guessed Ragenfrid had as many as seven thousand men.  He must have scraped the bottom of the barrel, since Count Amager and Baron Bouchart were holding their men back.  But with those numbers, David’s eighteen hundred beat up men would not hold them back for long.  They might do better when they fell back and got reinforced by Michael’s fresh five hundred, not to mention the elf archers on the wall itself, but they were still outnumbered by more than two to one.

Margueritte had six hundred men on each gate, and that should hold for a time, especially when Larchmont and Yellow Leaf got back into position.  She did not specify where Birch should go, but she imagined he would join the elves under Olderon in the center.  She did not want to watch.

M4 Margueritte: Watch and Rescue, part 1 of 3

Ragenfrid moved some men out before dawn to test the hill between the castle around the Paris gate and the edge of town where the diverted Paris Road entered the town.  That was duBois stronghold, and he was not fooled.  He wanted to give fight but was held back as the goblins and a few trolls had some fun.

At the same time, Talliso tested the south end of town where Bedwin waited behind a barricade with his men ready for the fight.  Again, they held back to allow the dark elves a free hand to chase off the men of Anjou.

The third test, still under the cover of darkness, came from LeMans.  He sent fifty men secretly to the small copse of apple trees outside the postern gate, but by the time they arrived, the dawn came upon them.  The goblins and the few trolls there got a few soldiers and scared enough more so they ran.  That turned out fortuitous for the men of LeMans, because Lord Birch, the old fairy lord, had his archers ready to fire as soon as the sun broke the horizon.

Though all three sorties were easily driven back in the dark, Ragenfrid decided to attack in the morning.  “Besides,” he said.  “Those infernal demons dare not come out in daylight.”

He waited until the sun came fully up and in his enemy’s eyes, then he concentrated on the town.  LeMans with two thousand men got sent to the castle wall around the postern door, and their job was to break in, if possible, but if not, to keep the castle defenders busy in a place where they could not concentrate on what happened in the town.

For three days they watched guardsmen walk the castle walls.  They saw all the activity associated with evacuating the town, but they saw no such guardsmen in town.  Margueritte, of course, had her little ones put up glamours to disguise her intentions. The town looked minimally defended, and as is true with all good glamours, Ragenfrid’s men were encouraged to think wrongly about the truth.  They imagined Margueritte pulled the majority of her men inside the castle to defend the walls, which is what they would have done, so they did not look at the town too closely.

In truth, if Margueritte did not have her little ones to defend the castle, she would have shifted King David’s two thousand men toward the castle to hold the Paris Road, would have moved duBois and his three hundred against the short wall. Michael’s five hundred would have been the only ones she would have taken inside the castle, and that was it.  She would not have changed Peppin’s position at all.  Three thousand men would have still defended the town, and Ragenfrid’s men would have still been surprised.

As it was, Ragenfrid ignored the Paris gate altogether, and massed two thousand men under Creasy to strike up the Paris Road to town.  He let Talliso with another two thousand rush the hill which petered out at that end of town.  They were to turn the defenders and press them back to the short wall that Ragenfrid knew faced the town.  They had ladders to scale that wall, and groups set to attack the Breton and Paris gates from the inside.  Ragenfrid figured once the gates were open, it would only be a matter of time before the castle fell and all opposition ceased.  He had orders to leave the manor house alone so he could take Rotrude, Margo, Margueritte and the other women and children alive, but realistically, in the heat of battle, he did not know what might happen.

Needless to say, things did not go as Ragenfrid planned.

Talliso ran into a wall of Breton, equal to his numbers.  He almost retreated as soon as he arrived.  Bedwin nearly turned Talliso’s flank, and in the end, they became two armies, just within bowshot, staring at each other across an open space, the Breton taunting, and the men of Anjou frustrated.  Talliso would have to do some serious rearranging to break through into the town.

Creasy found his approach to the city equally blocked.  Though duBois had only three hundred to Creasy’s two thousand, the way Creasy came up the Paris Road made it hard for his superior numbers to have an impact.  Creasy also had to rearrange things and send several companies into the area between the road and the Paris gate.  It spread his men, but soon enough his numbers began to tell and duBois had to slowly pull back.

LeMans came up to the corner of the castle where the little postern door looked inviting, and the small group of apple trees appeared to give some cover against any arrow fire from the walls.  His men had big ladders, and a battering ram to pound the door open.  He actually thought he might breach the defenses, but the castle shape appeared deceptive.

West of the door, the wall ran a short way to the completed tower that had long stood near the manor house, where the workmen and Redux the old blacksmith lived.  There, the wall turned ninety degrees and marched down the hill to the farm field before it turned again due west at a half-finished tower.  That stretch of wall sat within bowshot of the back door, and the tower gave a strong redoubt against any enemy who might make it up to the top of the wall with ladders and ropes.  The unfinished wall in that place stood nine feet tall, at the point where Ronan got ready to build an enclosed inner hallway.  Ropes and ladders were going to be the only way up, if LeMans wanted to test it.

East of the door, the wall curved out until it met another, unfinished tower.  Inside the castle, that curve allowed for a space behind the manor house and beside the kitchen where a great vegetable garden could grow.  Though not ideal for a garden, being on the north side and behind the manor house which would block some of the sun, Margueritte had been assured it would suffice for vegetables.  On the outside, the curve in the wall allowed another group of archers to draw a bead on whoever might approach the gate and being able to shoot at an enemy from both sides as well as from the front made for a withering fire of arrows. LeMans found this out, too late.

Childemund had thirty men on the door itself, and the oak in that door, being little one designed, proved far thicker and stronger than LeMans imagined.  His tree trunk of a battering ram did not even shake it, and they did not get many whacks before they had to retreat.  They left a dozen dead, being hit, as they felt, from all sides.  Heurst had his kobold archers on the wall section that dropped down to the field.  Ringwald had his brownies on the curve in the wall.  Childemund’s men cheered when LeMans retreated to the trees, which were, in fact, apple trees in full bloom

Birch had his hands full on the front wall facing the enemy.  Fortunately, Ronan started building the section in the front that would eventually make a six-foot arch for the hallway.  What they had was three feet of extra wall on the front quarter, with regular spaces where the arrow slits would be built.  Birch and his fairies had to be in their big size to fire arrows on the enemy, but the three-foot sections allowed them to fire from the opening and curl back for protection.

“You should build evenly spaced sections like that at the top of the wall when the wall is finished,” Elsbeth said.  The women had gone up to the top of the manor house to watch.  Margueritte had built a small third story room off the corner of the servant’s room where the ladies in waiting, as Margueritte called them, lived in dormitory conditions.  She put a flat roof on top of the third-floor room where people could go and get sun, or see the view over the walls, or take in the stars at night.  Right then, Margo, Elsbeth, Margueritte, Calista and Melanie were watching, and well out of bow range.  Rotrude and Jennifer preferred to stay underground with the dwarf wives and the children.  Neither wanted anything to do with war.

“I think the wall is going to be too big for this tower to see over,” Margo said.  “When it is finished, I mean.”

Margueritte sipped her tea.  “I know.  I was thinking of adding a fourth room, maybe with open arches and a bell, like a church bell tower, and another flat roof on top of that.  what do you think?”  Margueritte felt nervous.  She again wondered how Greta managed to watch everything with such calm.  She decided Greta was fine until she got in the middle of things.  Then she panicked.  She did not do well in Panic situations.  Margueritte, quite to the contrary, did well when she felt part of something.  She had good instincts and good reflexes.  But just sitting and watching got nerve wracking.

“What is that?” Elsbeth noticed.  It looked like dots in the distance that rapidly got bigger.

“Shit!” Margueritte swore.  “Down in, now.  We have to get underground.”   A dozen rocks the size of cannon balls crashed into the house and courtyard below.  The roof of the house got three big holes, and down below, the women and few men they brought in from LeMans’ camp on the farm field screamed in panic.  People got hurt and one or two maybe got killed.

While Calista helped Margo and Elsbeth down the hatch, Margueritte leaned over the railing and shouted, knowing the gnomes would hear her despite the noise and screaming.  “Grimly, Pipes, Catspaw.  Get your friends and get these women and men out the barn gate and into the woods for their own safety.  Hurry.”  Then it was her turn to get down the hatch.

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 4 of 4

They eventually got to discussing just Neustria, and Margueritte pointed out that Orleans, Chartres, Paris, and Soissons all failed to come to Ragenfrid’s call, which was the eastern half of Neustria

“I did not call for their help yet,” Ragenfrid lied.

“Well, even so, I can guarantee Lord Tomberlain, Marquis of the Breton March, will never support you.   His taxes as well as his right arm belong to Charles.”

“He can be replaced,” Ragenfrid threatened.

“Count Michael, what say you?”

“My loyalty is to Tomberlain as it was to his father, Bartholomew, and the people of Nantes and the whole southern march listen to my wife.”

“Here, here,” duBois said.  “And to be honest, I don’t know if Normandy will accept Lord Ragenfrid as Suzerain.”

Ragenfrid yelled.  “This is all nonsense.  I will decide who will be on my border.”

Margueritte smiled, because it was a concession that the Breton March would be on his border, not his territory, though she expected him to backtrack.

“And so will I,” King David spoke up.  “I have a small force here on short notice.  Do not be foolish to think this represents the strength of the Breton people.”

“But he does not know how many men and resources we may have right now,” Margueritte said, coyly.

“Not enough to drive me off,” Ragenfrid responded.

“Or maybe we were just hoping we could come to an agreement without the need for further bloodshed,” Childemund suggested.

“I will appoint men to hold the march that will be acceptable to King David,” Ragenfrid said, with a smile that made Margueritte want to gag.

No one believed him, including his own men.

Eventually, the idea of Marquis of Neustria came up, a title equal to Tomberlain, but not over him.  Ragenfrid insisted on the mayoralty, but that was not going to work.  Charles would see to that, and not be giving it up.

Then Margueritte brought up eastern Neustria again, and Tomberlain’s independence, and offered the title, Marquis of central Neustria.

“But I don’t know if Normandy will accept that,” duBois repeated.

“It had better be acceptable,” Ragenfrid said gruffly

“Of course, that would mean sending taxes and men to fight on the frontier, and accepting Charles as your suzerain,” Margueritte pointed out.

Ragenfrid yelled again that the suggestion of submitting to Charles was totally unacceptable, and no land deal would suffice without the march.  Obviously, he wanted the land to take what he wanted for himself and use the rest to pay off LeMans and Talliso for their loyalty.

Margueritte signaled, and Peppin stood and growled.  “Totally unacceptable.  Lord Tomberlain will not give his place to a rebel.”  He did a credible job, and the Childemund stood and spoke in a quiet voice.

“I don’t believe Charles will allow you to take fully half of Neustria, like a king.  You are not a king, but I will talk to Peppin and Lady Rotrude and find a compromise.”  He walked off, and Margueritte stood, so David, Michael and duBois stood.

“Please,” she said in her most forlorn voice.  “Give me tonight to try and talk sense into Peppin.  Give us tonight,” she said, pointing to the others.  “I know it is my brother Tomberlain whom you would beggar, but I would do almost anything to make peace.”

“Why?” Creasy asked for his own reasons, whatever they might be, and Margueritte suddenly wondered if Ragenfrid promised the man Tomberlain’s place.

“Because if you fight, I will not be able to save you from Charles’ wrath.  If you fight, he will come and destroy you, and your families will be the ones beggared, and the whole Frankish nation will suffer.  Please, give me tonight to talk sense to my friends, and we will have pork tomorrow, if you like.”  She looked at Amager.

“Pork would be fine,” he said, with a smile and a nod.

As she turned to walk up the hill, Baron Bouchart added, “Looking forward to it.”

Margueritte wondered if the baron understood enough of what was going on to have second thoughts.  At least he heard things from a point of view she was sure he never considered.

When she reached the top of the hill and climbed up the half-wall this time, Peppin and Childemund were waiting, and David, Michael and duBois followed her up.  Calista and Melanie, being elves, no doubt heard every word of the meeting and reported as much to the women.  This time the women were as quiet as the men.

“He will attack,” Margueritte said.  “My guess would be first thing in the morning when the sun is in our eyes.”  No one objected to her assessment.  “Even the Storyteller came to that conclusion, and he is a minister, what you would call a priest, and about the most non-violent person I know.”

“Then we better prepare our men and strengthen the sentry posts,” Peppin said.  As sergeant at arms, it was his duty to think of such things.

Margueritte nodded.  “But we are going to have to shift our positions.  I talked to my fairy spies last night.  Ragenfrid has moved away from the castle and toward the town.  I don’t know if he has become aware of the short wall facing the town or not.  Ronan and his men have been working like mad, and they have the wall just short of seven feet tall, so it is too high to jump, but not so high that it cannot be easily climbed.  Gerraint and the others who know about such things say we have to protect the wall.”

“I can move Bedwin and his men to the wall,” King David suggested, but Margueritte shook her head.

“LeMans and Amager are facing the castle, and I have hope that Amager may refuse to fight.  He is still suffering from the enchantment, but he has enough of his own spirit now to where he should be able to fight the enchantment.  I hope Bouchart may also back away, but I have less hope with him, and it should not seriously diminish Ragenfrid’s numbers for the attack on the town.  The people of the town have all been evacuated to Vergenville, so, if necessary, we may all withdraw to the wall.  It is best if we can defend the property, but not imperative.  David, your men fight best together.  DuBois, I need you to stay where you are, at the corner of the castle and the town.  Michael, you need to make a space between the town and the wall, which sadly means tearing down a couple of houses.  Then you need to get whatever wagons, boxes, barrels, and such to build a wall in front of the castle wall, one that your men can get behind.  You need to practice your archery skills.”

Peppin groused.  “You want my men inside the castle?”

“No,” Margueritte said.  “You need to stay in reserve.  Let your veteran men on horseback and foot support David and duBois in the line as needed, and let the rest, the young men on horseback, be ready to sweep in on the flank if it looks like Michael’s line is going to be overwhelmed.”

“And me?” Childemund did not exactly protest.  “You expect my hundred men to hold the castle alone?  If LeMans is facing the castle, I doubt we will be spared from the assault, even if Tours backs off.”

“I want twenty men on the Breton gate, thirty on the postern gate by the kitchens and forty on the main, Paris gate.  I want the other ten outside Rotrude’s room, unless we can convince her to go to Vergenville, at which point the ten can escort her safely there.  I will take care of the defense of the castle walls, and woe to LeMans if he attacks.”

“Lady,” Jennifer objected again.  “It has always been your way to refuse to put your little ones directly in the battle.”

“The Princess put little ones in the battle, I remember.  Generally, you are right, but in this case, Rotrude, Margo, Elsbeth and you, along with all the children who will be held captive underground, no exceptions, makes a difference. The women and children must be protected, and if you will not evacuate, I have no choice.  I just hope whichever one of you said we could hold him off for a day, two at the most was right.”

“Lady,” Calista stepped up, Melanie right beside her.  “We are honored to be included in your battle plans, for once.”

“And you are one of the women with children we will gladly protect,” Melanie said.

Margueritte shook her finger, and her voice was stern.  “And you better not get hurt, either.”

************************

MONDAY

Battle seems inevitable.  The defenders need to hold out long enough for help to arrive.  Good luck.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Negotiations, part 1 of 4

After the Count of LeMans got driven from the farm fields, and the Viscount of Angers got prevented from encircling the village, Margueritte opted to talk and Ragenfrid obliged.  King David, Count Michael, Count duBois, Peppin in the place of Count Tomberlain, and Childemund in the place of Charles, all accompanied her down the hill.  Besides the Count Garrold of LeMans and Viscount Talliso of Angers, Ragenfrid brought Count Amager of Tours, Baron Bouchart of Vendome and Sir Creasy, Lord of Dun from the other side.

Margueritte tussled with the Count of LeMans when she surveyed the lands west of the Sarthe.  She found that over the years, LeMans claimed a large portion of the land.  She took it back, one might say she liberated it, and the people were glad to get out from under the greedy count.  LeMans twice sent men over the river, but Margueritte’s troop drove them back, decisively.  If that had been it, Margueritte might have let it go, but know it or not, this rebellion would be the end of Count Garrold’s lands and title, if Margueritte had anything to say about it.

Margueritte also met Count Amager in Tours.  The man seemed a reasonable and honorable man, at least in front of Charles.  She felt rather disappointed to see him supporting Ragenfrid, and she wondered if she might talk to him privately and help him have second thoughts.

She did not know the other three, but the cruelty of Talliso of Angers had been reported to her by more than one man who moved his family out of Talliso’s territory.  The Baron Bouchart came across as dim witted.  And Sir Creasy of Dun seemed too slick and smarmy for his own good.  Margueritte felt surprised Ragenfrid put up with Creasy.  She figured the man must have a large number of soldiers, or money, or both.

Margueritte sent men first to put up a canopy and set a dozen chairs and a long table on the neutral ground at the bottom of the hill beside the Paris Road.  When she walked casually to the meeting with Ragenfrid, she had the dwarf wives bring a light meal of chicken, with a fine dwarf cheese, elf bread, and several bottles of an excellent Bordeaux wine, a gift from Duke Odo of Aquitaine.  She took the end seat and put King David and Michael to her left.  She set duBois on her right and placed Childemund and Peppin beside him, though their backs would be toward the enemy.

Ragenfrid did not hesitate to take the other end seat, and Garrold of LeMans sat to his right.  The others were not sure what they were supposed to do at this unusual gathering.  Count Amager of Tours started to sit next to Garrold, but Margueritte stopped him.

“No, no.  Amager, please sit next to Michael, Count of Nantes, and it is wonderful to see you again.”

“Lady,” Amager acknowledged her and took his assigned seat.  That got the others to sit.  Talliso of Angers sat between LeMans and Amager.  Bouchart and Creasy sat in the last two seats with the little Creasy next to the imposing Peppin.  Margueritte felt sorry that Peppin would probably get indigestion watching the greasy little slime eat.

“Gentlemen,” Margueritte said, and raised her glass.  “My treat, and please enjoy it before it gets cold.”  Again, the enemy hesitated until Ragenfrid laughed and dug in.  Once the meal got started, not much got said.  The food tasted that good.  And when they had finished, the dwarf wives appeared out of nowhere, cleared the table, and left honey sweetened pastries, sliced apples, and a hearty burgundy for dessert.

At last, Margueritte began.  “I have asked to speak with you so we may devise a way to settle all of our differences without the further need for bloodshed.”  She raised her glass.  “I would like to propose a toast for peace.”  Her men joined her right away.  The enemy moved a bit slow, but Ragenfrid lifted his glass and agreed.

“Peace is always preferred.”

“Exactly,” Margueritte agreed cheerfully.  “And I have drawn up a list of the grievances these men have voiced, and I will gladly counterbalance that with your concerns, as you voice them, and then we will see if we can find common ground and a mutually equitable solution that does not involve war and blood.”

“As you well know, the grievance I have is ultimately with Charles,” Ragenfrid said.  “And what can you guarantee about that?”

Margueritte got distracted.  She looked up the hill to where Pomadoro and his monks were holding a magical shield around the canopy area, so that the sorcerer could not interfere with honest and fair negotiations.  Suddenly, Pomadoro fell to his knees, and Margueritte stood and shouted at the sky.  She raised her hands without realizing it and felt almost like an observer in her own skin as her primal calling took over.  The sky overhead turned black, nearly as dark as night, and a great bolt of lightning struck the middle of Ragenfrid’s camp.  It looked like the explosion of a cruise missile.  Men, animals, tents, and wagons were shredded, thrown in the air, and charred beyond recognition.  Then, as soon as it began, it all stopped.  Margueritte lowered her hands, her hair stopped writhing in the wind like so many snakes, the sky returned to a beautiful spring blue, and Margueritte smiled.  She sighed, sweetly.

“I beg your pardon, gentlemen.  The spirits of the earth were threatened by an unnatural force.  That has now been removed.  Lord Ragenfrid, your sorcerer got taken away at the last second, but now I know who did it.”  They watched Margueritte’s green eyes turn fire golden as she turned her head up and shouted at the sky.

“Abraxas.  Nameless gave you the coward’s option of suicide.  You could do the honorable thing and give up your flesh and blood and go over to the other side.  In any case, you have no place in Frankish or Breton lands.  You are coming very close to being banished from the Lands of Danna.  And the lands of Olympus, and the waters of Amphitrite.  If you want to play with the armies of Islam, Junior will only interfere if you screw up, but be warned.  You come here at your own risk.  You better hear me.”

Margueritte fell to her knees and King David and Count duBois were right there to lift her gently and help her back to her chair where she took a moment to recover before she spoke again.

“You will forgive me if I take a rest.  I know our business is important, and I ask you please not to do anything rash in the night, but right now I have a need for a time of quiet.  Please, let us begin again tomorrow.  I will see what the cooks can do with a bit of beef, if you don’t mind.”  She stood, looking a bit shaky.

David and duBois took her arms again and helped her back up the hill.  Michael and Childemund followed while Peppin looked to see Ragenfrid and his companions march back across the field.  Once they reached the top and were out of sight from the enemy, Margueritte let go, took a moment to brush the dust from her dress and turned to David.

“That was a frightening but fortuitous moment.  I should have brought Thomas of Evandell with me.  He is really an excellent actor as well as a bard.”  She looked and sounded not the least bit tired.  She smiled for the others.  “I believe that went as well as could be expected.  Peppin?”  She walked to where Pomadoro and his monks were settled and chanting something.

“They will return tomorrow, at least.  But Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  No telling how long we may be able to keep it up.”

“I pray we keep it up long enough to negotiate peace, though that is the least likely scenario.”  Margueritte leaned down, heedless of the elf ritual of meditation they were performing, an exercise which she knew perfectly well, and she kissed Pomadoro on the forehead.  Then she went back to climb the castle wall to where Margo, Elsbeth, Jennifer, Rotrude, and quite a number of the women, including Calista and Melanie, were taking the sun and saw the whole thing.  All the while the men were asking Margueritte and pressing Peppin for answers as to what they were doing and what they were talking about.

“Ragenfrid will break first,” Rotrude said.

“My money is on LeMans,” Margo said.  “After the drubbing you gave him, it is a wonder he can show his face.”

Walaric came up to join the conference.  He felt unhappy at being left out, but he understood someone needed to keep the men to their duties.  Elsbeth saw him and thought to nudge him.

“The drubbing would have been worse five years from now, after all those young men get properly trained.”  Elsbeth did not really know what she was talking about, but she heard Margueritte say things like that, and she looked up at Peppin, not meaning to leave him out.

“Yes, that was a remarkable use of horsemen, unheard of,” David said.

“Heavy horse,” Margueritte said.  “It’s the new thing, very modern.  You should get some.”

“I’m with Lady Elsbeth,” Peppin grumped.  “It would have been a massacre with fully trained horsemen.  But it is hard to train men and horses when we only have their attention for two or three months in the summer.”

“But it is all we have for now,” Margueritte sighed

************************

MONDAY

There may be a chance as long as Margueritte can keep Ragenfrid talking.  Too bad Ragenfrid is not known for patience.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Battle, part 2 of 2

In the morning, Peppin and Walaric lined up their hundred veterans in front of a hodgepodge of five hundred young men, some as young as sixteen, but who had been in training at least the summer before.  Any young men who showed up that April, or the first two weeks in May for the first time, were left with the nine hundred men who stood facing the seven thousand across the big field.  Fortunately, they were backed up by a secret thousand little ones who were mostly brownies, kobold, dwarfs and gnomes.  The little ones took the edge of town and stood before the castle walls.  It seemed still slim hope if Ragenfrid mounted an all-out attack, but it counted at least twice what Ragenfrid might have thought they had, even with his best guess.  Of course, he had not been allowed close enough to know, and the men in the castle, just outside on the hill, and in the town, did their best to disguise their actual numbers.  Uncertainty on Ragenfrid’s part would be an effective weapon against him, up to a point.  Of course, she imagined Abd al-Makti might be able to discern exactly how many defenders she had.  She only hoped his vision did not extend to the men from the south march and the Breton she had hidden in the woods.  She wanted that to be a twenty-five-hundred-man surprise.

Of course, given Ragenfrid’s nearly three to one numbers, not counting the little ones, the logic of warfare dictated a strictly defensive battle on Margueritte’s part.  Generals did not attack unless they had a number advantage.  Margueritte thought to do the opposite of that thinking and surprise her enemy.  Since Ragenfrid had been so kind to divide his forces and send LeMans up to her farm fields, the least she could do was take advantage of that.

Margueritte got up on the northern wall, not far from the postern door and the kitchens.  Elsbeth came, and Margo brought chairs, but Margueritte preferred to pace.  Perhaps Margueritte had a better idea of how uncertain everything could be in battle, and especially with her crew of conscripted farmers and children, as she thought of them.  Her only hope was thinking LeMans’ conscripted farmers were not necessarily any better soldiers than her own.  Rotrude wisely decided to stay in her room, and Jennifer stayed with her.  Neither of them had any interest in watching the madness of war.

Margueritte assigned Childemund and duBois to watch Ragenfrid’s camp.  At the last minute, she decided duBois’ three hundred would not be much help in the attack, but they were a solid group to hold the center spot facing Ragenfrid.  She thought, no telling what that man might do once he found his wing in danger.  Two thousand Breton, five hundred from the south march under Michael, and six hundred lancers, such as they were, would trip over themselves badly enough as it was.

“Get it together,” Elsbeth yelled.  Even she could see the disarray in the ranks of young lancers, and Pippin and Walaric on each end, yelling.

This was not going to work, Margueritte thought.  She should let Doctor Pincher give her a head examination.  Maybe Doctor Mishka and Martok could work together to build a medieval MRI.  Margueritte covered her eyes with her hands.

All at once, several hundred knights of the lance appeared on either side of the disorganized mass of young men.  They walked their horses in perfect order until they met at the point, making two perfectly straight sides of a triangle.  The young men inside the elongated triangle straightened up immediately as they passed, or at least their horses did, and by the time the knights of the lance were ready, the young men were ready.  They actually looked like a disciplined troop of knights ready to charge the enemy, and the knights of the lance did not pause, but started the walk across the field.

“They will fall apart when they start to gallop,” Margo commented, casually.

Margueritte nodded, not really having heard.  Her eyes were squinting at the far side of the field where LeMans had drawn his men up in a long line, shields forward, no doubt yelling insults, though the women on the wall were too far away to hear.  Margueritte looked at Melanie and Calista for signs of what the distant men might be yelling, but their faces were unflinching, and their eyes focused on the action.  They were both dressed this time in fine armor, ready for battle.  Margueritte chose to stay in her dress, but she knew her armor was available at a call should she need it.

“Cantering,” Elsbeth reported, and the two thousand Breton began to march forward in the wake of the horses.  It was hardly a march, but at least they were walking.  Margueritte stressed over and over to King David and his captains that they needed to walk and be ready to form up in a shielded line if the foot men from Maine charged in panic, and they needed to walk, not run.  Men and equipment running was a good way to get exhausted and get killed.

“Never run.  Walk.  The enemy will still be there when you get there.”

At least Margueritte did not see any running to catch up to the horsemen.

“Ready to gallop,” Elsbeth reported.

Margueritte covered her eyes with her hands again.  She could not imagine how Greta watched so calmly.  She could not imagine how Gerraint could be in the middle of it.  She did not want to think about it, but it seemed all she could think about.  She did not want to watch, even as she uncovered her eyes.

Her knights and young men lowered their lances in unison and began the charge.  The men of Maine stood firm until then, but with the charge, they broke, and panic made them run for their lives.  The knights cut a hole three hundred men wide in the enemy before they stopped just shy of the distant trees.  There, they turned and took some time forming a line.  The knights of the lance helped, but she still saw Walaric and Peppin, she assumed, riding up and down in front of the line trying in vain to make it straight.  At last, they began to walk their horses forward, lances pointed at the enemy.  They intended to force as many men of Maine as possible into the oncoming Bretons.  It became a classic squeeze play, but Margueritte, not content with merely forcing the fight, had Michael at that point come with five hundred Franks from the woods.  They hit the end of the line with almost as much impact as the lancers, and the already shaky line began to curl up.

The Breton formed up, for the most part, and moved forward in a line of their own.  They repelled the men from Maine who were escaping the press of lancers on their rear.  Soon enough, LeMans abandoned his camp altogether, and most of his men headed for Ragenfrid’s line.  The Breton and young lancers were ordered not to follow.  Michael’s men were ordered to take LeMans’ camp, tents, food, wagons and weapons.  And they were told any mistreatment of the women and they would be crucified.  Crucifixion by then was not literal, but a term used for punishment, and it meant serious punishment.  The men understood.  She warned them almost as much as she told the Breton to walk.

“That was quick,” Margo said, casually.  “It is not even time for lunch.”

“Only now we will have a bunch of loose women camped in the castle.  Not something I am looking forward to,” Elsbeth said as she stood and picked up her chair to take it back inside.

“Yes, but they are going to be mine if Margueritte can convince Charles to go with her plan,” Margo said.  She picked up her own chair, but the sergeant on that part of the castle wall quickly called some soldiers to carry the chairs for the women, and Margueritte thought the Middle Ages were progressing.  Who would have thought it?  Then she heard what Elsbeth said.

“I’m thinking I need to get a couple of women—young women who can help me around the house, the way Rotrude and Margueritte have women.”

“Margueritte has elves,” Margo said.  “It doesn’t count.  But I was thinking the same thing.”

Margueritte stopped and looked at Melanie and Calista who were still dressed for battle and looking disappointed that there was no battle they could participate in.  “So, I have you?”

“Yes, Lady,” Melanie said, and stepped up to walk beside her

“And we have you,” Calista said as she stepped up to Margueritte’s other side.

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 3 of 3

Brianna was the first person buried in the yard set beside by the new church.  They laid her right next to the church where she could be near her husband, and Margueritte had a passing thought to wonder how quickly the yard might fill if Ragenfrid showed up.

Childemund finally remembered where he had seen Rolf in Paris.  The man was a petty thief at least twice brought before the magistrate.  He did hang around with a gang of thieves and pickpockets, but Childemund could not say there were twenty-three.  And he could not imagine what would send such a man on a suicide mission, to attack the castle and all.  When he saw the man in Paris, he rather imagined the man to be a coward.

Margo cried, but not like the girls.  She commented later that now she would have to be the grown up.  She did not sound too happy about that, but Rotrude assured her that it was not so hard.  She had sisters to help, and that was more than Rotrude ever had.  Rotrude also said the yard where Brianna got buried was lovely, with a few trees for shade and a view of the grotto where the sheep passed on their way to the fields to graze.  She said she would like to be buried in just such a place, but after the service, she had to go back to her room to rest.

###

Count duBois brought three hundred men from the northern march to the castle on the tenth of May.  He said they encountered advanced units from Ragenfrid’s army and had to fight their way through.  He only had thirty men, his personal retinue on horseback, and Margueritte felt disappointed, but it was better than she expected.

“I would say Ragenfrid is trying to move men in secret to surround your town and castle,” duBois reported.

“I would say he won’t be able to do that,” Margueritte responded.

DuBois did not understand.  He looked to the men, but they looked to Margueritte.

“I have people in the forest of the Vergen, on the Breton border, and people in the fields and trees south of the village, on the edge of the Banner.  They will watch day and night, and Ragenfrid’s men won’t go there, especially in the night.  We are not Cologne.  We are not a big city with big city walls, but Ragenfrid will find it impossible to cut us off from fresh food and water.  He will not be able to starve us into submission.  He will have to fight.”

“If his army is as big as Larchmont and his, er, men have reported, and I do not doubt that it is, he may not have to fight very hard or very much,” Walaric said.

“What are we talking about?” duBois wanted to know.

“The report says a minimum of eight thousand, and maybe ten.  With your men, we have fifteen hundred, but a third of them are untrained boys,” Peppin said.

“What?” duBois looked astonished they were even talking about making a defense.  “And I suppose a few hunters and farmers are going to keep that force from surrounding us and choking the life from us.  I hope you have a plan for negotiations.”

Margueritte nodded as three women came into the Great Hall.  Rotrude came to the table and sat.  Margo took the seat beside her, and Elsbeth came to stand beside her sister.  “I plan to negotiate Ragenfrid’s unconditional surrender.”

“You are crazy,” duBois said.

“Now hold on,” Childemund interrupted.  “Let us remember what the Lady Brianna said, God rest her.  Let us see what Ragenfrid has in mind before we go and surrender ourselves.”

“And a wise and wonderful lady she was,” Rotrude added, and Margo nodded.

DuBois stood up straight and looked again at the men in the room before he looked at the women.  “Don’t tell me, these are your personal Amazon guard.”

“Hardly,” Margueritte laughed, so the women and Peppin joined her laugh.  “I have Melanie and Calista for that.  The two elves that had been sitting quietly in the back, stood and found bows in their hands, weapons duBois had not seen when he came in.  “They have a kind of contest going on, and right now they are tied on how many of the enemy they have killed.  But you should know who it is that is defending the forest and south of the village.”  She looked at Margo who took Rotrude’s hand.  Rotrude had already been introduced to the fairy lord, Larchmont, and was delighted to find Melanie and Calista were house elves, but it was still a bit of a shock for the newly initiated, so Margo took Rotrude’s hand and Childemund and Walaric stood close to duBois to keep him steady in case he wanted to run away or do something stupid.

“I have no desire to keep secrets from my commanders, including Larchmont.”  Margueritte looked up. “Larchmont, you can come down now, please.  The Count duBois needs to be let into the circle of knowing.”

Larchmont fluttered down, offered a regal bow to Margueritte, and a nod to the others.  “It is an honor, lady, to be in such fine company.  I believe when Count Michael and King David arrive, we will certainly best the enemy, no matter his numbers.”

DuBois jumped on the sight, seemed frozen as he watched the fairy descend, and looked startled when the fairy spoke.  He clearly looked spooked.  It became a fight or flight situation, but then he appeared to change his mind as he spoke.  “So, it is true.  You are a witch to whom even the spirits of the earth must give answer.”

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte stomped her foot, and several others echoed her thought.  “I haven’t got a witchy bone in my body.  Elsbeth here has more witchery in her than I do.”

“Only once a month,” Elsbeth countered, and Rotrude covered her mouth in embarrassment.  Margo also covered her mouth, but to keep from laughing.

“You country girls,” Rotrude smiled and dismissed them as she turned her eyes and thoughts to Larchmont.  “Still, it is remarkable how this gentleman, and the kind ladies love you so dearly.”

“And you, sweet lady,” Melanie said.

“We love you, too,” Calista agreed.  Rotrude found a tear, and Margo comforted her.

“Meanwhile,” duBois said, back to business.  “If you have the forest covered, as you say, then I believe you about keeping Ragenfrid out.  But if he has ten to one odds he may not have to encircle us to crush us.”

“Don’t underestimate my sister’s devious mind,” Elsbeth said.  “She has resources,” but she knew not to say any more.

“And who are you?” duBois obviously felt the need to object to something.  “I understand the non-witch and her fairy friends, but why are these women in this war council?”

“Forgive me.  My manners,” Margueritte said.  “My sister is the baroness of this corner of Anjou and Lady of this Castle if my brother has any sense.”

“Hey,” Margo wanted to object, but Margueritte cut her off.

“Margo is Countess and Marchioness of the Breton March, and by treaty, your overlord.  And I heard you and Tomberlain talking about Laval.”  she turned on Margo.  “I believe you said it is a little city but at least it is a city.”  Margo reluctantly nodded.  “And this fine lady is wife of Charles, mayor of all the Franks.”

“My lady,” duBois said with a backwards step.  “I didn’t know.  I…” He was at a loss for words.

“What is more, Charles’ children are running around this castle even now with our children getting into various levels of trouble.”

“A break from Saint Denis,” Rotrude interjected.

“So you see, defending this place is the only option.  We cannot let these ladies and their children become bargaining chips against Charles and against the Frankish nation.

DuBois had a change of heart and he spoke.  “Ladies, my men and I will defend you to our last breath.  May it be when we are old and comfortably in bed.”

Walaric smiled.  “I think he has got it,” he said.

************************

MONDAY

Ragenfrid arrives with an army of thousands.  Since surrender is not an option, battle plans must be made. Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Disturbances, part 2 of 3

Two days later, a group of twenty men were spotted out in the far field in the north.  They walked, dressed like workers, so nobody paid much attention.  Margo figured, it being spring, they were just more men hoping to earn a living in Potentius, like so many other that had come.  She became persuasive in her point of view, so the others did not pay close attention, but something did not add up in the back of Margueritte’s mind.  Men came to earn a living, but they came in ones, twos, and threes, and sometimes with families, not twenty at once and without any sign of women or children.

Childemund, Peppin, and Margueritte watched from above when Ronan greeted the men at the main gate on the Paris Road.  The head man of the group took off his hat and held it tight.

“My name is Rolf.  I heard you were looking for men to work on your walls.  We got stonework experience and would work hard for pay.”

Childemund picked up the Parisian accent.  Peppin did not like the look of some of them, especially the way a few were looking around the inside of the castle, not like men judging the work, but like men checking the guard posts.  Margueritte frowned, not sure what she felt, but Ronan looked happy.  She imagined with twenty extra pairs of experienced hands, he thought he might finish the walls in a year rather the projected three years.

“I know the head man from somewhere,” Childemund said.  “Now I will be up all night trying to figure it out.”

“You said Parisian,” Peppin pointed out.

“Paris is a big city,” Childemund responded.

“Melanie,” Margueritte turned to her house elf.  “Tell Ronan to tell the men to take lodging in the town.  They can come in and go out the gate every day.”

“Yes lady,” Melanie said and hurried with the word.  Ronan looked up at the wall before he told the new men what he was told, but only Childemund and Peppin were there to be seen.  Brianna had come up and Margueritte already started walking her back to the house.

Margueritte took her elf maid Calista with her when she went to town, several days later.  Melanie stayed with the children, though there was no staying with Martin when Cotton, Weldig Junior, and Pepin were running wild.  They would be solid mud by evening.  Sadly, Carloman, the eleven-year-old, the steady influence, preferred to hang around Father Aden who fascinated the young man by introducing him to Greek, and some Hebrew.  Well, Margueritte thought.  Good for him, and mud washes off after all.

The Kairos established ages ago, when the little spirits of the earth had unavoidable contact with humans, they were to work through human agents, and where that became impossible, they should appear like ordinary humans.  One shop in town had become known for its linen in a good variety of colors and hues.  People purchased the cloth to make clothes for their children and all the nice things they might want around the home.  The shop had a tailor that could let things out or take clothes in as needed, and all of it got reasonably priced.  As long as they had good, paying work in town, people were glad to have Olden’s Finery on the corner in the market square.

Margueritte knew they had more to it.  She stepped into the shop, smiled for the customer she did not know, and thought there were too many new faces in Potentius to keep up.  The woman curtsied, more or less, so Margueritte guessed the woman knew who she was.  She went to the back room behind the curtain and saw the elf women and men working away.  They stopped and stared at her until Olderon came out of the office and told them all to keep working.

“Keep working.”  He had to say it twice.

“Olderon, how are my tunics?” Margueritte asked right away.

Olderon nodded and took her to a couple of crates set out of the way of the worktables.  He opened the first one and pulled out a long piece of off-white linen, well edged, with a head hole in the middle so the tunic would fall front and back like a poncho.  They had a tie on either side at the waist, and on the front, a large golden fleur-de-lis, the same as on the shields.  He had some in blue with a triple design of three fleur-de-lises in a triangle shape with two at the top.  Margueritte intended to give the blue ones to her officers, to know them on the battlefield.

“All good,” Margueritte said.  “I hope we have enough for when Ragenfrid gets here.”

“There will be enough,” Olderon said.  “One thousand are ready, including plenty of extra blue ones as you requested.”

“Very good,” Margueritte said, and stopped.  She looked up as if agitated by something in the air.  Calista gasped, a very agitated sounding gasp.  Olderon voiced the concern.

“Humans are fighting in the castle.  There is blood.”

Margueritte ran, and contrary to her own rules just mentioned, the elves in the shop followed her out into the street.  They found weapons from somewhere unknown, mostly bows with plenty of arrows, and many of them were suddenly wearing one of the tunics with the fleur-de-lis.  The gate on the far side, on the Breton Road, the road to Vergenville, stood closest, but across the open courtyard from the manor house.

They burst in and saw several pockets of fighting around the courtyard.  Luckless, Redux, the men and dwarfs were there to protect the forge works by the tower.  Grimly, Pipes, Catspaw, and the other gnomes by the stables looked ready to repel whatever came their way.  The barn looked on fire, but men were working to put it out.  The barracks were empty, but for the few left to guard the entrance.

Margueritte cared nothing about that.  She wove her way through the swordfights, Calista on her heels until they reached the front door.  Jennifer came in the same way from the chapel and met her there.  Aden, Carloman and the boys had sticks in their hands that could double for clubs.  The Annex was on fire, but some of the castle workers were working on getting it out.  Margueritte saw Martin with a club-stick and swallowed hard.  She had to check on the young ones.

Margueritte, Jennifer and Calista burst into the house together.  The downstairs room looked empty, but they heard noises.  “Calista, check upstairs.”  Margueritte noticed Calista’s long knife at the ready.  “Jennifer, check the underground and see if the dwarf wives got the little ones out.  I have the kitchens out back.  Go.”

The three women divided, Calista taking three steps up at a time.  Jennifer ran to the panel closet in the corner where the secret passage led to the underground dwarf home.  Margueritte did not stay and watch as she burst out the old door and turned toward the kitchen and the big ovens.  She paused and called to her armor and weapons which instantly replaced her clothes and fit snug around her, like a blanket of protection.  She drew her long knife, Defender and inched quietly forward.

Margueritte found her mother Brianna face down in the mud, a knife wound in her back.  She knelt down and held back the tears of grief and anger.

“There she is,” someone shouted.

Margueritte stood, and her appearance in armor with the long knife in her hand caused the three men to pause.  Rolf was the one in the middle, and he let out an awful grin with one word to throw in her face.

“Kairos.”

The two with Rolf began to spread out to encircle her, but Margueritte had another idea, and her word came fueled by her rage.

“Hammerhead,” she shouted in a way where the ogre had to obey.  Wherever he was in the world, he disappeared and reappeared in front of her.  One of the men shrieked.  The other screamed.  Rolf said nothing as Hammerhead picked up Margueritte’s rage, grabbed the man by the arm and shoulder and with his other hand, popped the man’s head right off his body.

The man by the house raced for the court, but an arrow from somewhere in the courtyard caught him dead center.  The other man tried for the Postern gate, but a different arrow caught him.  Larchmont arrived, and after the deed, he flew up to Margueritte.  He noticed the ogre wanted to run to the courtyard and smash every living thing he could reach, but Margueritte had his feet glued to the ground, so all he could do was smash the ground into a great pit, like a sink hole.

“The girls are safe with me,” Larchmont said.  “Lilac and Goldenrod got them out as soon as there was trouble.”  Margueritte nodded as Jennifer, Elsbeth and Calista ran up.

“The babies are all underground, safe with the dwarf wives.  Aude, Hitrude and Brittany as well,” Jennifer shouted, though she was not far.

“Melanie has Rotrude and Margo locked in Rotrude’s room,” Calista said more calmly.  “Melanie got one on the stairs, and I got the one banging on the door, so we are even.”  Calista smiled as if being even with Melanie was important.

Margueritte took it all in, but she had no room for it.  She broke down and covered her mother with her body and her tears.  When Elsbeth saw, she wailed and joined her, and Jennifer joined them as well, and shed big, human tears.