Charles built his permanent army around his veterans, but then he had to pay them so they could support their wives and children, most of whom moved to Reims, so they could be there where the army quartered for the cold months. Charles also worked his men sometimes in the cold months. He knew what was coming, and in 732 it came. Europe and even Rome trembled, but Charles felt vindicated. The only thing he did not guess correctly was, instead of coming out of Septimania, the Muslims brought their massive army right over the Pyrenees from Iberia.
In March of 732, Margueritte got a letter from Duke Odo, and another from Hunald, even as they were appealing to Charles for help. “Here is the way it went,” Margueritte said over supper. “The old duke, and he must be well into his seventies at this point, he made an alliance with one Uthman ibn Naissa, a Berber ruler in Catalunya. He feared the Muslims, that they would try again, and at his age he did not imagine he had the strength to fight them off again.”
“I am understanding something about age these days,” Peppin said quietly
“But he won the battle of Toulouse.” Walaric said, while Tomberlain and Owien sat silent to listen.
“Handily,” Wulfram added.
“But there were circumstances, like the Muslim commander got lazy and did not set a good watch during the siege, and Duke Odo came on them unprepared, and took them by surprise. He cut them down before they could mobilize their cavalry, and the odds of all that working a second time in his favor are like none. But according to Hunald, Duke Odo thought an alliance with the rebellious Berber would put another friendly land between himself and the Emir of Al-Andalus. Apparently, Odo gave his daughter Lampagia to the Berber as a bride.”
“You mean a bribe,” Margo said quietly, and Margueritte nodded.
“But it all came down in 731, last summer,” she continued. “Charles came out of Bavaria to march up to face the troubles in Saxony, but Odo did not know that. He feared Charles would attack him for making the alliance. The agreement with Charles was Odo could rule in Aquitaine, but he would defer to Charles on dealing with any outsiders. So Odo kept his army at home while Charles marched through Burgundy, up along his border.
“Meanwhile, the Wali of Cordoba… Wali is like a governor-general, like the Romans used to have a Magister Millitum for a province. The Wali, a man named Abu Said Abdul Rahman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr ibn Al Sarem Al ‘Aki Al Ghafiqi, brought his first line troops against the Berber.”
“There’s a mouthful of a name,” Elsbeth said.
“Worse than a name for a Beanie,” Jennifer interjected.
Margueritte nodded. “And it seems the Berber, without help from Odo, got killed. Hunald says his sister probably got sent to some harem in Damascus. But now Odo is between Charles and the Muslims, the old rock and the hard place, and he doesn’t know what to do. And now the Muslims have an excuse to cross the Pyrenees and take Odo’s land, and the Duke does not see any way to stop them. Hunald says Abdul Rahman brought his army over the mountains, in early February, and he fears the Vascons will not resist, and Abdul Rahman will overrun Tolouse this time, and they won’t be able to escape.”
Margueritte stood and put down her papers, while Owien asked the operative question. “What can we do?”
“Go home and train your young men, as planned. Tomberlain has the Sarthe area. Peppin has the Mayenne. Owien, you have the Mauges, south of Angers, south of the Loire, while Wulfram has the north and east, between the rivers and Baugeois. Walaric, I want you here in Pouance and to work with Captain Lothar on all the men from Segre and Haut. I will write to Count Michael and Count duBois to be sure they are ready. We follow Charles. We have to wait and see what Odo and this Abdul Rahman do. But be prepared to come on short notice. No one under eighteen, and no first-year students, but you will need to bring as many as you can, footmen as well as horsemen.”
“Where?” Tomberlain asked.
Margueritte thought a minute. “Tours,” she said. “We will all pay Amager a visit. From Tours, we can head wherever we need to go in Aquitaine, and we can see what men he might add to our numbers.”
It became a warm June before Margueritte got another letter from Aquitaine. Odo got badly defeated around Bordeaux, and now the city was under siege. Margueritte sat down and wrote to Charles, who stayed in Reims. What was he waiting for? Odo would not be able to fend off Abdul Rahman by himself. It became a scolding letter, and she would have to think about it before she sent it. She went for a ride. Concord had gotten old, at eleven years. A ride for him became more like a walk. Calista rode with her, but no one else bothered them. They went out into the Vergen forest, on one of those trails Festuscato marked out years earlier. This one came near the main road to Vergenville, and Margueritte eventually turned her horse to the road.
“I don’t know what to do,” she admitted.
“I don’t know if you have to do anything,” Calista said. “Of course, I don’t know how humans work, exactly. I know what you have told me about Islam, and it sounds terrible and dangerous, but I have heard from some of your little ones living in Iberia, and they say it isn’t so bad. Of course, that is from an elf perspective. I don’t know how humans work, exactly.”
“You said that,” Margueritte sighed and she saw Calista whip out her bow. An arrow from some foe hidden among the trees struck Margueritte in the side, and she had to cling to her horse.
“Quickly,” Calista helped get the horses off the road and helped Margueritte get down and sit, leaning against a tree. Calista fired an arrow, and quickly fired two more, and Margueritte had a stray thought.
“Poor Melanie. You are going to get ahead of her.”
“No, Lady. She got six Saxons and two Thuringians back east. I am still six behind.”
“Wait six and two is eight.”
“Yes, Lady,” Calista let loose an arrow and announced, “Five to go.”
The arrows trying to get at them stopped, and a half-dozen Saracens charged.
“Hammerhead,” Margueritte yelled the name that came to mind, even as she once yelled the same name close to that very place, so many years ago. The ogre came, and so did Birch, Larchmont and Yellow Leaf. Only Luckless and Grimly were missing, but they had duties to attend back in the castle.
The Saracens did not last long. This time, one made it back to his horse to ride off, but Larchmont and Yellow Leaf went after him, so he did not get far. Fairies can fly much faster than any horse can run.
Calista complained. “Thanks. Melanie is still three ahead of me.”
Margueritte tried not to laugh. It hurt too much.
“Lady.” Hammerhead picked her up, gently, and Margueritte tried not to throw-up from the smell. She closed her eyes and thought about flowers while Hammerhead carried her to the Breton gate. The guards on duty balked at letting in the ogre, but they knew Birch, and Margueritte, of course, in the ogre’s arms. They also knew Calista and the two horses she brought that shied away from the ogre.
“Open up, and be quick,” Birch said. He stood in his big form and looked like a true Lord. They opened but kept well back as Hammerhead brought Margueritte to the house. He laid Margueritte down and backed off so men could carry her inside. Hammerhead remembered he was not allowed in the house, so he sat by the oak sapling and the bench and waited.
Elsbeth and Tomberlain held Margueritte’s hands and called for Doctor Pincher. He came and scooted everyone from the room, but let Jennifer stay. Margueritte lost a lot of blood, but he said she should recover.
“It will be a few weeks in bed and several more of low activity. We will have to watch to be sure she does not get it infected. Keep it clean and clean cloths,” he said, and Jennifer said not to worry.
After those three weeks, as Margueritte first stood and thought about trying to go downstairs, Roland came roaring into the castle with twenty men on horseback. They were all older men, traditional horsemen, Childemund among them, but they had all seen the lancers fight the Saxons and Thuringians, and they were anxious to get their hands on such weapons.
Roland held Margueritte and carried her down the stairs. He became so cute and attentive, Margueritte almost got tempted to stay injured for a while. Soon enough, though, she was able to sit for supper in the Great Hall, and she spoke from the end seat, where her father used to sit. She wanted Roland to take the end seat, but he would not hear it. He took her mother’s old seat so he could cut her meat, if she needed his help.
Jennifer sat on Margueritte’s left, opposite Roland and next to Tomberlain and Margo. Owien and Elsbeth sat next to Roland. Margo kept Walaric’s wife, Alpaida next to her. Alpaida was still not entirely comfortable with the fairies, elves, gnomes, and dwarfs that occasionally popped up around the castle, though she had no complaints about Lolly’s cooking. Walaric sat next to his wife, and Wulfram sat beside him. On the other side, Childemund sat next to Elsbeth and Sir Peppin, and Captain Lothar sat across from Wulfram.
Tomberlain stood and toasted his family, and he counted everyone at the table like family because they had become that close. Then Margueritte asked a question that started everything.
“What is Charles playing at? He knows he has to come out and fight while there is time. Odo cannot do it alone. He should have gotten the message from Bordeaux.”
“He wants Odo taken down some before moving. And I agree, it is a dangerous game. Odo may lose entirely, and Abdul Rahman may be emboldened by the victory.”
“We will be ready,” Owien said.
“But we fight for Charles,” Tomberlain reminded him. “Right now, we have to wait until he calls.”
“He may be waiting for winter,” Wulfram suggested from the far end of the table. “These Saracens are used to the hot weather. I was thinking they have not experienced the kinds of winters we have.”
“I just hope he does not wait too long,” Peppin said, and he nudged Childemund who looked up with a dumb look on his face.
“What? I’m just enjoying this apple pie that Lady Elsbeth did not make. I am attacking it, and the pie is going to lose.”