The Muslims went back over the mountains. Charles gave his daughter Gisele away in marriage. In fact, all the children seemed to be approaching that age. Marta’s Morgan married first, and into a much better position than Marta ever imagined. Lefee also married, a young knight subject to Count Michael of Nantes. Larin turned seventeen in the spring of 733 and fell madly in love. Sadly, Margo did not like the boy
Margueritte turned thirty-six in the spring of 733, and she began to understand what Gerraint said about ages being three to four. Thirty-six for her was like forty-eight in the Storyteller’s day. Life remained hard in the dark ages, even for a countess. Her hair turned gray, her joints complained, and she could not sort the potatoes like she used to. She did not have the option of going to the spa and having her hair and nails done and getting a message and pedicure. God! She at least made Roland massage her feet when he came home. Sadly, he still was not home nearly enough. And then she decided everything in her age seemed sadly this or sadly that.
Margueritte went home to the Saxon March in the spring of 733, and she imagined she moved for the last time. She left Pouance and the castle to Walaric who pledged to serve Owien faithfully, and also pledged to have room for Jennifer and her children for as long as they wanted it. The annex next to the chapel was hers, he said. And besides, he joked that he would not want to make the queen of the fairies mad at him.
733 was one whole year of peace in Frankish lands, and Margueritte rejoiced. Of course, in 734, the Frisians, who had already thrown out the Roman priests again, moved an army up to claim the bigger half of Roland’s land north of the Rhine. Bertulf had nearly two thousand lancers by then with more on the way, and after the spring planting, he raised another two thousand footmen, and they held the line against the Frisians taking the whole thing, and even pushed the Frisians back in a couple of places.
When Charles arrived, he came angry. He beat the Frisians senseless, and the Frisian king, Radbod got killed in battle. He told the priests to wait a month while he tore down every pagan shrine in the country. Then he gathered the Frisian nobles, replaced a few with more sensible men and warned them that they could all be replaced if they did not behave themselves.
“End of discussion,” he said. Frisia became a Frankish province, and Charles marched up to Margueritte and Boniface with a word for the bishop. “Your turn,” he said, and stomped off, still mad about something.
Margueritte agreed. “Force is more of a Muslim thing.”
Boniface looked back. “Martel is a hard man.”
Margueritte grinned. “I would call him Hammerhead, but he would never forgive me. Besides, I would not want to confuse him with the ogre of that name.”
Boniface let out the smallest smile and leaned down to kiss Margueritte’s cheek. She kissed his in return, and they went their separate ways.
By 735, Charles had just about finished reorganizing Burgundy, replacing not only the duke with his brother, but replacing several counts and numerous barons with men who were mostly his supporters. Then old Duke Odo passed away, and Charles had something similar in mind for Aquitaine. He had been keeping to the south because he did not like what was happening in Provence. They had a Muslim presence since 725, or some ten years ago, and they were calling for more. It did not occur to Charles that they would call for Saracens because they were afraid of the hammer.
When Charles arrived in Tolouse, all he could do was yell, “What?”
Hunald explained. “My father retired after the battle of Tours. He turned the dukedom over to me with the full consent and acclimation of the nobility. I have ruled for these past three years.”
“What? What the hell is retired?”
“Something Lady Margueritte talked about way back when she was prisoner here. She said it was best to pass on the reigns when you are still alive, so you can help teach and guide the next generation. She said your own civil war was the result of your father not choosing and declaring his successor before he died.”
Charles thought about it, but he said something else. “That girl makes more trouble than anyone I ever knew.”
“But she is worth it,” Hunald said, and Charles did not argue. He had his hands on five thousand heavy-cavalry and began itching for the Muslims to start something, which he knew they eventually would. In fact, even then, the son of Abdul Rahman sailed into Narbonne harbor with a large force. He moved into Provence and built a strong garrison at Arles, and then forced the other cities of Provence to submit to him and garrisoned them all.
Charles moved down into Provence in 736, surprising the Muslims with his speed. They did not expect him so soon, much less Liutprand, King of the Lombards in northern Italy, who moved up into the same area. Liutprand made an alliance with Charles to remove the Muslim presence from the whole province and return the province to the Roman church. He felt glad he joined Charles when he saw what Charles did at Arles.
Charles had fifteen thousand foot soldiers, almost half of whom were conscripts, and five thousand cavalry, far more horses than Liutprand normally saw. Charles’ brother, Childebrand brought another ten thousand, mostly foot soldiers from Burgundy, but the Muslims had twice the cavalry, and closer to forty thousand foot soldiers. Liutprand thought it would be no contest, until he saw Charles dismantle the Muslims with moves combining his heavy horse and footmen in ways even the Muslims never thought possible. He utterly destroyed the Muslim army, and almost as an afterthought, he burned Arles to the ground. Surely, they would rebuild, but it would never again be a stronghold for the armies of the Caliph.
“The greatest army ever seen since the Romans were at their peak, and Charles took it apart like he was playing with all queens and the Muslims had only pawns,” Liutprand described it.
Once Provence was liberated, and all the Muslim garrisons destroyed in all the cities, Liutprand got ready to go home. He heard rumors of discontent at home, especially from one duke by the name of Spoleto, but Charles had not finished.
Charles moved like a war machine into Septimania. He liberated the cities inland first, then turned on Narbonne. There he encountered a second army, newly arrived by sea for the relief of Arles and the strengthening of the garrisons in Provence. They had no idea that Charles had already moved well passed that. They also had no idea Charles had heavy cavalry. They had imagined it would take the Franks at least a generation to develop heavy cavalry.
Once again, Charles took the Muslims apart. He figured out how to use the heavy cavalry most advantageously with his phalanxes, or thick, chunky box things, as Margueritte called them. Those Muslims who got back to Al-Andalus, limped home, and when it was all over, only Narbonne itself remained in Muslim hands.
Charles considered his options. Assaulting the city would carry a great cost in Frankish lives, and he really wanted to be able to pass on some kind of army to his sons. Putting the city under siege, on the other hand, would cost lives to sickness and dysentery, and take months if not years, given that Narbonne could be supplied from the sea. He let it go. He set local men who could watch it, but for himself and his army, he went home. He said he was going to retire. He said he had sons to train.
Margueritte turned forty in 737 and felt her age. Things in the county were peaceful and prosperous, and Margueritte had no reason to complain, but she wanted Roland home for good. Her father had been home when they were growing up, but those days were full of peace and quiet. She missed those days. She missed her husband. Even the child of her age, Gerald was fourteen, a page, and growing fast.
Roland did come home in 738. He turned forty-seven, and Margueritte thought how gray and old he had gotten. She held on to him every night, and he was good to her, even when she began to have hot flashes and started into what she called mental pause. Then in 741, Charles died from complication from the flu. He passed on at the ripe young age of fifty-three. and Margueritte began to wonder about the future.
Absolutely everyone went to Paris for the funeral. Carloman and Gisele were there and cried. Pepin kept a stiff upper lip. He turned twenty-six, only a few years younger than Charles had been when he contested for rule with Ragenfrid. Weldig Junior, Cotton and the young one, her own Martin at twenty-four, were all there to support Pepin. They were all growing up—grown up. Even “wait up, wait up,” Adalman was there, twenty-one and married, and he already had a son he named Roland.
Pepin had married. All the boys were, and Pepin’s wife would have a son, and they would name him after his grandfather, Charles, but that was in the future. In the present, all she saw was how old everyone seemed. Margo was forty-two. Elsbeth was thirty-eight, and fat. She finally succeeded with fat. And well, she thought, it is time for the next generation to have a turn.
Jennifer was there, still looking young and vital like something from the fairy life did transfer to her human life after all. She was a novitiate at Saint Catherine’s, since Mercy turned twenty-one and had a child of her own. She said that she and Giselle had become friends again. Margueritte felt glad, and in the end, it was with glad feelings that Margueritte went home again. Roland went with her, and she held him every night until he died in 750. Margueritte lived another five years and died wondering who she would be in her next life and wondering if she would ever get to see her children or grandchildren again. But, she decided, she needed to pass on, because otherwise Charles, the grandson, would get to be far too old for her to be his lover.
TOMORROW & WEDNESDAY
Previews of coming attractions. Material I hope to put up soon on Amazon, Smashwords, and elsewhere. At least toe cover art is ready. Also, tune in for the introduction to Avalon, Season 8 which will begin posting on MONDAY. Don’t miss it. Until Tomorrow