M4 Margueritte: Strike Back, part 1 of 3

In a week, the army got settled into a siege around Cologne.  They cut the city off from the countryside and took the food that would have gone to the city residents.  Cologne had a strong garrison, and the population augmented the troops, at least at first.  It seemed enough to discourage Ragenfrid from taking the city by straight assault.  Besides, he wanted to talk with Plectrude and see if something might be worked out.  Unfortunately, he waited all spring and all summer while the woman locked herself in her rooms and saw no one.

Margueritte got along with her new friends, for the most part.  Rotunda liked to cook, she said, because she liked to eat.  That explained a lot, as Margueritte thought.

Gray haired Mary stayed out front, in closest contact with the soldiers and officers of Ragenfrid’s army.  She ran errands and did the laundry when she could, and the women began to call her Mother Mary to remind the enemy that they were good Christian women who deserved their consideration, if not their respect.

Sigisurd acted like Margueritte’s handmaid.  She was a shy and quiet soul who said little as she tried to anticipate Margueritte’s wants and needs.  Never far away, she even slept at Margueritte’s feet.  It could get annoying, but most of the time it was nice, as long as Margueritte did not let it spoil her.

Then there was Relii.  As far as the others could tell, her talents included eating and sleeping late.  Fortunately, she was not around much.  Margueritte had the good sense not to ask where she went, and she volunteered nothing, so they kept a conspiracy of silence for as long as no one came asking for her or complaining about her.  Margueritte did confess to the bishop once that she found Relii in a brothel in Orleans, having learned that Relii came from that area, and she thought to save her from that environment.

“I felt it was my Christian duty,” she said, and the bishop bought it.  He seemed willing to buy about anything she said, because he felt worried.  He saw the pagan priest with the Frisians, and worse, the teacher Abd al-Makti from Iberia as real threats to his flock.  He very much wanted Margueritte and her ladies to be Christians, and models of piety, which for the most part, they were, except maybe Relii was not so pious.

Margueritte talked often with the bishop, and she got the feeling that he ran interference for her with the powers in the camp, and she felt grateful.  It got to where she could see King Chilperic II, and pass pleasantries without him shrieking and running away, so that seemed a plus.  True, Ragenfrid continued to snub her when she walked about, but Margueritte figured that might be a plus as well.

King Radbod of the Frisians came to visit her on three separate occasions over the spring and summer and his pagan priest, Org came the third time.  They believed she was a very powerful witch, which proved good, because they stayed respectful of her person the whole time, and the king instructed his troops to stay away as well.  But to be sure, there was not much she could tell them, even on the third visit when they asked about the spirits of the earth.

“I have spoken to Neustrian men who know your father,” Org said.  “They say there were spirits that lived at your farm when you were growing up, and those spirits answered to you.”

“Rumors, and hear-say,” Margueritte said.  “Soldiers, like sailors, often see things that are not there, and superstitious men, like drunks, see all sorts of things.  Life is such a wonderful mystery, but I know some people need to explain everything and if there isn’t an easy explanation, they make one up.”

“No.  These are steady men, not superstitious or drunk as you suggest.  My sources say you can call up the earth spirits and compel them to do your bidding, and I would see if this is so.”

“Org.  King Ratbot,” she said, deliberately mispronouncing the man’s name, “If I have ever seen a little spirit, it is only because I love them as I love all of the great mysteries of creation.  And if they should ever do anything I ask, it is because I ask out of love, and they do it out of kindness, and I am always grateful.  Spirits though they be, I imagine they have their own minds and their own hearts and like people, they cannot ultimately be compelled without affecting some great evil upon them, which I would never do.”

Radbod twirled his moustache while Org thought for a minute and Margueritte smiled a kind, cooperative smile, and waited patiently, as was her womanly duty.  She often had to wait patiently for all of the ideas, multi-faceted notions and ramifications to work through the morass called a man’s mind.  Org spoke at last.

“So, we will not be seeing any sprits of the earth around here, and you will not be cooperating.”

“I would be glad to cooperate if I knew how.  All I can say is if you come across a spirit of the earth someday, I suggest gentle persuasion.”

“Thus says a woman,” King Radbod said, and they left.

Sigisurd took a breath.  “That was close.”

“Close to what?” they heard from the tent door.  The bishop stood there.

“Close to accusing me of something for which I am not guilty.  They seem to think I have some power over creation, but I have only prayer.”

“Ah,” the bishop came in and sat while he raised a knowing finger.  “But prayer is the greatest power in the universe, and that is something those pagans fail to understand.”

“Indeed,” Margueritte said.  “And I have prayed for you because I know you are deeply troubled by the pagans in the camp.”

The bishop shifted in his seat and looked down for a moment before he opened-up.  “When Lord Pepin died, many people were quick to take advantage of that, not just Plectrude wanting her son to be recognized as Mayor over the Austrasian Franks, though he is just eight years old, and not just Ragenfrid holding King Chilperic by the neck until he recognized Ragenfrid as Mayor over the Neustrian Franks.  King Radbod took the liberty to throw out every Christian priest in his land and burn every church.  Poor Wilibrord had to flee to an abbey on the edge of Frisian land.  The Frisians are reverted to paganism by royal decree, and Christians there are suffering terrible persecution.”

“Worse than the Bretons,” Margueritte nodded.  “But as I told Charles, the old ways have gone, and the new ways have come.  I told him if he strongly supports the Church, the Church will strongly support him and the Christian Franks, Austrasian and Neustrian both will flock to his banner.”

“It is true.  I have heard many Neustrians whisper support for Charles, and I understand there are many Austrasians who feel the same way.  Some real sign of support for the faith and he could win the whole Frankish nation, and no doubt Burgundy besides.”

Margueritte stood before Sigisurd could help her.  “These are glad tidings for my ears,” she said.  “I will pray that he does this very thing, but now you must excuse me.”  She stepped to the tent door but paused there to ask him a question.  “All this time you have not given me your name because you said you were still thinking about it.  I wonder if you decided.  You see, back home we had two Breton servants who came to the Lord.  One decided right away his Christian name would be Andrew.  The other could not decide between James and John.  One week he was James and the next he was John.  I have not yet heard his final decision, but most people call him John-James or James-John and leave it at that.”

“Yes,” he said.  “I have decided, I think.  I have been so impressed by your beneficence with regard to your love for life, your saving these women who were not originally known to you, as I well know, and in the way you so openly give all that you have to encourage others to save life in these days rather than take life.  I have considered how you put yourself in danger to save the lives of these women and joined with them in their plight when you might have remained silent and had comforts.  You confessed yourself in front of pagans and men of questionable faith, even as Boniface of Tarsus confessed himself to persecution.  I have decided the only name I can take is Boniface.  It must remind me to save life and not remain silent, even though it may bring me suffering.”

Something in Margueritte’s head echoed down through time and went, ding!

“I was born Winfrid, in Britain,” he went on.  “And right now, I should be at Nursling, teaching, but my heart won’t let me rest.  The Frisians and Franks and especially the Saxons are all my cousins, my brothers and sisters, and they deserve to be saved.  They need to hear the good news of life.”

“You have my blessing, for what it is worth.” Margueritte smiled.

“You have called me Bishop, and the others have begun to do the same, though I have no such authority in real life.  I am a plain priest, not long ordained, truth be told.”

“So, go to Rome.  Meet the Pope.  See if the Pope will confirm the name Boniface.  Apply for a Bishopric and be what we might call a minister without portfolio.  Go convert the Saxons and the Alemani, and maybe the Frisians, but watch out for them.  Org does not seem the friendly sort.  Build the church, an organized church.”

“You seem to have my whole life planned out for me.”

“Just a guess,” she said.  “But now you have to excuse me.  I really have to go to the bathroom.  But I tell you what.  When you come back from Rome, if things go as I hope and pray, I will introduce you to Charles and maybe you and he can work something out.”

“I would be pleased to meet him.”

Margueritte nodded and stepped out, Sigisurd one step behind.  Margueritte saw Abd al-Makti slinking around in the shadows, and she yelled at him.  “I don’t have time for you right now.  I have to shit, and you don’t want to be part of that.”

Abd al-Makti looked terribly embarrassed by the conversation.  It took him by surprise, and he shook his head.  By the time he got hold of his thoughts, Margueritte had going into the woods, holding her belly.  She was six months pregnant, after all.

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.


“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?”



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