M4 Margueritte: Toward Tomorrow

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.

“I am not sure force is the way to win people to Christ,” Boniface said softly.

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.

Margueritte thought it was a lovely name.  She always liked it, and she had forgotten all about Roncevaux pass and a certain Roland, Marquis of the Breton Mark, and what would happen there.

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.

END

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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

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M4 Margueritte: Tours, part 1 of 3

Abdul Rahman stopped in the gap before the forest, where the road ran between the hills.  He seemed a bit surprised to find an army blocking his way, but he did not think much of it.  He had little respect for the military prowess of what he considered the Germanic barbarians.  Certainly, the Visigoths fell quickly enough, and the Vascons cowered as he passed by.  He came over the mountains with fifty thousand men, and even after two bloody battles and the siege of Bordeaux, he still had forty thousand who could fight like fresh troops.

Abdul Rahman al-Ghafiqi had fifteen thousand men at that point, out in the province, killing locals and taking everything of value they could, including humans who would serve as slaves.  He found the white Visigoths made acceptable slaves and saw no reason why the Franks might not be the same.  So, he waited, and felt more concerned about the coming cold weather than he did about facing a Frankish army.  He counted his gold, and that warmed him, as his men counted their loot and thought about blonde barbarians waiting on them and meeting their every desire.

“The cavalry will run them over, as they ran over Duke Odo, twice,” he said.  His scouts told him the Franks had no horsemen to speak of.  Abdul Rahman raised his eyebrows a little when his men reported campfires in the hills on both sides of the road.  But he still did not fret.  He imagined the Franks might equal his numbers after all, but that would not help them if they were spread out through the hills.  True, it would prevent him from circling around behind the enemy, but he did not plan to do that.  He planned to plow right through the Franks and head straight for the riches of Tours.

Abdul Rahman stayed for six days in the same spot.  He waited for his men to come in from the surrounding area and waited to see if the Franks would be foolish enough to charge his position.  He rather hoped they would, that this Charles would lack the patience the other Germanic people he faced had lacked.  But Charles stood his ground, and his men, used to the cold October winds and rain, made no complaint.

By the third evening, Abdul Rahman called for the madman.  “What do you make of the fires in the hills,” he asked.

Abd al-Makti’s eyes got big, and he muttered nonsense for a minute before he shouted, “Spirits in the night.”  He looked like a broken man and laughed like one as well.  “The hills are full of ancient and powerful spirits, and they are against us.  They are all against us.  I have the power to drive them off, but when I grow tired, they come right back.  They always come right back.”

“I cannot deny what he says may be true,” one of Abdul Rahman’s generals spoke up.  “We send scouts into the hills, and they do not come back.  We send a troop, and they believe there are Frankish soldiers in the distance, drinking and laughing around the fire, but they ride to the firelight and find nothing there when they arrive.  There is not even an extinguished fire.  It is like they are chasing after ghosts.”

“Spirits,” Abd al-Makti repeated.  “It is her doing.  The spirits obey her.  The witch.  The spirits obey her wicked bidding, and they are against us.”

Another man stepped up, one from Septimania.  “I have heard this mad man speak of a woman since the day he arrived in Narbonne,” he said.  “I have never discovered the identity of this witch, but apparently, she is with the Franks.”

“Witchery from the Franks would not surprise me,” Abdul Rahman said.  “But I am not a superstitious man.  We ride in the name of Allah, by the Holy Prophet.  We will be strengthened, and the victory will be ours.  Bring me some of the Franks from the hills,” he ordered, and for three more nights, men went out, and while they saw the fires in the distance, they never found one, and sometimes the men never returned.

By the sixth evening, Abdul Rahman’s men were up to full strength of forty thousand.  Roland, Lord Birch and Charles all judged that the Saracens would attack in the morning.  They got their men ready, and Odo came up with a plan to ride around and attack the Muslim camp with his horsemen, and any that Charles could spare.

“I cannot spare any,” Charles said.  “But the idea does have merit.”  He had no idea that before the light dawned on the seventh day, Margueritte, Calista, Walaric and Pippin lead a thousand of their veterans on horseback from Tours and traveled by secret elf ways to the battlefield.  It would still take them most of the morning to arrive, but Larchmont’s messenger told her what Odo proposed, and Margueritte also thought the idea had merit.

Abdul Rahman sent his heavy cavalry first thing to clear the road.  True, they had to ride up hill and through trees so they could not build up to a good charge, but they were experienced at moving through all sorts of unfavorable terrain, and they quickly came to the Frankish line.  The Frankish archers hardly slowed them.

The Franks, to the great surprise of the Muslim cavalry, stood like a stone wall.  As horses crowded against each other, the men on their backs became easy targets for Frankish spears and javelins.  The Franks were supposed to break and run away, like all barbarians did, but the Saracens instead began to fall in great numbers.

One Muslim commander held back to judge where Charles would most likely be.  He led a concentrated charge on that spot and almost broke through.  For a few brief moments, Charles got exposed.  Three men on foot, one of whom was the commander, having lost their horses, faced Charles, and thought the day was won.  Charles pulled Caliburn and easily sliced the first man across the middle.  The second man, the astute commander, parried Charles’ sword, so Charles did what he had been told and thrust—an utterly unexpected move.  Caliburn sank deep into the man’s chest.  The man knew instantly that he was dying, but he grinned as his hands grabbed the sword.  His fingers and thumbs got cut off, but he yanked the sword right out of Charles’ hand as he fell.  The third man smiled, thinking he had Charles trapped, but Charles called.

“Caliburn,” he said, and the sword vacated the commander’s chest and flew back to Charles’ hand.  The third man, wide eyed, turned and ran away as Tomberlain, Roland and a dozen veterans came to drive off the rest.  To be sure, Ragenfrid’s elder sons, Bernard and Adalbert were in the front of the line to rescue Charles.  The Franks closed-up the gap, and that one man running away started the retreat.

With his heavy cavalry beaten back, Abdul Rahman realized that this would not be as easy as he supposed.  He took nearly an hour to think about it, while Charles, Roland, Tomberlain, Owien, Wulfram and all of Charles’ commanders and sergeants, and eventually all of the Frankish nobility shouted.

“Hold the line.  Archers to the front.  This isn’t over. The battle has just started,” and many encouragements to get the men ready.  Hunald also picked up the yelling, and it helped his men.  The men of Aquitaine were shaking and might have broken if not for the courage of the Franks beside them.

This time, Abdul Rahman thought to send his light cavalry.  He had fifteen thousand to send, and he figured they would wend their way up the hill and through the woods better than the heavily burdened cavalry he normally depended on.  Many of the light cavalry were Berbers who rode smaller, more agile horses, almost ponies, and they did not need as much ground to get up a good charge.

The Franks, however, were just beyond bowshot of the trees.  While the light Muslim cavalry had practiced at shooting bows from horseback, they could hardly draw a bead on the enemy when the minute they popped their heads out of the trees, they got shot.  This kept them from even getting started in any sort of charge, until one commander forced them forward.  They were not going to ride in and out of range and hit the Franks with volleys of arrows, at least not without being hit in return, so they drew their swords and attacked.  Again, the Franks were unmoved, and while these smaller horses did not get tangled up the way the big horses got in each other’s way, the toll on the Muslims became even more devastating.  Wulfram had been right as far as it went all those years ago.  In circumstances, such as close quarters, the man on foot had the advantage in being able to move, bob and weave.  Plus, these lighter cavalry men also had lighter armor, where the Franks had solid armor, mostly chain, that could stand up to many sword thrusts and even arrows.

It did not take long before the Muslim light cavalry called it quits and went back down the hill to rest.  Abdul Rahman gave them an hour and felt astounded that any barbarian army could stand up to such an awful beating.  He was not aware, though his commanders were, that Rahman’s forces were the ones getting the worst of the beating.

Abdul Rahman put his armor on and had his horse saddled.  He intended to end this and planned to throw everything he had at the Frankish line, including nearly ten thousand men on foot, to follow the horses.  That would leave only two thousand to guard the camp, but he was not thinking at that point about guarding the camp.  He got angry and stomped around like his personal honor was impugned.  How dare these Christians stand in the way of the armies of the Prophet.  He would crush them and kill them all.  As he mocked the barbarians for being impatient, one might say he became equally guilty of arrogance.  Pride, after all, is the first sin, and Abdul Rahman had plenty of it.

M4 Margueritte: Banners of Christendom, part 1 of 3

Jennifer did not say anything for a while.  They watched the changing of the guard on the Paris gate, and some young men who were struggling with wooden practice swords and shields.  A wagon load of hay came in the Breton gate and headed for the barn, and then Jennifer spoke.

“It must be beautiful over by the Rhine,” she said.  “I’ve never been there.  Father brought us over from the new world because he felt called.  He said you were calling him, by the way.  I don’t know.  It was a long journey, but we came to Amorica, and Queen LeFleur welcomed us, so here we stayed.”

“Are you glad you stayed?”

Jennifer nodded.  “I am glad for everything, but I miss Aden terribly.  I know human life is short, and I am prepared for that, for myself, but I never thought to lose Aden so young.”

“Not so young,” Margueritte said.

“Mercy is just eleven.  She has had Sylvan for company for a long time.  I am glad she has Brittany and Grace here, and Walaric’s daughter Gertrude, who is twelve and more company for Brittany, I suppose.”

“What do you think of Walaric’s wife?”

“Alpaida?” Jennifer thought a moment.  “She seems very nice.  I can’t believe she is talking about getting pregnant.”

“I know.  I can’t believe Margo and Elsbeth are pregnant.”

“I believe it about Elsbeth,” Jennifer said.  “She lost one young.  That must have been hard.  But she says she never felt better than when she was with child.  I don’t understand that.”

“Peeing in the bed in the middle of the night, rashes and a butt bigger than a horse,” Margueritte shook her head and Jennifer covered her mouth as she laughed.

“But tell me about the Rhine,” Jennifer changed the subject.

“Well, Ingrid calls her home Wesel.  It was Horegard’s father’s name, who I never met.  But the river is about like the Loire, too wide and deep to cross without a boat.  Ingrid is building a bridge across the river there and plans to build a walled village on the other side, where the Lippe River meets the Rhine.  She says she can’t resist, now that she knows there is a bunch of undeveloped river land there that is claimed by the County.”

“But you are building a place, too.”

“Another castle,” Margueritte nodded.  “And they are cutting great blocks of stone for the walls and towers.  It is on as close as the area gets to a hill and overlooks the Rhine and all the county land that Horegard probably did not even know belonged to him.  You see, the March around Wesel, that is south and west of the Rhine stops several miles from the Meuse.  But on the other side, it is bordered mostly by rivers.  The Issel River forms the north border until it meets the Bosch.  That is where the county bubble begins as I call it.  North of the Bosch, east of the Dinkel, south of the Vechte, and then west of the Issel until you reach the place where it turns away from the Rhine.  Draw a straight line to the Rhine, and that is quite a bit of land.”

“A big bubble,” Jennifer nodded, but she could not really picture it.  “But are there not people living on all that land.  It seems to me the human race is moving in everywhere.”

Margueritte nodded.  “More people of old Frankish descent than you might imagine, But Saxons moved into the eastern part decades, maybe a century ago, and the Frisians filled up the western part.  It has been difficult claiming the land, and some Saxons and Frisians who were not Christians or not willing to acknowledge Roland and pay their taxes were moved.”

“It sounds like terribly hard work.  And how did those people take to being moved off the land?”

“No reaction yet.  They understood the rules well enough so there was no misunderstanding.  And I think it is not that many years since Charles whipped the Saxons and the Frisians, so maybe there is not enough support to go to war over it.  I hope anyway.”  Margueritte smiled for her friend who had truly become like a sister.  “You could come visit, and I could show it all to you.”

Jennifer shook her head.  “When I was Little White Flower, I could not keep still.  I wanted to go everywhere and see the world.  My father brought us all the way across the ocean because he had to move.”

“The little ones are like the wind,” Margueritte agreed.  “They carry the seeds and drive the animals to new places and help them adapt to new environments.  They fall with the rain and snow, and push the heat up from beneath the ground, and keep the earth balanced, green and growing. They keep the world turning, and the human race has no idea.”

Jennifer nodded to all that she said but continued her thoughts.  “But since I have become human, I find home is the place I most want to be, even though I cry in the night for missing Aden.”

“And you still have young ones,” Margueritte pointed out.

“Yes, but in ten years or so, when Mercy is happily married, I think I may visit Saint Catherine’s de Fierbois.  My faith is not what it should be.  I feel the nuns there may be what I need, perhaps for many reasons.”

Margueritte said nothing to argue or talk her out of it.  Mercy was eleven.  Jennifer would have plenty of time to make her own decision.

Three days later, Childemund arrived from Paris and complained.  “What happened to my quiet little farm?”  Then he asked, “Got any apple pie?”

Margueritte took him to where he could help himself, and then opened her letters.  Roland’s got opened first, and Jennifer, Margo, Elsbeth and Owien, and Alpaida were all there waiting for her to read the letters out loud, so starved were the people in those days for any such news.

Margueritte read quickly, and her face turned red from anger.  She tore open Charles’ letter and got confirmation.  Then she spoke.

“The minute I left, the minute I left!” she repeated the words.  “An army of five thousand Saxons crossed the Dinkel and began rampaging though county lands.  Bertulf quickly raised all he could get on short notice, while Theobald waited for men from Cologne and as far away as Tournai and Metz.  Bertulf had five hundred foot soldiers and five hundred lancers, mostly squires, but only those who had three or so years of training, and that included the older men.  He did not want to risk recruits on horseback.”  Margueritte let out a loud, “Grr,” and slapped the papers to her knee.  Owien took them to read for himself as Margueritte continued.

“Roland says Bertulf and the lancers drove an army ten times their size right back across the Dinkel.”  The women looked happy and Elsbeth applauded, but Margueritte made them pause.  “Wait.  They found ten thousand more Saxons and Turingians massed on the other side of the river.  Facing fifteen thousand men, Bertulf withdrew and affected a strategic retreat all the way back to the Rhine, where he crossed over to my castle and prepared to make a defense.  Fortunately, it was not much later Roland showed up with Charles and the whole Frankish army.  Right now, Charles is driving the Saxons back.  And according to Roland, he intends to crush the Thuringians, maybe as far down as the Main River.”

“But that is good news, isn’t it?” Margo asked.

“They will probably have to stop when the weather turns.  And if Charles thinks I am going to take on the work of patriating a bunch of stubborn, two-faced Thuringians, he has another think coming.”

“Roland says it was Oswald, the elf King in the area that said the Thuringians were behind it all,” Owien reported.  “Maywood confirmed it.  He says they egged on the Saxons, calling them cowards and such.”

“The minute I left!” Margueritte repeated.

“Your reputation as a witch scared them,” Elsbeth said with her best, sisterly smile.

“I am not a witch,” Margueritte yelled.  She felt obliged to respond with appropriate volume to the sisterly dig.

“Charles says he is impressed with what your lancers can do, and Roland says he is trying them in different settings and, I quote, drooling like a boy presented with a new toy.”

Goldenrod flew in the nearest window and came straight to Margueritte.  “We got mail?  I like mail.”

Owien finished reading and handed the letters to Margo.

“And where are the girls?” Margueritte asked.

“Sorry.  They had to go around the long way,” she said, even as the young girls burst through the front door.  The young women, Morgan, Lefee, Gisele and Larin came a few minutes later.

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Margueritte sat down right away and wrote long letters to Roland and Charles.  She told Roland she missed him, and he knew where she was.  She would be returning to Wesel in the spring of 733, but she hoped to see him before then. She also said if he did not knight Bertulf right then and there, and probably several others as the campaign moved into Thuringia, she would just have to do it herself.

She told Charles that she would gladly work his suggestions into her training regime, but she did not expect a forty-five degree turn in full charge would work.  She would think of something, and meanwhile, how dare he take half-trained men and especially boys into a war like that.   He could have them to play soldier in 734, and not before.

Margueritte reminded Charles that these were still summer soldiers, who planted in the spring, came to train in the summer, but went home in time for the harvest.  True, they took their horses and equipment with them, and they were encouraged to continue their training and their learning over the fall and winter.  In some cities, like Cologne in the east and Laval in the west, the young men often gathered to continue their training together, but they were still summer soldiers.  She was glad he had found them disciplined.  They needed to be on horseback.  He needed his permanent foot army to be equally disciplined, but he knew that.

Charles brought his army to Reims after dealing with the Thuringians.  Reims was a city in Neustria, but near the Austrasian border, and not too far from Burgundy.  From Reims, he could bring his army out and be anywhere in Frankish lands, short of Provence and Vascony in less than a week.  But until Charles built his army and kept it together and quartered it for the winter, he, like every other Germanic king and lord, had to settle for summer soldiers.  Armies in northern Europe went home in the face of winter.  They might come out to fight as early as mid-March, but if the issue was not decided by mid-October, it would not be decided that year.  In general, it was not a good way to build an army.  No telling if the farmer could use his sword, or if he might run away at the first sight of the enemy.

M4 Margueritte: Settling Home, part 3 of 3

As if on cue, which is the sort of timing the little ones often exhibit, Luckless came from one direction and Grimly came from the other.  Luckless complained first.

“We are going to have to tear down that primitive blacksmith forge and build a proper one from scratch,” he said.

“Lady,” Grimly had something to say.  “We better get started building those stables right away.  Even though it is June, the way you humans build things, the cold weather will be upon us before we have a place to keep the horses warm and healthy.”

“And the barracks,” Walaric said.  “Some word of what you have been doing in Maine and Anjou has reached here, and all the ones we talked to on the way will send their young men soon enough.  I’m surprised some of them did not get here ahead of us.”

“It sounds like real work,” Cassius said.

“It will be, but the real work will be in the learning and teaching.  I brought a nest egg to get the work started, but we have to get our surveyors out starting yesterday so we can get the population settled and properly taxed.”

“I already know how to fight and ride,” Theobald caught up with the conversation.

“Good.  I was hoping as much,” Margueritte said. “So, you can help teach the young ones.”

“That is not what I meant.”

“Baron needs to set a good example,” she said and smiled.

It took until the following spring before the family really began to understand what this was all about and how this was going to work.  Gerald turned two, and then Margueritte turned thirty in the spring of 727, and she felt too old to have a two-year-old.  Theobald spent Margueritte’s birthday complaining that he would never get good with the lance.  Cassius teased him.

“Easy for you,” Theobald said.  “You are younger and carefree.”

“What about Geoffry?” Cassius rubbed it in.  Geoffry was a natural, and Theobald just frowned.

Mama Rosamund died that summer, and the family mourned, but Margueritte made sure to assure Ingrid that the house was now hers, and Ingrid still complained.

“Subject to you, of course, and my stupid brother.”

“And to Charles and the king, of course.  But you are a good person and will do good for the people on your land and under your care, and your brother and I will love you even when you feel like yelling.”

Ingrid walked away, confused as usual.

In 728, some of the first young ones really seemed to be getting it.  The number of true heavy horses that could reasonably carry the weight of all the armor and weapons remained small, but the herd grew under Grimly’s care, and Luckless found local dwarfs and a couple of dark elves to work under cover in the night, and the stockpile of weapons, armor and shields also grew.

Early on, Aduan proved to have a real talent for silk screening, as Margueritte described it.  She made the figure of a black eagle that impressed everyone.  The large version went on the flag that hung outside the barracks, which were really more like dormitories for the youth.  An annex where the teachers lived and held classes got built beside it, connected by a hallway.  Another flag flew outside the growing fortress, several miles upriver, on a hill overlooking the Rhine.

Aduan made a pattern of smaller eagles, and three in a red stripe ran diagonally down yellow-colored shields.  Aduan wanted to do a dragon, but Margueritte said no, she already did the dragon.  Instead, she made a design of simple red and white stripes for the lower Rhine, no animal images, and shortly decided on one horizontal white stripe across about a third of the red shield.  When she changed the bottom third of the shield to blue, she said it looked more Dutch, even if no one knew what she was talking about.

By 729, Margueritte felt confident enough in her men, mostly the older men, to cross the Rhine and reclaim all the land that got named in the original grant of Dagobert.  There were old Frankish families on the land, and plenty of new families since Charles came through and beat back both the Frisians and the Saxons.  But there were also plenty of Frisians and Saxons on the land, some of whom came back after Charles and his army left the area.

She gave no choice to the Franks, and for the most part that seemed fine.  They would rather answer to a Frankish overlord than be subject to either Saxons or Frisians.  For the Saxons and Frisians, she made it simple.  Acknowledge Roland, settle down and build a village, build and support a church, pay taxes and supply men when called to fight.  Do that, and they were welcome to stay on her land.  Refuse any part of the deal, and they would be given a peaceful escort to the border as soon as the surveyors laid it out.  Most stayed.  Some, both Saxons and Frisians, left.  A few started trouble but quickly discovered that a fight was not a good idea.  A very few paid with their lives.

Margueritte selected a man named Bertulf to be her sergeant at arms.  He worked right there from the beginning, with Ragobert and Walaric, both teaching and training the men, and he picked up the lance like he had been born to it.  He had a good and cheerful disposition, and always respected her and her family, though he learned to give Ingrid her space.  He also had a good eye for men and understood when to press them and when to back off.  He was the main reason Margueritte became successful with the Saxons and Frisians living on her land.  Margueritte praised him when they finally crossed back over the Rhine, not far from Ingrid’s home.

Three days passed before Margueritte left the house, and almost before she left her bed, and then it was only to saddle her horse and take a ride in the country.  Calista went with her but parted when they returned.  Calista made for the house.  She said she wanted to check in on Sigisurd’s little ones, and Gerald, just to be sure.

Margueritte smiled for Calista’s and Melanie’s loyalty to the children, and went on to the stables, but stopped short.  Martin was there and in a fight with a boy who looked older by a couple of years, and bigger.  Martin got in a good punch and the boy went down, and Margueritte thought that might be a good time to intervene.  Some of the other boys standing around, saw her ride up and made the combatants pause.

“Martin?” Margueritte said, and she could not quite keep the scolding out of her tongue.

“He started it,” Martin pointed.

“Lady, we have work to do, and we don’t need children looking over our shoulder,” the boy said.  Martin looked like he wanted to take another swing at the word, children.  “Lady,” the boy repeated and made a poor attempt at a bow. He probably did not know who she was.  This might have been his first summer, and she had been away all summer.

“And what did you learn?” Margueritte asked a surprise question.  Martin and the boy stared at each other like they did not know how to answer.  Margueritte helped them.  “Martin.  You should never let words rule your fists.  You know that words can never hurt you.  And you.”

“Dodo, son of Grimald of Cologne, your ladyship.”  The boy looked prepared to be scolded

“Dodo, son of Grimald, you should learn not to antagonize your enemies unless you want a black eye.”  The boys laughed but stopped suddenly when Ingrid came around the corner with Aduan’s Dombert and her own Childebear on her heels.  They were both sixteen and had paged for a couple of years, so were no strangers to stable fights.

“Margueritte,” Ingrid acknowledged her before she lit into the boys.  They were supposed to be cleaning the stables, not fighting.  She should give them a whole week of kitchen duty.  She should give them a whole week of laundry duty.  And Martin, “You have been told to stop hanging around the pages and getting into trouble.  It has been all summer with you.  Go up to the house and get cleaned off, er, with the countess’ permission, of course.”

Martin looked ready to shuffle off grumpily, even as Dodo figured out that he was in a fistfight with the viscount of the whole march, when Martin suddenly shouted, “Father!”  Margueritte turned and saw Roland ride up, three riders following him.

Margueritte smiled and wanted nothing more than to lean over and give him a kiss.  He had only visited a few times in those years, and never for more than a few weeks at a time.  She would have said something, but Martin shouted again.

“Pepin!”

Pepin returned the shout.  “Martin!” and Pepin bounded from his horse so the two boys could hug.  They had not seen each other in years, but nothing had changed.  Margueritte noted the other two riders were Carloman and Gisele, Charles’ eldest.  Roland quickly mentioned that Margueritte had two new recruits, and she felt something needed to be said right from the beginning.

“Pepin and Carloman.  You will report to Walaric whom you should remember from the battle of Pouance.  He will assign you to page for a squire and assign your duties according to the order of the day.  You will do your duties without complaint, you will learn something worth learning, and you will receive no special treatment for being Charles’ sons.  Is that clear?”

“Yes mum,” Pepin said with his eyes as wide as they could get.  “She hasn’t changed a bit,” he added softly and nudged Martin.

“Perfectly clear,” Carloman said as he got down and took his and Pepin’s horses into the stables where Grimly waited.

“And Gisele, why are you here?”

“Now that I am sixteen, Father’s new wife does not have room for me,” she said, sadly, and looked twice at both Childebear and Dombert.

“Swanachild doesn’t mind Aude and Hiltrude,” Roland explained.  “They were young enough to learn to call her mother, but Gisele rubbed her the wrong way from the beginning.  Strong willed.  Charles said he has had enough of the boys fighting and the cat fights, and you’re a girl, maybe you can talk sense into the child.  He says all Gisele wants is boys, and her other choice is a convent.”

Margueritte nodded.  “Clara is twenty-one and just married.  Her sister Thuldis is eighteen and has the same problem.  Boys everywhere.  This is Boy Central, you know.”  She turned to Gisele.  “Would you like to meet the girls?  They can tell you all about it.”

“Yes please,” Gisele said.

“Ingrid?” Margueritte asked.

“I might as well,” Ingrid said.  “I have the experience.  Get down from the horse and come on up to the house.  I’ll introduce you.”

Gisele slipped down from the horse and watched the boys watch her before she turned and followed Ingrid.

“You were never like that,” Roland said.

“Martin, up to the house and get cleaned off.  Pepin scat.  You can catch up later.”  Margueritte turned to Roland.  “When I was sixteen, I already knew what I wanted.”

“And did you get what you wanted?”

“Not when one or the other of us keep going away,” she said, and they dismounted, and Roland held her for a good long while before he took the horses into the stables.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte has a few words as too much time is spent apart from Roland…  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: Prince of the Franks, part 1 of 3

Charles marched his army in their units to Cologne, rather than soldiers strung out for miles along the road.  Any stragglers were met with a swift boot.  He found some older men among the Austrasians and Neustrians who fought with him or for him when he fought for his father.  They knew him and believed to a man that he should be Mayor of all the Frankish lands in the place of his father.  These veterans were given the responsibility to integrate the new men and the Neustrians who pledge themselves to Charles, and by the time they arrived at Cologne, Charles had a working army of more than fifteen thousand.  He thought to himself if he could get a good grip on Neustria and he could hold Burgundy as well, he might double his numbers.  That would be an army to reckon with.  But he kept that thought to himself for the time being.

Charles asked first to speak to the city fathers in Cologne.  He told them straight out if they resisted, he would kill them all.  If they let him into the city and turned over Plectrude and her son, they would live.  “I am not Ragenfrid.  I am not here for treasure, to be bought off.  And I am not Chilperic, claiming rule where I have no authority.  You knew my father, and I have Austrasia supporting me.  I would like to have the support of Cologne.  I would rather not burn your homes to the ground and kill your families, but the choice is yours.  Life or death?”

“A little harsh, don’t you think?”  Margueritte complained when Roland told her what Charles said.

“It worked.  I think Charles feared they outlasted Ragenfrid and paid him off.  They were maybe overconfident.  He wanted to be sure they understood that this was a completely different situation.”

“But he slammed them with trebuchets and boulders from catapults.  They got holes in their walls and some crushed houses before they had a chance to surrender.”

“He gave them until sunup and kept the deadline.”

“Men died,” Margueritte complained again.

“It worked,” Roland repeated.

Margueritte fell silent.  She considered her life.  Festuscato reached out to Merovech, father of Childeric, grandfather of Clovis, the first and greatest of the Merovingian kings, as they were named after the grandfather, Merovech.  Clovis would one day rule over all of Gaul.  He became a great and powerful king.  How sad to see his descendent, Chilperic II, reduced to a figurehead while other men fought over the land.  Margueritte prayed for peace in the land, and she thought if the Merovingian line had finished, maybe some new leader could take over and bring peace. She believed in Charles.

She recalled there was a Charles that was important to the Franks somewhere in history.  Sadly, the next hundred years or so always appeared shrouded in shadows of uncertainty.  The further she looked into the future, the clearer history became, but for the present, it made her God-given job of keeping history on track impossible, not knowing what tomorrow would bring.  She normally lived with a deep fear in the back of her mind that she would mess up and irrevocably change the future.  Then again, it helped her stay human, her own person, in her own time and place.  In this lifetime, she was wife of Roland, Viscount of the Saxon March, mother of Martin and maybe more children, and she smiled at Roland.  He had no idea what she was smiling about.

Margueritte argued mightily for Plectrude and her son.  After a time, Charles gave in, or he simply got tired of hearing it.  As a result, Charles made peace with Plectrude and her son, his half-brother.  They would retire to a quiet, private life and live.  They acknowledged Charles as the rightful Mayor of the Franks in front of many of the Austrasian nobility, so there was no taking it back.

Charles took that surrender as the end of the Ragenfrid chapter as well, or it would be soon enough, and now he needed something to counter the claim of Chilperic.  He sent to Metz, and in the same way Daniel-Chilperic got fetched from a monastery, Charles got Clothar, a nephew of sorts of Theuderic III, and had him proclaimed Clothar IV, King of Austrasia.  It was all show, but important show.

Now with the support of the nobles and royal blessing, Charles drilled ten thousand men until they cried.  In the early spring, he raised an additional five thousand militiamen by levies and marched his men for the second time into Neustria.  He made his point at Vincy, the first battle in Neustrian territory, but since then he got no word from Ragenfrid or Chilperic.  They did not offer to discuss peace or to find an equitable solution to their differences.  They did not even send him a threatening message, as Margueritte said.  Thus, Charles decided the time came to end this.  He marched on Paris, but he doubted he would get that far.

Charles was right.  He only got as far as Soissons before Larchmont brought word that Ragenfrid and Chilperic were coming out to meet him, and they had indeed enticed Duke Odo of Aquitaine to join them.  Odo’s force seemed small, a token of three or four thousand men, but it was enough to make the sides more or less even, and Ragenfrid overall had more horsemen.

Charles had figured this, planned for it in advance, and set his troops, again taking the advantageous ground for his army.  He had his militia to gather food for the veterans and to hold the camp so his seasoned and trained fighters could all be in play on the battlefield.  The enemy would have to come to him and fight on his terms if they had any hope of driving him out of the country.  In fact, Charles planned things so well, he even paid an innkeeper just outside of Soissons in advance to take Margueritte and her women.

“You will be safe here,” Roland kissed her.

“Sorry you won’t be able to critique my performance,” Charles said, and he did not sound sorry at all.  He turned to ride off.

“Really,” Roland said.  “I worry about you and Martin.  I want to be sure you are safe.”  He turned and galloped off to catch up with Charles.

“That was nice of him to think of us,” Mother Mary said.

“Maybe we can help-out around here and get some of the money back,” Rotunda suggested.  She liked money almost as much as she liked eating.

“If the innkeeper is cute or has a cute son, I could volunteer to help-out,” Relii said with some cheer in her voice.

“You and Festuscato,” Margueritte said, without explanation.  She had Martin up on her hip.  Sigisurd kept making faces at him and he kept hiding in his mother’s shoulder, like in the last month he suddenly got shy.  He turned a full thirteen months old, but now Margueritte started feeling sick again in the morning.  But this time she did not say anything to Roland.  He had enough to worry about.

M4 Margueritte: Strike Back, part 3 of 3

Gertrude the midwife got out of the city just before things got bad.  She fretted for her family, but she expressed gratitude for the bread.  What is more, she took her duty seriously, which encouraged Margueritte to relax.  When Gertrude examined Margueritte, Sigisurd always stayed there and watched, Rotunda always stayed near, making food, Mother Mary came to supply the clean linens, and even Relii stopped in to encourage her.  The result was a frustrated Abd al-Makti.  Margueritte felt it in the air.  She had no idea what nefarious plans the sorcerer had in mind, and honestly did not want to know.  She just felt glad the man was unable to do anything or get her alone.

The siege lines broke up in early November when Margueritte calculated she had about six weeks.  Gertrude said four, but at least she was not due that day or that week.  Over the last month, she spent most of her time missing Roland.  She wondered why circumstances always seemed to work in their lives to keep them apart.  Now, Margueritte had to move, and she got the option of riding in the wagon or walking.  She walked most of the time, she said for the exercise, but in truth the wagon hit every bump imaginable, and she got tossed around like a proverbial sack of potatoes, and bruised everywhere, so it felt safer to walk.

Boniface said good-bye when the army packed to leave.  He had three monks with him, and on Chilperic’s insistence, a dozen men at arms to protect him on his journey to Rome.  Margueritte wished him the best, said to call her when he got back so they could do lunch, without explaining what she meant, and waved for half the morning.  Then it came time to move.  Fortunately, the army moved slow.  They ambled along about three or four hours in the morning, took a four-hour mid-day break to let everyone catch up, and shuffled off another three or four hours in the afternoon before making camp early in the evening, before the sun went down.  At that pace, Margueritte wondered how any army could come to the rescue of any city, but she decided in this case, they were feeling victorious, like they conquered the city, and inclined to take it easy.  Besides, she figured Ragenfrid needed the time off to count his ill-gotten gains.

Margueritte and the camp wagons stopped for lunch near the town of Malmedy on the top of a rise where they could look down on the majority of the army.  She sat, holding her belly and feeling a little pain, when the rear guard came in.  The whole camp would sit and relax for another two hours yet before the first units started out and the army strung out like a slinky.  She pictured a well-timed charge at the middle when the worm spread out, and that would leave the rear guard cut off and easy pickings.  For some reason, a picture of Roncevaux Pass entered her mind, and she objected.  That was not her Roland, and not her Charles.  That was her Charles’ grandson, she imagined.  She missed her Roland.

“Lady.” Sigisurd interrupted Margueritte’s melancholy thoughts and pointed down below.  “Whose men are those?  Where are they coming from?”

Margueritte shrugged and squinted to see in the midday sun.  “They are not Ragenfrid’s friends,” she said, and they watched as a battle broke out.  It appeared all one sided at first, as the oncoming men caught Ragenfrid’s army literally napping.  Men, unaware, got cut down by the dozens, but eventually, Ragenfrid and Chilperic formed up the lines and counterattacked.  The men who fought without mercy when they had the advantage of total surprise, suddenly started to flee, and Ragenfrid followed.  He gave chase into the woods, and then Margueritte lost sight of them all.

Gertrude came up when Margueritte moaned a little.  She felt bloated and crampy.  “Aha,” Gertrude said.  “I told you four weeks.”

“What?” Margueritte got stupid.

“Come, get in the tent.  Sigisurd, help her so she can come lie down.”

Sigisurd grinned, but Margueritte did not get it.  “What?” she asked again.

Margueritte could not see the open field beyond the woods, and the slight rise in the field that lead up to a hillside meadow, still covered by tall grasses in the early winter.  The retreating men, some three thousand, ran through the trees and up the rise and over, but there they stopped and turned.  The Neustrian Franks chased the men with abandon, without proper leadership, and only their anger for fuel.  When they got to the top of the rise, they found ten thousand Austrasian Franks waiting for them, and it became the Neustrian’s turn to be slaughtered.

Margueritte stayed in labor all afternoon.  She still labored when Roland and Charles arrived.  Margueritte managed a yell.  “Roland.  We are having a baby.”  Then she needed to save her voice for a good scream.  She had a boy, Martin, who went to her breast, and when Roland stood there sweating, like he was the one who just gave birth, she spoke to him.  “Now we have to have a girl.”

###

Charles kept the men in training all winter long.  He let them go home to plant in the early spring, but he spent those weeks talking about the need for a standing army, like the Romans had.  “A permanent standing army,” he said.

“Yes, but you need to make a phalanx,” Margueritte said.  “That box thing you formed up outside Cologne was bound to fall apart, even if your commander didn’t turn stupid.”

Charles grunted.

Roland held Martin and tried to get him to stop chewing on the little wooden five-inch sword Roland carved for him.  Martin seemed determined to chew on something, going on four months old, but he found his father’s finger just as good.  Charles tried to help distract the child, but every time Martin saw Charles, Martin laughed out loud.  It was the cutest thing.

“I think he needs to be changed,” Roland finally admitted.

“So?” Margueritte said.  “Are your arms broken?”

“I’ll take him,” Sigisurd volunteered, and Roland gladly let her.

“So, we need a phalanx,” Charles said.

“Gerraint says you need heavy cavalry, and I am allowed to show you the lance and stirrups, since the Arabs and Moors are using stirrups in Iberia.”

“We have lances,” Roland said, now wanting in on the conversation.

“We have fancy spears and better saddles, so we don’t knock ourselves off the horse so easily.  We have what they have had in Great Britain for two hundred years, and ours are just as good, but it is not the same thing as lances and stirrups.  If we run into some Muslims, you will see what I mean.”

“Yes, I had been looking forward to meeting that Abd al-Makti fellow.  What happened to him?” Charles wondered.

Margueritte shrugged, but she knew the snake was slinking around somewhere, and no doubt up to no good.  “You are still worried about Septimania?”

Charles nodded and Roland spoke.  “It is even as you called him.  He’s a Septimaniac.”

Charles got serious.  “We are surrounded by annoyances, Saxons, Alimani, Frisians, Thuringians, Swabians, Bavarians, Lombards and Goths, but none of those are real threats to the realm, provided we can stop fighting ourselves.  But the Muslims of this Caliphate thing.  Who knows what kind of resources they can bring?  They have already threatened Narbonne.  From there, they can threaten us, all those I named, plus Aquitaine, Vascony, Greater and Lesser Britain and maybe even Rome itself.”  Charles got hot.  “We need a permanent standing army.”

Martin made some noise from the tent.  “Excuse me,” Margueritte stood.  “To quote my husband, this is where we started.”  She stepped into the tent because Martin was hungry.  Having a clean diaper always made him hungry.

###

Charles moved his army in the early spring.  With word of his victory over Ragenfrid and Chilperic at Ambleve, Charles found his ranks growing.  He hoped Ragenfrid’s support might be dwindling, but he doubted it.  He chose Vincy as the location and settled into the advantageous position to take advantage of the natural terrain.  Vincy sat just inside Neustrian territory, and a victory there would send a strong message to all the Neustrian Franks.  The show-down occurred on March 21, 717, when Martin got ready to have his four-month-old birthday party.

Ragenfrid and Chilperic attacked like they had once before, but this time Charles had prepared for them.  His long line box that Margueritte refused to call a phalanx stayed disciplined enough to hold formation and not break.  The Neustrians attacked three times in the morning and were soundly driven back all three times.

On the third attack, near the noon hour, Charles sent word to Roland who had twelve hundred men on horse, waiting.  While the main force under Ragenfrid and Chilperic engaged Charles’ infantry, Roland moved into the enemy camp, easily took prisoners, women and soldiers, and had a thousand men set behind a barricade of wagons when the foot soldiers came trudging back.  The Neustrians were tired and ready to take a break, as armies did at midday in those days. They got close before a volley of arrows found them.  Their ranks were unformed, they were unprepared, and they did not have the training of the Austrasians.  What is more, after driving off the third assault, Charles counted to a hundred and then sent his ten thousand to counterattack.  The Neustrians were strung out and half-beaten already after their third failure to break the enemy line.  Fortunately for them, Charles wanted prisoners.  Otherwise, not many would have survived.  

Roland could not hold the enemy camp for long.  The sheer numbers of enemy soldiers eventually overran the position, but Roland had the horses handy and made an easy escape.  He had not been expected to stick around.  What had been expected was that Ragenfrid and Chilperic would take their horsemen, abandon the field, and leave their army of footmen to face their own fate.  Roland followed the horsemen, or more nearly chased them all the way back to Paris.

There were plenty of Neustrian soldiers who escaped, including many in the camp who had the good sense to get themselves untied.  But there were also plenty of prisoners, and among them were quite a few who were willing to fight for Charles once they found out he intended to go back and deal with Cologne and Plectrude.  After all, they spent all that time there and saw nothing for it.  They certainly did not get any of the treasure.

“Besides,” one commander said.  “I can see how this whole thing is going and I don’t want to be on the wrong side when it is settled.”

From an enemy, Charles might have thought twice, but these were Franks.  They were his people.  “Cologne first,” Charles said.  “Then we end it with Ragenfrid and his allies.”

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

MONDAY

Charles has to clean up the mess and then meet Ragefrid one more time. Third time is the charm. Until Monday. Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Prisoners, part 3 of 3

When the army reached the place Charles designated, they found Ragenfrid already there with the expected twice their number.  King Chilperic II was also there as the symbol of Ragenfrid’s right to command the army.  And there was a surprise.  There were half again as many Frisians under King Radbod, and that meant Charles would be outnumbered three to one.  

Charles found his route to the best position cut off.  He had to settle for his second choice, and his men sloppily settled in for the night.  Margueritte got kept back with the other women and the train of wagons, but fortunately she ended up on a hill where she could look down and watch the action as it unfolded.  Ragenfrid made no move in the late afternoon and appeared to consider Charles’ army an inconvenience he would deal with in the morning.  Charles raged a bit before bed, that nothing was to his liking.  Margueritte wisely kept her mouth shut.

Charles’ wife, Rotrude, came up in the winter.  She and Margueritte talked about how frustrated the men seemed to be.  Margueritte suggested she knew a way to help relieve Roland’s tension, and Rotrude covered her mouth and felt embarrassed for her, but Margueritte figured if she was not yet pregnant, she better work on getting there.

 At dawn, the battle lines got drawn up.  Charles made his men get into box formation.  Margueritte could not call it a phalanx.  And he yelled at them to stay in formation no matter what.  She could practically hear him all the way up on her hillside.  Margueritte paced and fretted as the sun came up, and she was not the only one, but Rotrude knew better than to watch.

Ragenfrid had more than a thousand men on horseback, but the trees and terrain made a charge difficult.  They could get at Charles from the hillside, but any such move to the side would be detected, and they gave Charles enough credit, so they did not try something so obvious.  Ragenfrid, uncertain about the Frisians, put them in the center, probably the last place they belonged given the uncertainty.  He marched about ten thousand, including seven thousand Neustrian Franks to face the Austrasian Franks, their cousins.  They charged the last hundred yards and the noise of men at arms rose in the air and echoed off the distant hills.

Margueritte imagined Charles, Roland and others likely got hoarse yelling “Hold your position.  Stay in formation.  Fill in.  Step up.  Don’t break the line.”  Finally, the Neustrians on the right began to waver.  It looked like a wave breaking on the shore where at once the enemy line flattened out and began to pull back.  Charles and his army let out a cheer, and then disaster.  Whoever commanded the right side of the line where the Neustrians first gave way, charged.  Maybe he smelled a rout, but more likely the blood lust was so strong in him he could not stop himself.  Charles could only watch as his men ran into the four thousand men Ragenfrid kept in reserve.  His men got slaughtered when the ten thousand withdrawing troops turned like a wolf on a hapless hare.

Charles and Roland salvaged all they could.  They set a rear guard so any men who came to their senses and ran to escape might actually escape, but Charles told his captain not to expect much and not to endanger his company.  

Margueritte found herself a third of the way down the hill where she raced when that commander first disobeyed orders.  She stopped herself when she realized there was not anything she could do to save those poor men.  She started to climb back up, but suddenly there were horses and men and she became surrounded.  They were Neustrians, not Frisians, thank God, but they bound her hands and when she would not stop screaming, they gagged her mouth as well.

Roland and Charles got back up the hill in time to protect the camp, though they had to abandon some of their wagons.  They took what they could and left the field.  No one remained, now, to defend Cologne.  Plectrude, the real wife of Charles’ father and her legitimate son, his eight-year-old half-brother Theudoald who claimed at least Austrasia, would have to defend themselves in whatever way they could.  Charles, the bastard son of Pepin could only weep and watch his people begin a civil war, with Franks killing Franks.

“And I have no love for the Frisians sticking their nose in.  When we get our footing, and overcome our obstacles, Radbod needs a visit,” Charles said.

“Ratbot.  That is what Margueritte calls the man.  Apparently, rat is the word for rodent in some unknown tongue.”

Charles let out a little smile for the first time all afternoon.  “With those whiskers, he does look a bit like a rodent.”

After a while, Charles spoke again.  “We were not prepared, even as Margueritte warned.  The men were not trained to follow orders, we moved too fast, did not pick our choice of battlefield.  The whole thing was a disaster from the start, and all mistakes I do not plan to ever make again.”

“My wife sometimes knows things her father never taught her,” Roland admitted.  “It can be spooky.”

“Yes, where is your wife?  I thought she would be up here in front trying to keep her mouth from saying I told you so.” 

That was when they discovered Margueritte and several others were missing.

###

Margueritte got hauled roughly out of the tent along with the servants taken by the stream.  Ragenfrid stood there but did not seem inclined to pay attention.  Chilperic, the king, not undisputed king, stood there as well, with Radbod, and they at least paused to view the women.  With them were three strangers.  The Frisian looked like a pagan priest as the Roman appeared a Catholic priest, probably a Bishop, Margueritte guessed.  The third, an odd-looking man in strange silk dress, picked her out of the line despite all of Margueritte’s best efforts to dirty her appearance and blend in with the servants.  He offered a strange bow along with his name.

“Abd al-Makti.”  He turned to the others.  “This one is no servant.  Clearly she is a lady of fine breeding who deserves better than servitude.”  This caused all of the men to look, and Margueritte felt trapped.  She tried her only out.

“I am Margueritte, daughter of Count Bartholomew, Marquise of the Breton Mark, and I was on pilgrimage home from St. Martin’s in Tours when I got caught up in this ill-conceived rebellion.  I got dragged the opposite direction I wanted to go, and against my will, because the men said it was not safe to let me continue on my way without protection.”  She gave the word men just the right sour emphasis and waited.

Chilperic reacted first.  “I know who you are.”  He showed some fear.  “You are the Breton witch.”

“I heard she consorts with demons.”  Radbod twirled his mustache.

“Witchery is not condoned by the church,” the bishop said, sternly.

“Nor by the Holy Prophet,” Abd al-Makti added.

“Hold.”  Ragenfrid stepped up.  “Chilperic, sit down and shut up.  All of this is irrelevant.  I know you are wife to Roland, Charles’ right hand.  You may prove of some value in that.”

“Lord Ragenfrid.  I am a good and faithful Christian woman who is with child.”  Margueritte put her hand on her belly as if she was already showing.  “I expect to be treated well, in accordance with my station.”  Margueritte got bold. “Furthermore, these women are my servants.  I am sure you have cut off the heads of any of the men who protected me on my pilgrimage, but at least with the women I may know some comfort.  It would be a kindness to me to let them stay with me and it would cost you nothing to see to my needs.”

Ragenfrid paused before he laughed, loud.  “The Lady lies with charm.  I will think on it.”

“If she is with child.”  The bishop heard the part about her being a Christian woman.

“A hostage is only good in one piece,” Radbod said, and it sounded like experience talking.

“I would like to question this one to see if she is of witchery or falsely accused,” Abd al-Makti said.

“She may be a source of information,” the pagan priest suggested doing more to her than just talking.

“I doubt that.” Ragenfrid laughed again.  “Very well.  You may keep your servants, but understand, if one tries to escape to go to Charles, I will kill them all and the Lady will be left to her own devices.”

“Understood.  But you think Charles will not quit now that he has been so soundly defeated?” Margueritte asked.

“I expect he will quit when I see his dead body,” Ragenfrid said, and they were dismissed and escorted back to their tent.

Once in the tent, the two older of the four women began to weep.  They had been that afraid for their lives.  Margueritte spoke first to the younger two.  “In the days, weeks, and maybe months ahead, we must show the utmost in Christian piety.  If you two cannot keep your hands off the soldiers or stay out of their beds, tell me now.  I can probably have you assigned to the camp where you can play with the soldiers as you please.  If I catch you later, I may ask Lord Ragenfrid to remove you from my presence, and I cannot say what he may do with you.”

“We will be good,” the blond said, and added, “Sigisurd”

“Relii,” the dark haired one said.  “I’m thinking about it.”

“Bless you, Lady,” the gray hairs worked through their fear and tears.  “We all owe you our lives.  How can we ever repay you?”

“Serve well,” Margueritte said, and leaned in for a name.

“Mary.”

“And Rotunda.”  And she was round, which made Margueritte smile, but not laugh.

“Sigisurd, Relii, Mary and Rotunda,” Margueritte tried the names.  “So now we know the rules.  Either all five of us escape or none of us escape.  Meanwhile, which one of you can cook something worth eating?”

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

MONDAY

Margueritte has to adjust to being a prisoner as she waits for Charles to strike back. Until then, Happy Reading

*

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 4 of 4

“Lord Birch.” Gerraint turned to the fairy.

Lord Birch made a short bow.  “I have people ready to move as soon as they get the word.  When Chlothar leaves Soissons, they will bring him and his select retinue here in a day.”

“That is five or six days before his army gets here,” Gerraint pointed out.

“Well, that should shake him up, anyway,” Percival said.

“And there is this,” Gerraint smiled.  “I hesitated to say this, because I don’t want him to get a swelled head, but I have talked to quite a few Franks in the past weeks, antrustiones and pueri, and I would not underestimate the name of Arthur.  Saxons talk, you know.  And here, the Franks thought they had you with a two to one advantage and an easy road to victory, but Arthur shows up and the Franks end up running for their lives.”

“Uh, Lord Birch.  Any chance you can get us back to Amorica in a day should that become necessary?” Bohort had to ask.

Gerraint looked at Percival and they shouted together, “For Arthur!”  All the men in that tent echoed the shout, and Arthur gave Lancelot and Bohort a strange look.  Lancelot answered the look.

“Old habits are hard to break.”

The Bretons arrived at the gates of Paris on the next day.  Childebert made a show of drawing his horsemen up in front of the gate, but then he waited.  He was not going to start anything, at least not until Chlothar came to back him up. He expected that would be a few days.

Chlothar himself arrived the next mid-afternoon at about three o’clock.  He just appeared suddenly in front of Gerraint’s tent with twenty men on horseback who looked very confused.  Gerraint sat, relaxing on a chair, waiting.  Gerraint’s men were all around, watchful, but he told them to make no hostile moves.  He hoped Chlothar’s men reciprocated.

“Chlothar,” Gerraint stood up and smiled.  “I’ll be with you in a minute.”  He practiced his Saxon as he imagined it was a language Chlothar would know.  He knew, the gifts his little one’s gave him so long ago included the gift to understand and be understood, no matter the language, but like the little ones themselves, he refused to depend on those gifts, though he was grateful at times when the little ones were willing to help.

Lord Birch’s seven fee came in their hunter’s outfits and knelt to Gerraint.  “Lord,” they called him.

Gerraint shook his head and said, “Please stand.  I want to thank you for this special work in bringing our guests here safely.  Now, I know it goes against etiquette, but please get small and return to Lord Birch for whatever other instructions he may have.

“Lord,” they repeated the phrase, and got small and fluttered off.  Some of Gerraint’s own men raised an eyebrow at that.  Chlothar’s men became more confused than ever, but Chlothar, and a few merely nodded.  Chlothar dismounted, so the rest followed.

“Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Gerraint, son of Erbin.”  He reached out and Chlothar reluctantly shook Gerraint’s hand as a man behind whispered in Chlothar’s ear.  Chlothar gripped a little harder before he let go and spoke.

“I have heard of you.”

“Only good, I hope.”  Gerraint smiled.  “But come, I have others I want you to meet.”  He began to walk while the man at Chlothar’s ear continued to whisper.  The Franks led their horses, as long as no one came to take them.  Gerraint hated himself for doing it, but he listened in to what the man was whispering.  The man was a Gallo-Roman and filling Chlothar in on his estimation of the disposition of Gerraint’s troops.

“We are your prisoners?”  Chlothar brushed the man from his ear.

“You are our guests.  Your brother Childebert is lounging around in front of the gate to Paris with about two thousand horsemen.  I imagine he is waiting for your army to show up.  He doesn’t have much initiative, I would guess.”

“No,” Chlothar admitted.  “But tell me, if we are your guests, what if we decide to ride out and visit my brother?”

Gerraint stopped and faced the man. “No one will stop you.  We can fight, if you want to waste your men and ours.  But at least come and listen first to what my friends have to say.  I think you will find it worth your while.”

“And what do you have to say?” Chlothar looked hard at Gerraint, no doubt a practiced look, but it did not faze Gerraint.

“Larchmont!” Gerraint called.  The fairy appeared, full sized, but Gerraint tapped his shoulder.  “Come and sit.  I have to ask you some questions.”

“Lord.”  Larchmont, a good looking, blond headed young man got small and took a seat on Gerraint’s shoulder.  Chlothar and the others looked surprised again, as if they had forgotten.

“Right now, I am just an observer,” Gerraint told Chlothar.  “The two you need to talk to are in here.”  He pointed to the tent as Uwaine and Bedivere stepped up and opened the tent doors.  “Only four, please.  The tent is not too big.”

Chlothar stopped and pointed to four men, one of which was the Gallo-Roman.  They entered and Gerraint introduced the others.  Bohort, King of Amorica and Lancelot, his right hand.  Arthur, Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall, and Percival, his brother.

The eyes of the Franks got as big on the word Arthur as they did on seeing the fairies.  Chlothar stuck out his hand.  “It is an honor.”  After that, the ideas were presented in short order, and as Gerraint had suggested, every advantage of a friendly neighbor got underlined while the disadvantages of conquest were plainly stated.

Gerraint stood up and went to the door and Chlothar stood as well.  “You must wait,” Chlothar said.  “My brother must hear this.  You talk to my men.”  He followed Gerraint outside and gave a command.  “Conrad.  Take three men and fetch Childebert, alone.  No, he can bring that dotty old priest with him, but no more.”  He paused.

A jousting pole had been set up not far away.  Chlothar’s men were fascinated.  The Cornish were using the lances with the cushioned ends, since they did not want men injured who might need to go into battle, but it made a rough sport all the same.

“Two coppers on Marcus,” Uwaine said.

“Taken,” Bedivere answered.  He pulled out two coins and groused when Marcus unseated his opponent.  A couple of Chlothar’s men saw and laughed.  Chlothar, being of a military mind, instinctively saw the benefit of such training.

“You have well trained men,” he commented.

“Yes,” Gerraint agreed.  “But I am more interested in the women.  I was just about to ask Larchmont what the women were like in Paris.”  Chlothar looked, like he had forgotten Gerraint had a fairy on his shoulder.

“Dull and mindless,” Larchmont said.  “They spend all of their time in fancy dress and parties, like the world is no bigger than their boudoir.  I think there is only one female brain in all of the city and the women take turns using it.”

Chlothar laughed.  “Exactly my thinking.”

Gerraint laughed as well, but then said, “I think you better go see what Birch is up to, and tell Galoren, Baran and Gemstone to stand down for now.  I hope these men will be able to work things out for everyone’s benefit.

“Very good, Lord.”  Larchmont sped off.

“These others?” Chlothar asked.

“Elf King, dwarf King and goblin King.”

“How is it that you…”

“They are friends.  Sometimes I have an opportunity to ask them for help, and they are good enough to oblige.  But I have a feeling you really want to ask me something else.”

Chlothar looked up.  “The Lion of Cornwall.  I should have guessed from your height, you know.”

“I am, but I have gotten old now.  It is something we all do, even kings.”

“Yes, but Arthur?”

“He brought just a few men to help a friend.  That is something you must also consider, but if you decide on peace and friendship, it is Bohort with whom you must speak.”

“I understand.  But I will say this.  Arthur is the only man on earth I would not like to fight.”

Gerraint smiled.  “I think you will find friendship with Great Britain and Little Britain is much better.”

Chlothar nodded and remained silent for a minute.  Then he turned and pointed at the joust.  “Tell me about this game your men are playing.”

 

 

M4 Gerraint: The Frankish Peace, part 3 of 4

Someone, not Charles because he died in the first strike, got to his horse and decided the battle had been lost.  He rode off, and near two thousand Franks followed him. Arthur and Bohort met in the center, and Arthur said something that raised Bohort’s eyebrows.

“Now we chase them.”

“What?  For how long?”

“All the way to Paris if necessary,” Arthur said.

“They will never stop unless they are forced to sit and make peace,” Gerraint added.  He and Arthur discussed it.  Arthur had been against it at first until Percival pointed out that if Amorica had a guarantee of peace, Lancelot might be willing to lead some of his men back to Britain.

“But who will hold the land and defend the border?” Bohort asked.  He felt trapped in the idea of defending the land and could not see alternatives.

“The best defense is a good offense,” Gerraint said.

“Can I quote you on that?”  Bedivere asked.  He and Uwaine had come up to join the conference.

“The Franks have two armies on the German border, north and south, in Swabia” Arthur said, having already talked to Lord Birch.  “They have more men in the Atlantique province and an army down in Aquataine, by the Burgundian border.  It made good sense for the Franks to let the sons of Claudus do the hard work against Amorica.”

Gerraint looked at Bohort, his friend.  “My scouts tell me the road to Paris is wide open and undefended.”

“Your scouts?” Bohort asked, and then remembered.  “Oh.”

“We go,” Arthur said, and he started out at a trot.  His men turned with him.  Only Gerraint, Uwaine and Bedivere waited on Bohort to make a decision.  They listened to the man swear, before he shouted.

“Bedwin.  You and your men bring the prisoners up to Lionel and then you can follow.  Tell Lionel to hold the line and kill any Franks who try to escape.  We will be a week.”  He saw Gerraint shake his head and hold up two fingers.  “Make that two weeks.”  He turned to Gerraint and could not help the sarcasm.  “After you, your majesty.”

“Thank you, your majesty.”  Gerraint returned the compliment, and the sarcasm, but with a smile.

Lancelot was not content with holding the line with the foot soldiers.  They had plenty of serviceable horses taken from Charles and deGuise.  He found seven hundred men who were reasonably good on horseback, and that gave him and Bedwin a thousand to follow Arthur.

Lionel spent the time grousing.  He did not want to have to guard three thousand Franks for the next two weeks. Arthur’s men had no interest in doing that, either.  Lionel spent a week carting all the Frankish leaders and chiefs to the nearest jails and prisons.  The rest of the Franks he kept there, on the fields, in the open.  He let them build fires, put up tents and gave them blankets.  He also gave them food to cook, once a day at noon.  But that was it.

The elves Ringwald and Heurst found Lionel early on and offered to hold the line at the trees in case any Franks got the idea that sneaking off into the woods as a way of escape.  Lionel was grateful, but he had to ask, “Does Gerraint know you are volunteering?”

“We don’t have to ask permission,” Lupen, the grumpy old fairy King said.  “We might get in trouble if we overstep our bounds, but I have met you, and you seem a reasonable man for one so very young.  I am sure you can keep this between you and me.  I mean, he can hardly complain.  He has Birch and young Larchmont flying all over the countryside.”

Lady LeFleur stepped up and spoke more to the point.  “Manskin, the King of the dark elves will watch the Frankish perimeter between sundown and sunrise.  Best you keep your men back in the night.  Ringwald and Heurst will stay in the trees during the day.  I understand your orders are to kill any who try to escape.”  Lionel nodded.  “I can assure you; none will escape by the forest or in the night.  Come along, Lupen.”

“Dear.”  The fairies left, and Lionel got down to planning.

Arthur’s foot soldiers pushed as far into Frankish lands as was reasonable, about half a day’s march.  They found a place where they could ambush the enemy on the road, and they waited in case Arthur reached a point where he had to make a hasty retreat.

Lionel kept the men in the center, to guard the prisoners, certainly, but also to guard the border.  He sent five hundred men to the lake, with orders to secure the road that lead to the port town, and also to patrol the coastal road.  DeGuise found a way down that coastal road with a thousand horsemen.  Lionel did not want any repeats.  Lionel also sent five hundred to the base of the Bringloren, the forest of the Banner Bain, to keep an eye on the Atlantique province and to hold the southern coastal road.  The Franks in the Atlantique were still an occupation force and that meant they pretty much had to stay where they were, but Lionel imagined they might try an end run in the south the way deGuise did in the north.  Then all of those men waited for Bohort, their King to return.

Gerraint lead the way down the Paris road, having done something similar back when they faced Claudus.  He drove the Franks ahead of him as refugees and burned the villages.  He only killed a few of the men who resisted.  Most of them he disarmed and drove off with a warning that they should be grateful being let go this one and only time.  The few he killed made the point.

There were two towns with walls on the route, but he bypassed them, not wanting to slow things down.   He gave warning that if they did not get satisfaction from the Frankish Kings, they would be back to burn the town and kill any who resisted.  He left them alone, but he set Larchmont as rear guard to watch for any enterprising young Lord or townspeople who might be tempted to come out and follow them.  At the same time, Gerraint hoped word that they wanted to talk with the king went ahead of him.

The two thousand Franks who escaped and rode away from the battle, and sometimes some locals with them, set numerous traps and ambushes along their route.  Lord Birch did not get fooled.  Those traps and ambushes were invariably turned on the Franks with dire consequences for the Franks.  Gerraint hoped that word went out front as well, and apparently, some information went ahead of them, because as they approached Paris, they found the villages deserted by the time they arrived.

While Gerraint watched over their progress, Bohort and Arthur argued until they hammered out an acceptable peace.  Arthur insisted they have some negotiable points where they could be seen giving the Franks some of what they wanted.

“The object here, as I see it,” Lancelot mused out loud.  “Is to get a peace agreement that both sides will keep, not to make a stone around the neck where one side has all the advantage over the other.”

“Border watch is sensible,” Arthur insisted.  “Representatives of the Franks that regularly renew the pledge of peace.  I would not suggest it, but I imagine they will insist on something.”

“I’m not sure I can be comfortable having Frankish Lords on my border, looking over my shoulder,” Bohort said.

“We have to be honest about this,” Lancelot continued.  “The Franks would leave their other borders at risk, but they could call up twice what the Saxons brought to Badon if they wanted.”

“There are ways to work things out, especially if there are men committed to peace on both sides of the border,” Arthur said.

“Marriage is a classic way to peace,” Uwaine said, and all eyes turned to him.  “Or so Gerraint tells me.”

“Saxon wife,” Percival pointed at Uwaine.

“Oh?” Bohort was interested.  “Does she?”

“Yes,” Uwaine said.

“Two sons and two daughters,” Percival added, and then Bohort had to think through some options.

“Gentlemen.”  Gerraint stuck his head into the big tent.  “We have news from Lord Birch.”  He got followed by a man dressed in plain hunter’s fare, but everyone knew he was not a plain hunter.

“Childebert, King in Paris has appealed to his brother Chlothar in Soissons for help.  The army in Austrasia is on the Frisian border, but Chlothar has some five thousand men at his call, mostly antrustiones with their pueri and they will be at Paris in about a week.”

“He has what?”  Bohort did not understand the terms

“Aristocrats, lords and rich men, often on horseback, with their peasant soldiers.” Percival explained.  He had taken the time to discuss thing with Gerraint who understood these things.

“The trustees are the king’s personal bodyguards.  They don’t have near the training, but you might think of them as Frankish RDF,” Uwaine added.  He listened when Gerraint talked.

“I don’t know,” Arthur said. “Childebert already has a reported four thousand men and another two thousand on the walls of the city.  That is already a match for our numbers.”

“By himself, Childebert might be able to turn us away from Paris,” Lancelot concurred.

“No.  You are missing the point,” Gerraint said.  “Chlothar is the brother you want to make peace with.  Theudebert, his son. rules Austrasia with Chlothar’s blessing.  Chlothar has already taken Orleans, since the death of his brother, Choldomer.  Childebert rules Paris and the immediate area, but he is surrounded by land ruled by Chlothar, and he knows it.”

“But with five thousand men added to what Childebert already has and we don’t stand much of a chance,” Bohort sounded calm about it.

“If we turn back now, the Franks will see that as weakness,” Lancelot countered.

“We have made our point, that we can hurt them,” Arthur said.

“You are still missing the point,” Gerraint interrupted.  “We talk to Chlothar.  Tell him we only want to make an acceptable peace.  As long as the Franks leave us alone, we will leave them alone.  Look at the advantages for him.  He will have one border he won’t have to waste men defending.  In fact, as a friend, Amorica can open up trade for the Franks with Cornwall, Wales, Britain, even Ireland.  That can bring riches to his lands.  Amorica still has a fine fleet.  It can help guard the Atlantique against Visigoths and Vandals, and the Channel against Saxons, Frisians, and Picts.  Look, with Amorica as a friend, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  You just need to explain that in a way he will understand.”

“But so many men,” Bohort did not sound convinced.

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MONDAY

First, they have to make peace with the Franks.  Then Arthur and his men are stuck in Little Britain for the winter, and find no help for the home-front.  Until then, Happy Reading

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