M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 3 of 3

A time of silence followed, while Relii stared at the fairy, and Tulip tried to hide in Sigisurd’s long blond hair but did not entirely succeed because it was wispy hair.  After a bit, Relii looked ready to speak, but Margueritte got there first.

“So, your job was to convince me to become a nun and be locked away from the events of the world?”  It came out as a question, but Margueritte said it more like a statement.

“I guess,” Relii said.  “I didn’t know that was my job, but I think you are right.  That was what was in the back of my mind the whole time, pushing me.”

“Just so you know,” Margueritte said. “Herlindis and your father were feeling the same compulsion, and that is probably why they encouraged you to go on this little trip.”

“Yes, now that you mention it.  Father is still angry with Aduan for deceiving him.  He wants me to have nothing to do with that wicked girl, as he calls her.  And Herlindis is reluctant to let me out of her sight unless I have two nuns with me to guard me at all times.  But when the opportunity came up to go with you on this journey, they both insisted I go.  That doesn’t make sense.”

“They were enchanted,” Margueritte said.

“You were enchanted,” Tulip spoke to Relii with only her head peeking out from Sigisurd’s hair.

“I must have been,” Relii said.  “But how?”

“Like a bad cold spread from one person to the next, but you are all free now, and so is your father, so we will see if your father decides to come after you.  Meanwhile, I have something to run by you so you can keep your eyes and ears open.  Please don’t talk about this with others, but someone, some great power wants to remove me from this time and place.  I suspect great events are planned for the future and they don’t want me around to mess things up.”

“Seriously?  What can you, a woman, do to mess things up?”  Relii asked.

“Roland said you were responsible for making Charles into a hard taskmaster,” Sigisurd offered a thought.  “He said you kept annoying Charles about training the men to follow orders and hold their position at all costs, and after the defeat at Cologne, he finally took you seriously.  He said you were the one who first suggested the need for a standing army that was there all year to train and be the best, instead of a called-up army of untrained farmers and fishermen.  Roland said you told Charles to select his battleground, to take the advantageous position, to add the element of surprise to his bag of tricks, as you called it.  He said you told Charles about that eastern trick of pretending to retreat and pulling an enemy into a trap.  Roland said you are the reason Charles prevailed in this civil war.”

“These things are just common sense,” Margueritte said, with a shake of her head.  “But I will admit common sense has always been in short supply in the human race.  But here is the thing.  I don’t know what the future holds, exactly, or what my part in it might be, but the fact that someone wants me out of the way is clear.”  She gathered her thoughts and began at the beginning.  “First, it was probably not an accident that Ragenfrid’s men picked me up outside of Cologne.  As far as I know, Ragenfrid did not send any men around to the hill, but suddenly, there they were.  I think whoever is behind this hoped Ragenfrid would just kill me and be done with it, but Ragenfrid thought hostage and Radbod encouraged that thought, and I feel Boniface argued mightily on my behalf, I should say on our behalf, so we survived.”  Relii looked embarrassed so Margueritte asked, “What?” 

“I know the bishop argued several times for us.  I spoke with him several times while we were there, you know.  I was not always sneaking off to get into someone’s bed.”

Margueritte nodded as if not surprised.  She continued.  “Then I think the castor seeds were meant for me, but maybe they were too easy to trace and point a finger, so at the last there came a change of mind.  Something blunted my appetite that night, and Sigisurd’s appetite, so we didn’t have any soup, but then plan B was to have us captured by soldiers from Aquitaine.  If the Neustrians and Frisians failed to kill me, maybe the men from Aquitaine would.  That did not work either, because the hostage idea was too good an idea.  So now whoever it is has to get creative.”

“If you went into the Abbey, you would leave the word behind,” Relii nodded.

“But wait, before the Abbey idea, he tried to get me into a Muslim harem.”

“What is a harem?” Sigisurd asked, not having understood the full story when it was going on.  Margueritte explained and Sigisurd and Relii both got big eyes and said, “Oh.”

“But why are you speaking of this now?” Relii asked.

“Because I want you to look out for whatever the next attempt might be.”

“Why doesn’t this power just kill you himself?”  Relii wondered.

“Oh no,” Tulip joined the conversation.  “To kill the Kairos is very bad Karma.  A sin of all sins.  Even the gods of old were prevented from killing the Kairos outright.  Our Lady might die of natural causes, and those causes might even include an enemy sword, but for any power it would be an invitation straight to Hell for the killer.”

“So, they are trying to manipulate me into a position where someone does the killing for them, or where I voluntarily remove myself from the playing field, like to the Abbey, or involuntarily get removed, like to a harem.”

“So, what will be the next move?” Sigisurd asked.

“So, what is the big coming event where you will play such an important part?” Relii asked.

They were both good questions.

###

Near the end of December, about the twenty-fifth, Captain Ragobert, his twenty men and two overloaded wagons showed up at a farm which sat on a rise above a wide river.  Margueritte thought the manor house looked huge, almost as big as the barn.  An elderly man with a limp came out of the house, stopped when his leg would not go further, and he frowned.  An elderly woman came up to the captain, spoke briefly, and then ran to the wagon.  Grandma Rosamund took baby Brittany in her arms and looked very happy.  Martin went with his mother to confront the old man.  A woman, only a couple of years older than Margueritte came running out of the house and gave Relii a big hug and kisses.  Margueritte thought it looked more than just friendly, but what did she know?  A younger man also came out of the house and stopped to stare at the strangers and imitate his father’s hard glare.  Margueritte guessed the woman was Aduan, Roland’s younger sister, and the young man, about nineteen, was the baby of the family, Geoffry; but first Margueritte had to confront Grandpa Horegard.

Margueritte said nothing.  She had no doubt this was Horegard since he had been described to her in such detail. She stepped up and kissed the man on the cheek, and then brought Martin up to her hip, though at two, he started to get big and heavy.  She spoke to Martin and pointed at the frowning face, turned curious.

“Martin.  This is your grandfather.”  Martin took his cue from his mother and reached out for the old man.  

Horegard looked at Margueritte and asked.  “Margueritte?”  She nodded, and he put his hand out for the boy.  “Let’s go inside.”

Martin took his grandfather’s hand and at two years old, he walked about as well as the man limped, and as long as his mother was right there with him, they went inside to the big open rooms, downstairs in the manor.  Festuscato and Gerraint both said it looked a bit like a great hall in a Roman fort, and the table looked big enough for a family of twenty, which they nearly were.

Ingrid, the eldest, about age thirty, and with her husband Theobald, had two girls and a boy.  Clara was eleven, Thuldis was eight, and the boy Childebear was six.  Roland came next in line at twenty-seven, going on twenty-eight, and Margueritte had two and already started thinking about three of her own.  Aduan and her Gallo-Roman husband Cassius also had three; boy, girl, boy.  Dombert was six, the girl Corimer was three, and Lavius was one.  Then there came Geoffry.  He was not married and said he was not going to get married.

Theobald and Cassius came in from the fields at dark, exhausted.  They welcomed Margueritte almost in passing and reported that they got a good start on clearing the far corner, wherever that meant.  Horegard said they better get it cleared by spring, the way the family kept growing.  Margueritte got an idea of the land in her mind, where the serf houses were, filled mostly with some combination of Gallic and Roman people, and where the dependent free Franks lived, the ones who would make the bulk of Horegard’s fighting force if they should be needed.

Supper became a madhouse.  The kitchen, out back, included two big brick ovens and a fire pit for the pig, lamb or occasional deer or beef.  Most of the time, they ate vegetable stock soup with some eggs, with chicken, or fish from the river.  Not a bad diet overall, but everything had to be cooked in bulk and the washing up took forever.  After supper, as the children slowly dropped off to sleep, the exhausted adults went with them.  Every family had their own room, and they were big rooms, like families were anticipated in the building, and there were eight bedrooms in that big house. Margueritte and her children got Roland’s room, and it felt more than adequate.  They even moved in a small bed for Martin, though he preferred to sleep with his mother.

After the Master bedroom, Ingrid, Roland, Aduan and Geoffry all had rooms.  The sixth room, one of the biggest, was for the servants, which presently consisted of only one very old woman named Oda who did not actually do much of anything as far as Margueritte could tell.   Margueritte guessed the woman might be something like Grandma Rosamund’s nanny, and that had to make her very, very old, like close to seventy if not already arrived.

Relii got the seventh room, with Sigisurd, though Sigisurd got offered a bed in the servant’s room with the old woman.  Sigisurd slept mostly in the room with Relii, though occasionally she preferred to stay with Margueritte and the children.  She said sometimes Relii got carried away with her prayers and devotions and more devotions, and Sigisurd was more comfortable with the children.

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

 

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Happy Holidays, and Happy Reading.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte settles in, but it is not so easy. There is trouble all around. Until Monday. Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: The Saxon March, part 2 of 3

The women said nothing, but there was a noise at the door.  A man spoke.  “Brilliant.”  Another man stepped in with another nun at his side.  Margueritte looked and named the man who stayed by the door.

“Boniface!”  That was all Margueritte got out, because the nun who came in wept and hugged her, and then went to hug and weep on Relii, and Margueritte guessed it was Herlindis.  The man with her had to be their father, Count Adelard.  He gave Margueritte the odd look of a man who did not like strangers much.

Boniface stepped over and gave Margueritte a kiss on the cheek and then introduced her.  “Count Adelard, this is Margueritte, wife of Roland, son of Horegard.”  The Count’s visage changed instantly.

“And these children?”

“Horegard’s grandchildren,” Margueritte said, with an excuse me.  Poor Brittany started struggling.  Margueritte stepped to the other table where she could have some privacy.  Martin began to object, but Sigisurd picked him up and held him, and let him bury his head in her shoulder to get away from all the strangers.  Too much talk and too many strange faces stood around for him to be comfortable.

###

Margueritte had to spend one evening at a difficult dinner party.  Count Adelard, a mean and grumpy old man in his fifties, sat at the end of a long table with his Major-Domo, Gerold and Captain Ragobert to his right.  Ragobert came from Count Adelard’s land and left as a young man to fight for Pepin of Herstal, the former mayor and Charles’ father.  He and Gerold were friends of a sort and in their forties.  The thirty-year-olds were to the Count’s left, his daughter Herlindis and Boniface.  Margueritte spent some time studying the faces and conversation of the local men, and decided they were all like Ragobert, not too bright and with no sense of humor.

Margueritte sat at the other end of the table, like the children’s end, next to Boniface, but with Sigisurd to her left hand, and Martin squeezed between them.  Martin had the good sense half-way through dinner to crawl down and go to the blanket where Brittany slept, so he could also lie down.  Sadly, Margueritte did not feel she had that option.

At the actual end of the table, Hildegard sat and said nothing all night, and indeed, she hardly lifter her eyes from her plate.  Hildegard was wife of Thierry, the Count’s only son, who had gone off to fight for Charles, and who Margueritte believed she met once.  A dull knife, like his father, if she remembered.  Squeezed between Hildegard and Relii, who sat opposite Margueritte, were Hildegard’s two children.  Bertrand was seven and seemed a fine girl, but quiet as her mother, or as Margueritte figured, cowed to know her place, keep her mouth shut and mind her own business, or in other words, she was a girl.  Her brother, Poppo, was a four-year-old brat.  He sat between Bertrand and Hildegard and liked to make noise and throw food.  In fact, the only time Margueritte ever saw the count smile was when Poppo got exceptionally loud and behaved especially bad.  While Martin still sat at the table, eating, Margueritte put her hand over Martin’s eyes several times to keep him from watching Poppo and getting any ideas.  Hildegard almost smiled to see that, and that told Margueritte a person might still be inside that shell somewhere.

Relii also stayed exceptionally quiet during supper.  She said she was being good.  Sigisurd stayed her natural quiet self, and also seemed to want to lie down with the children and escape the table.  It was not because of the tension at the table, exactly.  It felt more like a permanent pall that smothered anything approximating joy and good fellowship.  Margueritte heard all about it the next day when Relii accompanied them on the journey to Roland’s family home.

They camped half-way to the Rhine, and the soldiers under Ragobert made a separate campfire for the women and children at the door of their big tent.  Relii waited until they had eaten, but then Margueritte and Sigisurd could not wait to hear what Relii had to say.  Curiously, she did not talk about the difficult dinner and the forced silence of the women, or the behavior of Poppo, or the attitude of the men.  Mostly Relii shared about growing up, though in a way it helped explain those other things. 

“My best friend is Aduan, Roland’s younger sister.”  Relii said.  “Herlindis and Ingrid, Roland’s older sister, were cordial friends, but I don’t think they were ever close.  I turned nine when Mother got killed by Saxon raiders, and Aduan was ten.  Herlindis, at seventeen, had a boyfriend, sort of.  Father did not approve of the boy, so Herlindis got packed up and shipped off to a monastery in Reims, the old capitol.  There, she took her vows and became a nun, so Father, not wanting her so far away, built the Abbey of Aldeneik for women, and brought Herlindis home to be the Abbess.”

“Good for her, I suppose,” Sigisurd responded.  “But how did you end up a camp follower?”

“I got told from the age of thirteen that I was going to follow my sister into the abbey.  It was not what I had in mind, but I did not have any choice.”

Margueritte looked up from Martin who had fallen asleep beside his baby sister.  “You were to be the virgin sacrifice.”

Relii screwed up her face.  “Sort of,” she said.  “But in those days, Father and Horegard, Roland’s father, met all the time and discussed what to do about the Saxons.  They said even with Pepin taking the best for the army, they could raise a solid company of three hundred men and maybe another three hundred that were not so solid.  They played at soldier, and even talked of invading the Saxon lands.  They went over maps and scouted out the blacksmiths and workers to equip the men, but nothing ever came of it.  The only good thing was Aduan and I got close, being near the same age, and as we grew, we talked about boys a lot.”

“Not much else to talk about in this age,” Margueritte said, quietly.

“Yes, well, when I turned sixteen, Herlindis started to school me in the ways of Benedict, and I was not a very good student.  Herlindis thought she had to take Mother’s place and treated me like a child, but I was almost ten when Mother died, and not grown up, but not a baby.  Besides, I did just fine without Herlindis mothering me for three years while she was away in Reims.  I was thirteen when she returned, and I thought I was all grown up by then.”  Clearly, Relii still had some issues there.

“Father was the worst,” she continued.  “He turned hard, if you know what I mean by that word, and not at all like I remember him when I was young.  I think the loss of Mother changed him, but anyway, I put up with the schooling for a while, and snuck out often to visit my friends and boys, and got in plenty of trouble, but when I turned seventeen, I hatched a plan.  Pepin’s army camped near, planning a campaign against the Saxons to push them back to the Wesser River.  Aduan made it look like she and I got taken by Saxon raiders.  She went to stay with her boyfriend, Cassius, and his Gallo-Roman family down the road.  I went to Pepin’s army and attached myself to Mother Mary, who was younger in those days, and not called Mother.  I made up some story about my family being killed by Saxons, and she took me in.  I stayed with the army ever since.”

“But your father and Herlindis, didn’t they think you were dead?”  Sigisurd asked.

“I suppose, for a while, but Aduan eventually confessed herself.  Cassius made her confess before they got married, and good thing they got married because Aduan already got pregnant.  Aduan did not know where I was, of course, but Father and Herlindis kept hope that I was still alive, and so now I am going to be a nun.”

“Good for you, I suppose,” Margueritte paraphrased Sigisurd’s words, and she and Relii both looked at Sigisurd.

“Don’t look at me,” Sigisurd said.  “My family really all got killed, except by Alemans instead of Saxons, and I escaped because I was out tending the sheep at the time.  I cried for a long time, and my neighbors helped me in my need, and offered to take me in, but then I also ran away.  I have a distant cousin in Cologne, and I thought if I could find him, I could be safe.  But Mother Mary found me when Charles first arrived outside Cologne, and she took me in for my own safety.  We were all by the stream, washing clothes when we got captured.  Then I met you, Margueritte, and you saved me for real, and we had children.”

“And now you want children of your own,” Margueritte guessed.

“Yes, please.” Sigisurd smiled and she looked back at Relii, who shrugged.

“If I could have children, I would have a handful by now.  No telling who the fathers might be.”  Relii smiled before she got serious.  “The Lord saved me for himself, but it took me a long time to see that.  If I become a nun now, it will be by my own choice.  If Father and Herlindis agree, that is nice, but not important.  Freely, the Lord has given me his heart, and freely I return it to him.”

The women sat quietly for a while.  Martin and Brittany slept, so Margueritte imagined she could continue the conversation.  “Haven’t you seen Aduan since you have been back?” she asked Relii.

“Yes, and all is good, but I came on this trip for you, and Sigisurd if she wants.”

“What do you mean?”  Margueritte’s suspicious gland, as Festuscato called it, started to throb.

“I have come to tell you about the glory and wonder of life at the Abbey.  I see wars ahead, and so much killing.  But you will be safe at the Abbey.  We pray all day and have wonderful fellowship, and the outside world has no hold on us.”

“Hold it,” Margueritte practically growled.  “Just stop talking for a minute.  Who told you to talk to me about becoming a nun?”

“Why?  No one told me,” Relii said, and she sounded sincere.

“Tulip.” Margueritte called, and the fairy appeared.  Sigisurd remembered her instantly.  That was the way the spell worked.  Relii reacted like a person being attacked by some horrible monster.  She raised her hands, ready to unleash her magic, but she stopped there and remained unmoving when Margueritte stood.

“Lady?” Tulip asked.  Margueritte did not stand there.  Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts came through history to take her place.

“Tulip.  There is a great enchantment here.  It looks like a virus, transmitted from hand to hand.”  Danna traced it back to Herlindis, to the count, to one of the soldiers of Ragobert, to a man in Paris, to a captain in the army of Ragenfrid, and to Marco, servant of Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, on whom she saw something like a fingerprint, and she sighed.  Danna easily removed the virus from all the carriers, and she sent an unmistakable message to al-Makti.  “Leave Margueritte alone.”  Then Danna left, so Margueritte could return to her own time and place and think about what she knew.  Relii moved again, dropped her hands in a moment of confusion, and promptly threw up.  Sigisurd and Tulip helped her recover.