M4 Margueritte: Sword of the Five Crosses, part 2 of 3

“Lady.”  Giselle interrupted Margueritte’s thoughts.  “Lady, we are running out of linen to paint the Saracens.”

“So just paint the faces.  Cut the linen into smaller pieces.”

“Lady,” Grimly interrupted.  “Fair warning.  We are going to outgrow the new stables in two years, the way I figure it.”

“Understood.”

“Lady,” Peppin, master at arms, and Captain Wulfram came up together.  “The number of horses that meet your specifications that we can buy in Anjou, in the area we surveyed, are going to cost.”

“Please.  I understand, but we need the bright young men to go with the horses, not just the horses.  Let the men cover their own costs if they can.  We have limited scholarship money.”

“Lady, Lady,” Goldenrod fluttered up.  “Elsbeth is going to have a baby.”

“Lady,” Luckless came to complain.  “These lances are hard enough to make.  They could at least take care of them.”

“Margueritte,” Roland yelled from the house.  “Childemund arrived with the mail.  Charles is coming.”

Margueritte screamed, put her hands to her ears and marched back inside.  She picked up her children, ran to her room and slammed the door.  She had a headache.  She couldn’t think straight.  Roland and Giselle had to bring up supper.

Three days later, Margueritte stood with Roland at the top of the Paris Road, dressed in her Sunday best, watching Charles arrive at the head of a hundred men, thinking about the future and frustrated by not knowing what tomorrow might bring.  She understood something about Charlemagne—not much.  But after that time, things cleared up.  She grasped the middle ages, the renaissance and reformation, the age of exploration and enlightenment, the days of revolution and nationalism, the times of crisis and collapse, the opening of space, both the stellar and interstellar movements and migrations right up to the building of the arc called the Alice II, but tomorrow always remained a mystery.  Margueritte could not help feeling that she had missed something.  She looked around and wondered.

Tomberlain and Margo looked nervous.  This was his first real act as Count of the Breton March, to welcome the Mayor of the Palace, lord of all the Franks.  Mother stood by him, and she smiled.  She considered Charles an old family friend.  Owien and Elsbeth did not pay much attention, still being like newlyweds, and Elsbeth being pregnant and all.  Then there were the spectators, the workers, the Breton serfs, the free Franks from the village, all turned out to see the parade.  There were precious few entertainments in the dark ages, so people had to hang on to every special event they could.

Margueritte’s eyes rested on two men, two workers at the front of the crowd.  It took a moment to remember their names.  The short dark one with the big nose was Gunter, and the big, uglier blond, Sven.  She recalled the age she lived in and wondered what these medieval men could possibly know about germs.  She lost her smile and shouted the word.

“Germs!”

Margueritte swallowed her voice before she attracted too many eyes, and she got Owien’s attention.  “Owien,” she whispered, though the crowd started to cheer.  “Get Greffen there and several of the young men with him.”  She pointed out Gunter and Sven, told him what to do, and turned back to watch Charles ride between her men.  Wulfram had thirty on one side of the road, and Peppin had thirty on the other side, like honor guards.  They sat quietly atop their well-trained big horses, shields attached to their saddles, lances held straight up, resting in their cup holders.  She caught Charles eyeing them and thinking about it before he came up and dismounted.

Tomberlain stepped up to give his welcoming speech, but Mother Brianna interrupted by stepping forward and giving Charles a welcoming hug.  Charles readily reciprocated.  When they parted, before they could speak, there came a scuffle close by in the crowd.  They heard a metal sound clank against the cobblestones in the road.  Owien and Greffen had Gunter by the arms and Gunter had dropped his long knife.  Three young men pulled down Sven and took the sword he had hidden under his cloak.

Margueritte butted in front of Charles, Roland right behind.  The crowd backed away with sounds of shock and surprise.

“Who are you working for?”  Margueritte turned on Gunter.

He grinned a sly grin.  “Why you, of course.”

Margueritte presently had no tolerance for deliberate stupidity.  She stepped up and kicked the man between the legs.  He bent over and moaned.  “Who are you working for?” she repeated the question and had a thought.  “Got any more castor seeds?”

Gunter growled, broke free of Greffen’s arm as Greffen loosened his grip and looked pained, like he felt the kick, personally.  Gunther made a fist to swing at Margueritte’s face.  An arrow got there first.

At the same time, Sven pulled a knife he had hidden down his pants leg and slashed one of the young men as he broke free.  Roland, right there, pulled his sword.  There was not much Sven with a knife could do against a seasoned, first-class swordsman.  It was soon over.

Gunter stayed on the ground, one hand on the arrow that stuck out from his gut.

“Who are you working for?” Margueritte tried one more time.

Gunter laughed softly, though it hurt.  “The Masters decided they would rather have things turn out differently at Tours.”  He tried to shrug and closed his eyes.  “We will meet again,” he said.  He lingered for a time, but he said no more.

“Masters?  Tours?” Roland wondered.

The man with the bow, one dressed in hunter green, stepped up, and Margueritte acknowledged him.  “Thank you, Larchmont.”

Charles answered Roland.  “Tours is on the border of Aquitaine.”  They both looked at Margueritte, but she could only shrug.  She did not know anything special about Tours or who might be involved there.  To be honest, she felt more concerned with the Masters, a word that sent chills through her bones, but first she had an Alice of Avalon inspired thought.

“No, Charles.  You may not take my horsemen.  They are not ready.  And before you drag Roland, Tomberlain and Owien off to fight in Swabia, Bavaria, or wherever you are going, we need to take a trip.”  Charles looked at Roland, but it was his turn to shrug, so he looked again at Margueritte.  “To Saint Catherine de Fierbois Church.  I have a gift for you.”

Margueritte stayed surprisingly quiet in the days it took to get to Fierbois.  They rode through October days where the fall weather, fall flowers and the color change in the leaves all helped to distract her.  Giselle accompanied her, while Brianna, Jennifer, and Marta took turns back home, watching the children.  Fortunately, perhaps, Giselle did not say much on the journey either, and that helped Margueritte keep her mouth closed.

When they arrived in Tours, they took rooms near the abbey of Saint Martin and relaxed.  They intended to head to Saint Catherine’s in the morning.  While they sat around the table telling jokes and stories, Captain Wulfram and Giselle with them, soldiers of the duke of Aquitaine arrived and came in with drawn swords.  Margueritte saw them first, stood and shouted.

“No!”

Charles, Roland, and Wulfram paused long enough so they were taken without a struggle.  “In the name of what God do you threaten innocent travelers and pilgrims?” Margueritte let out her anger.  Several men, who might have ignored a man, stepped back under the woman’s wrath, but one young man stepped forward.

“Not in God’s name but in the name of my father, Duke Odo of Aquitaine in whose land you travel.”

Giselle dropped her face into her hands, like she was afraid of what might happen. Margueritte stepped around the table, walked up to the young man, and slapped him, hard, but not too hard.

“Ouch.”  He put his hand to his cheek.

“Hunald, has it been so long you do not know me?  Has your father’s chess hand become so lax to let you run free?”

“Lady Margueritte,” he said as he really looked at them for the first time.  “I did not know it was you.”

Margueritte reached up and the young man flinched, but she patted his cheek softly.  “Join us for supper,” she said in a complete turnaround.  She saw a familiar face at the door.  “Captain Gilbert.”  He recognized her right away.  “Captain Wulfram is my personal guard.  Would you two tell the men to put away their swords and put down their arrows.  We are friends and neighbors.”

“I heard there were soldiers scouting the area for invasion,” Hunald said as Roland guided him to sit on the bench.  Margueritte heard but decided not to ask who told him that.  She did not need another blank, staring face and an “I don’t know.”

Charles put a gentle hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “Son, if I wanted to invade Aquitaine, I would not advertise it in advance.”

“No,” Hunald thought about it.  “I suppose not.”

Margueritte came back around the table to take her seat.  “Hunald, dear.  You should always look before you leap.”

“Trust this old soldier,” Charles said.  “The testimony of two is true.  It is never good to jump on what you think or what you hear.  It is always best to make sure of what you are dealing with before you deal with it.”

“Wine?”  Roland handed him a glass.

“Thank you,” he said, but hardly knew what else to say.

The following day, Hunald took half his men and scooted off, back to his father.  He left the other half and Captain Gilbert with Margueritte in Tours.  It turned out they were headed to the Breton March with heavy horses, saddles and lances abandoned by the Saracens around Toulouse.  Margueritte got excited to see what her horsemen would actually be facing, but first she had to complete her errand.

Margueritte directed Charles, Roland, and the men to the church while she stopped in the nunnery.  They did not wait long before the good Mother Matilde greeted Margueritte and Giselle warmly.  Sister Mary, a middle-aged woman with a kind face came with her.

“I have come to retrieve my property,” Margueritte said after the exchange of pleasantries.  “It is buried in the church, but you are the only ones who should know about it, and I will need you to go with us to not arouse suspicion.”

“I know of nothing buried in the church,” Sister Mary said kindly.  “The church, the monastery and this small place for nuns got built in this community more than two hundred years ago by disciples from Saint Martin’s in Tours.  We are a place where pilgrims may rest.  But after two hundred years, we would have no way of knowing what might be buried beneath the altar.”  Mother Matilde said nothing, but stared hard at the sister’s the last comment.

“Unless you were told by those who came before you that it was beneath the altar,” Margueritte smiled.  “If Rhiannon was a good girl, she placed it beneath a stone with five crosses,” Margueritte said

“Gwenyvair,” Mother Matilde spoke suddenly, nodded, and stood to take a thin volume from the ledgers on the shelf.  Margueritte began to cry softly, and Giselle became curious.

“Gwenyvair?”

“Wife of Arthur, King of the Britons,” Matilde said as she opened the book to the first page.  “The chapel was not finished when she arrived.”

“And Enid?” Margueritte asked softly.  “No.  Don’t tell me.  I don’t need to know that.”

“Lady?” Giselle comforted Margueritte, and Margueritte tried to smile.

“I’m all right.  Gwynyvar was a good friend, that’s all.”

Mother Matilde looked again at Sister Mary and Margueritte, and then decided.  “We will take you there.”