M4 Margueritte: Sword of the Five Crosses, part 1 of 3

Wulfram got the men to set up camp on the pasture next to Ragenfrid’s people.  They figured they would have to wait, maybe until morning.  He took the extra precaution of setting the men in defensible positions, because he said there was no telling if Ragenfrid might show up with an entire army.

Tomberlain praised his sister.  “I am so glad you came along.  I never know what to say in those kinds of awkward situations.”

“I am not sure Margueritte said the right thing,” Roland admitted, with a glance at Margueritte, who sulked.  “We shall see what Ragenfrid comes up with.”

“Walk with me,” Margueritte grabbed Roland’s hand and stepped over to talk to Ragenfrid’s sons.  “Adalbert and Fredegar.”  Margueritte tried the names.  The young men looked but said nothing.  “May we sit?”  Adalbert waved at the grass, and Margueritte sat, but not without a cold look at the man who sat there on a log where he could keep his pants free from grass stains.

“Did father really hold you hostage?” Fredegar blurted out, and Margueritte nodded.

“I was young and pregnant, and he was not cruel to me, but he was not kind to me.”

“Sounds like father,” Adalbert said, gruffly.  “He decides something, and everyone is supposed to jump and do it, while he puts it completely out of his mind and moves on to the next thing.”

“Sir Roland, I’ve heard of you,” Fredegar interrupted.  “You fought for Charles the Usurper.”

“That’s Charles, son of Pepin of Herstal, Mayor of all the Franks, as was his father,” Margueritte corrected.

Roland nodded.  “Charles and I have been friends for a long time.  I hope your brother Bernard has the good sense to explain things well to your father.  I would like to wrap this up amicably and not get Charles involved.”

“So how long have you boys been coming to this side of the river?” Margueritte asked casually.

“Oh, all my life,” Fredegar insisted.  Adalbert looked more thoughtful.

“We only have Father’s word that his father came to this side of the river before him.”

“And these are all of you cows?” Margueritte asked, sweetly.

“Oh no,” Fredegar said.  “We have two other herds out in other pastures.”

“Really?” Margueritte sounded fascinated.  “How many would that be?”

“Over two hundred,” Fredegar said proudly before Adalbert hit him.  “What?”

Margueritte spoke directly to Adalbert.  “Don’t worry.  The tax will be reasonable.”

As expected, Ragenfrid did not arrive until mid-morning on the next day.  He came with roughly fifty men of his own, but it was easy to tell who the soldiers were, and who had the collection of farm hands.  Also, as expected, Ragenfrid had no bill of sale.

“My father sometimes has the bad sense to take what he wants,” Bernard all but apologized.

“I understand, but in this case, he can’t have it unless he pays for it,” Tomberlain said.  “I am not willing to sell this land, but I might be willing to rent it for ten years, for a price and on conditions.”

Ragenfrid balked on the down payment price, but Margueritte and the others agreed that he had to suffer some penalty for using the land for three generations without paying.  That was three cows for each generation, a cheap price all things considered.  He also balked on the payment price of three cows per year, but as Roland pointed out, if his herd of over two hundred could not produce three replacement calves per year, at a minimum, then they could not help him. Finally, he threw a fit about the conditions.  Any refusal or failure to pay, whether he used the land that year or not, no excuses, and they would take his three sons as hostages.

“No.  Absolutely not.  I will not sign the agreement,” he steamed.

“Larchmont,” Margueritte called.  The fairy appeared, but in hunter’s garb and full sized so as not to cause a panic.  “Have your people located the other two herds.”

“Yes Lady, we await only your word.”

“Let’s start with the herd we have here,” Roland said.  “Wulfram.  These cows are trespassing.  Please slaughter the herd.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Wulfram said and did not bat an eye.  Wulfram turned to shout orders, but Ragenfrid interrupted.

“Wait, wait.”  He stepped up to the table where the clerics had everything written out in triplicate.  Ragenfrid signed and sealed the papers, one for him, one for the count and one for the king.  Tomberlain did the same.  “Take your stolen property and be gone,” Ragenfrid said, and Margueritte smiled because it looked like he almost said, take you stolen property and get off my land.  That would have been a great choke.

Outside, Margueritte paused to speak to the boys.

“If your father screws up, I look forward to showing you the wonders of Potentius and the castle we are building,” she said, and mounted Concord, a horse the boys were admiring, and rode to the top of the hill to wait.

After that, they had to go some distance to the ford of the Mayenne, but then went straight across the land to home.  They stopped in Gontier and in Craon, where they visited with Peppin and his family, but then they went straight on.  It became the end of August, and Margueritte missed her children.  Wulfram told Roland and Tomberlain, too bad Ragenfrid conceded to the demands.  He had been looking forward to giving his men a workout against Ragenfrid’s men and really see what they could do with all the new training.  Margueritte chalked it up to the age being a bloodthirsty age and laughed before she spent the rest of her time, all the way home, asking forgiveness for wanting to see Ragenfrid suffer.

###

Margueritte barely got in the house and hugged her children before she heard the news.  As Margueritte suspected, the Muslims came out of Septimania and laid siege to Toulouse.  Duke Odo, being forewarned, escaped.  He went to Bordeaux where he raised the army, and on June ninth he returned to Toulouse, crushed the enemy, and drove them out of Aquitaine.  It proved a great victory for the duke and a crushing defeat for the Muslims who were not used to losing.  Margueritte felt happy to hear the news, but she puzzled over the fact that there were no reports of heavy cavalry among the Muslims.

“Something is wrong here,” was all she said, until she added, “This isn’t right.”

“Right or not, I think it is great news,” Roland responded.

“Are you talking about a boy?” Elsbeth asked.

“I’ve felt that way sometimes,” Jennifer said.

“What did Martin do now?” Margo asked.

“I am sure it will all work out in the end,” Mother said.

“What?” Goldenrod asked, and after Margueritte explained it and everyone else said now they understood what she was talking about, Goldenrod still said, “What?”

Margueritte stepped out to check on the construction of the castle if she could call it that.  Ronan, the general contractor had laid out pairs of stones the width of the expected wall.  The pairs ran all the way around the proposed castle, every three yards.

“I spent the winter checking the fortress where you said Charles had been held prisoner some years back.  It is well made, and solid, but I think we can improve the design in some ways.”  He explained how the proposed wall could be angled at points to allow for a crossfire of arrows and strengthened in between with strong towers.  He detailed his thoughts on how to shape the wall to resist catapult blows, and how he wanted to construct an inside walkway to allow a second layer of defense where men could use slim windows to cut down ropes and push down ladders, or just add to the arrow barrage as may be.”

“An inner hallway between the towers,” Margueritte said, and blinked to keep her eyes awake.  Ronan was long winded and technically minded.

“You could call it that,” Ronan nodded and got interrupted.  Margueritte breathed.

“Lord Ronan,” two workers came up.

“Sven and Gunter,” Ronan introduced them, and added that Gunter gave him the idea of the inner hallway and some thoughts on how to catapult-proof the walls.

“What is it?”  Ronan turned to the workers.

“We have marked out the four gates,” Gunter, the short, dark, and ugly one spoke.  Sven, the big, blond, ogre-looking one merely nodded.  “We got the two main gates, east and west on the old Roman road, and the big back gate by the barn, but I want to try once more to speak against the small postern gate by the kitchens.  All that makes is an additional way for an enemy to break in.”

Ronan looked at Margueritte, but she merely shook her head.  “We are building a defensible home, not a fortress.  I hope to make it impossible for raiders, brigands, and small forces, and maybe discourage an opposing army from making the attempt, but I do not want to see the walls splattered with blood.  For an army, we negotiate.”

“Very good, milady,” Ronan gave a slight bow before he turned to his workers.  “There you have it.”

“Fine,” Gunter said, though he did not sound too happy about it.  “But what about the little Serveen River.  I’ve surveyed the area.  It would not be too hard to divert it into the hollow where that little stream runs.  It would make a nice little lake there on the west side and a nice barrier against the Bretons.  And you could stock it with fish; good eating for the ladies.”  Gunter tried to smile, but his bulbous nose got in the way.

“Not at this time,” Margueritte said, but she wondered what sort of technology the dark ages had that could divert a river, and who, in that age, would even think of such a thing.

Sven sneezed all over Gunter’s head.  Gunter turned and hit him in the arm.

“Watch it,” he said, as he wiped off his head.  “I don’t want your germs.”

“Leave the river where it is,” Ronan said.

“Very good,” Gunter turned and tried a pleasant face before he turned back to Sven and hit him again as they walked off.

“I don’t know where the man comes up with such strange ideas,” Ronan said.

Margueritte just smiled for him and told him to keep up the good work, but she walked away with some strange thoughts.  Who, in her day, would even imagine diverting a river?  And that walkway through the stone wall—that would require some serious engineering skills.  She doubted Ronan had such skills.  She doubted Ronan could do the math with Roman numerals.

M4 Margueritte: Potentius, part 3 of 3

Come Mayday, Grace turned a full sixteen months old, and Margueritte was not pregnant, as far as she could tell, though she was thinking about it.  Giselle and Mother had the children, and Margo and Jennifer promised to help.  Margueritte knew better than to ask Elsbeth who stayed too busy with her new husband.  On a fine day, they set out, and Roland, Tomberlain, Wulfram and three clerics good with math skills, who were learned to read and write and reported to be honest men, moved south along the Breton border, protected by a troop of fifty men on mixed Charger-Arabians and with mule pulled wagons.  Margueritte rode Concord and did not have to worry about getting beat up, bouncing around in one of the wagons.  That made her happy for most of the trip.

They brought six wagons with them, one of which was all Margueritte’s stuff, and a copy of the maps, which they updated as they went, traveling inland from the border on a regular basis so they zigzagged through the countryside.  Most people were not against paying taxes, but many complained that they already paid their taxes to the king.  Margueritte always asked which king?  As often as not, the answer was King Urbon of Little Britain.  One man said, King Odo of Aquitaine, and she laughed about that for a whole week.

Part of the deal was Tomberlain, at least in name as the count and ultimate landowner, would pay the king’s taxes for the whole march from now on.  The locals would only have to pay one tax, but it would be to Tomberlain.  This put Tomberlain in a position where he had to ask a bit more than the king expected so he could pay the king’s tax and have enough left over to pay his own bills.  It all came up one evening over a campfire.

“And how am I supposed to be able to police the whole land and get what is due?” Tomberlain asked after some considerable thought.  “I will need a whole army of tax collectors to keep things straight.”

Margueritte bit the bullet.  She risked history, but it was all going to happen soon enough anyway.  “Tomberlain.  You are the king’s tax collector for your whole province.  He has many men, such as yourself, policing their own lands.  What Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton march needs is in the same way to have barons answerable to him to do the work.  Section your land into as many reasonable departments as necessary.  Let the cities like Laval raise their own taxes.  Let your barons do the work in their departments.  They should be knighted barons, and like Father’s original contract with Peppin’s father, let the barons be responsible for raising and training the men in his department for times of war. as well as for the taxes for his department.”

“Even then I would need hundreds of barons to cover all the ground.”

Margueritte shook her head, but mostly because she was going to hate herself in the morning.  “Not at all.  A dozen would do.  You see, the barons can appoint and contract with knights in much the same way you contracted with them.  The barons can further divide the land, and the knights can even further divide it by inviting free Franks and fighters, like chatelains, homeowners, perhaps former and distinguished army men, perhaps men who are themselves knights, all with your approval, of course.  Then the free Franks collect from their neighborhood, the knights from their area, the barons from all over the Barony, and it all comes to you.  You see?  All without you having to pay an army of men to collect the taxes for you, personally.”

“What would entice a man to take on such work and responsibility?” Wulfram asked the natural question.

“Land,” Margueritte answered.  “The produce of the land will be the wages of the barons, knights and so on.  It is the land that can be taxed in what it produces.  Land that can be passed down to sons or daughters, and it can be written in the contract if there are no legitimate children, the land reverts to the count, Marquise of the Breton Mark, who can then make a new appointment.  Keep in mind, you in no way stop being the actual owner of the land.  The appointed baron and so on down the line are merely renting the land from you, and the taxes are like the rent payment.  You can decide how much authority your barons and knights can actually have on the land and in determining land use, and so on, but that can be debated.  Also, you have the right to reserve certain sections for yourself, like a hunting preserve or whatever.”

“It all sounds very organized,” Wulfram said.

“It needs to be.  But Tomberlain, keeping track of Peppin, Owien, Wulfram, and a half-dozen more barons will certainly be easier than trying to do it all yourself.  And Laval and the bigger towns, with a reasonable amount of land around the towns, can make their own collections, and pay the count directly.  And the villages within the barony might pay a village tax in a lump sum to the local fief holder or the baron directly as the baron sees fit.”

“Wait a minute.”  Roland started thinking.  “If there are too many layers, it is going to be impossible to live, if each one adds a bit more to the tax price.”

“That is the one thing to watch out for.”  Margueritte felt glad Roland had been wise enough to bring it up.  “If the king wants one, the count needs two, the baron needs three, the knight needs four, the free Frank asks the man for five, which will be difficult if he works hard all year and only makes six, and impossible if he works hard and only makes four.  Tomberlain.  You must never lose sight of the people.  People need more than just to live.  They should be able to set a little aside for their old age, and maybe to buy their grandchildren a treat.”

“So, what are the knights and barons supposed to do with their money?” Wulfram asked.  “I see self-indulgence and a heavy burden on the poor.”

“Well.” Margueritte wanted to say lots of things, but she knew she had entered historical quicksand, so she got careful.  “Look at Laval.  They have a council of city fathers who make the decisions, rather than one baron or knight, but what they decide affects the city and all of the residents, equally.  They pay for a city watch, a standing group of men who police the town.  They hear cases of the law when there is a theft or a dispute.  They maintain the roads and encourage the education of the young.  They also provide the men and weapons to man the city walls when under attack, and some men who are fighting with Charles right now, I am sure.  They support the church in the community and help the poor escape poverty, and in some sense care for the sick and elderly.  A baron and his knights should do all of these things.  The money should mostly go towards roads, education, police, defense, and supporting the church, the sick and the elderly, and judging rightly in cases of the law, and many more such things.

“I hardly know where to start,” Tomberlain said.  “Sister, I have just found out I have land and you are already dividing it up for others.”

“In a way.  But I have already said too much.  Brother, you have Roland and Wulfram here, and Peppin and others at home to help you in whatever way you decide to go, but you must decide, my count.”

“Cheeky,” Roland called her, and Wulfram just nodded as Margueritte stepped off to bed.

###

Margueritte and company crossed the Mayenne near Angers.  She insisted on checking all the land that the map said was in Anjou Province before returning home.  Margueritte thought everything had worked out well so far.  Apparently, father made trips now and then, and quite a large number of people knew they were living on the March, and Bartholomew was their Lord.  Margueritte figured this was the part Mother knew, but why Father did not share this information with his children felt beyond her.  Margueritte finally figured her Father was just a sort of private soul who probably thought he did not want to burden his family, is all.

The group came to the Sarthe River about ten o’clock one morning and found a well cleared pasture where a small herd of cattle grazed lazily in the morning sun near the riverbank.  They saw a half-dozen young men sitting around a campfire, their horses tied nearby.  Margueritte thought it looked like a lovely scene, but maybe one that belonged in the old west.  All they lacked was the chuck wagon with the four essential food groups: beans, bacon, whiskey, and lard.

Margueritte, Roland, Tomberlain and Wulfram, with a dozen men rode down to talk.  “Whose cattle are these?” Roland asked.

“My father’s,” a young man said, and he seemed friendly enough.  “These are my brothers, Adalbert and Fredegar, and I am Bernard, son of Ragenfrid.”

Tomberlain smiled and shook Bernard’s hand.  Wulfram kept a straight face.  Roland looked at Margueritte and got out of the way while Margueritte exploded.  “Get your cattle off my land,” she said, in a voice that sounded calm and controlled, but very cold.

Bernard raised his brows but kept his cool.  “This is my father’s land, as it was his father’s before him.  Our land is all the land from the ford, on this side of the river for several miles upriver and inland.  Why do you claim it is your land?  Who are you?”

Margueritte made the introductions after she swallowed her anger.  “My brother is Count Tomberlain, Marquise of the Breton March, and this land is part of the Breton March.  Sir Wulfram, Captain of the Count’s guard.  My husband, the Viscount Sir Roland, heir of the Saxon March, and I am the Lady Margueritte who was made prisoner and held hostage by your father, though I was an innocent young girl with child.”  Some anger got out in the end despite Margueritte’s best attempt.

Roland added a thought.  “Everything west of the Sarthe River is granted by King Chlothar, son of Clovis to the Count of the Breton March, so unless your father has a bill of sale, this remains land belonging to the count.”

“Son,” Wulfram said in a kind voice.  “I think one of you better go fetch your father and any documents he has to substantiate your claim.”

“Then we can talk about the back taxes you owe for three generations use of the land,” Margueritte added.  She turned and stomped off, and poor Bernard hardly knew what to say.  But he could not argue with fifty men at arms, so he turned at last, left Adalbert in charge, took two of the men with him, and rode downriver toward the ford.

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

MONDAY

Of all people!  Ragenfrid suggests trouble on the horizon.  Time is pressing.  Charles needs something to help him earn that name, Martel–the Hammer.  MONDAY: The Sword of the Five Crosses.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Potentius, part 2 of 3

Margueritte rode Concord every day in the spring, worked out with the weights Luckless made, and walked everywhere.  Roland often rode with her, and sometimes Elsbeth and Goldenrod, just like the old days.  Margo and Giselle took turns walking with her, and Margo understood that Margueritte, having had two girls just thirteen months apart, became determined to shape up and lose all the baby fat.  Margo knew it would be a good idea in her own life, but she was not as determined.

Captain Wulfram returned in the spring, and he and Peppin had worked out a system to train the men to be lancers in the true medieval sense, as Margueritte thought of it.  Knighthood remained connected, somehow, to horsemen, as opposed to foot soldiers, and Margueritte knew it would not be long before the lance became the staple of the horsemen.

Once Peppin and Wulfram understood what Margueritte was doing with the weights, they had more made and started sending their men regularly for strength and conditioning workouts.  Margueritte had some special equipment built for the conditioning, and Gerraint kindly volunteered to show the men how to use it all, while Festuscato marked out several trails for running and walking through the woods of the Vergen.  At the last, Margueritte put a hold on building the barracks for the men so she could build a gymnasium of sorts.  There, the men worked on close combat, including working with staffs, swords, and hand to hand.

“I figure it will take three to five years,” Margueritte said, of her building projects.  She had big plans but kept saying the money would run out first.  Roland hushed her and took her, her mother Brianna, and Tomberlain to the Great Hall, where he had maps laid out on the big table.  Wulfram and Peppin were already there, and Childemund, who was becoming a familiar face around the house.  Elsbeth came in, wondering what everyone was doing, and Childemund spoke to her.

“I just brought the mail.  You need to look at this.”

Roland spoke.  “I have been going over the grants on the Breton border that make up the actual Breton Mark.  They were established by Chlothar the First, the son of Clovis, a long time back, and your ancestor, I mean Margueritte, Elsbeth and Tomberlain’s ancestor got the lion’s share, being at the center of the whole Mark. All I can say is Chlothar was very generous, or he did not have a good map at the time and wasn’t aware of what all was involved.”

“Or he overcompensated the three Lords he willingly spared for the duty,” Margueritte said.  “Go on.”

“Well, as near as I can make out, the North march starts at Fougere, where the tower was built, and goes north to the sea at Mount Tombe, what we now call Mount-Saint-Michel.  Most of it contains a corner of the province of Normandy.”

“The South march surrounds the mouth of the Loire River. It includes Nantes, and though I know the new Marquise there, Count Michael realizes it, I am not sure he quite knows what to do with it.  The South march does not include much above the Loire, but it stretches slightly north, mostly east to Ancenis.”

“It isn’t quite clear in these papers who owns Ancenis, but basically, you own everything from Ancenis north all along the Breton border to Fougere.  It is a pretty wide grant as well, stretching all the way east to the Sarthe River, which was used as the boundary.  You do not own Angers, but almost, and you do own a number of Frankish towns all through the area.  And here is the big thing.  You own Laval.”

“What are we going to do with a small city?” Margueritte asked.

“Impose a small tax,” Childemund answered.

Peppin pointed to the map.  “My place is up here around Craon, and we pay ten percent of our earnings every year.  As your father said, if ten percent is good enough for the Lord, it is good enough for him.”

“Basically, you own everything between well west of the Oudon and the Sarthe River, and south along both sides of the Mayenne and a good chunk southeast of the Erdre River.”

“Too much,” Margueritte said.

“Enough for your own small kingdom,” Wulfram suggested.

Margueritte hit her brother.  “Don’t get any ideas,” she said.  “Has Charles seen this?”

“He was the one who suggested the small tax to pay for whatever it is you are doing out here,” Childemund said with a nod.

“I need to think,” Margueritte said.  “This is a lot to take in.”  She turned to her mother.  “Did you know all this?”

“Some,” she said.  “I never imagined it to this extent, but I knew there was a lot more land than your father or his father or his grandfather ever settled.”

“Some of it may have been sold since Chlothar’s day.” Roland suggested, and Tomberlain balked.

“There goes my plans.”

“A palace in Laval for your old mother?” Mother asked, sweetly.

“So, I get to spend the next three to five years traveling the family lands to determine what has been sold and what we still own, if any.”  Margueritte said.

“By the way.”  Childemund spoke.  “Charles wants to know the name of this new town you are building right here so he can mark it on the maps.”  Many of the contract workers ended up staying and building ever more houses.  Even the Breton farm workers were moving into town.  Margueritte had the Paris Road diverted from its straight Roman line, so it went through the evolving market square of the new village instead of coming straight by the manor house.  Margueritte had plans to encircle the house, barn, stables, and barracks with a stone wall.  She wanted to take the church and parish house inside the castle walls as well, but that would cut right across the straight Roman road.  Father Aden said that would be fine, though, because the way the community kept growing, they would have to build a bigger church in town, anyway, and already picked out a site and a name, Saint-Audin.  The old church was really only a chapel.

“Potentius,” Margueritte decided on a name.  “It is Latin.  Potens means powerful, but in my mind, it also serves as the root for potential.  At present, that is all it is.  Potential.”

“Where’s Vergenville?” Elsbeth stared at the map and spoke up for the first time.  She pointed at the map, but she was not sure.

“No,” Roland said.  “That’s Remmes.  Vergenville is this small dot.”

“Looks like only one house,” Elsbeth complained.

“That must be Chief Brian’s house,” Tomberlain said.

Margueritte had a thought.  “That’s what they ought to call the place, House of Brian,” which of course came out, Chateaubrian.  “But I guess they will have to wait a hundred years before that happens.”

###

“Of course, Margueritte could not get started on her tour of the family lands for more than a year.  Grace needed to be eating regular food, regularly.  It became a dull year in Margueritte’s mind.  The only news of note was Chilperic IV’s sickness and passing away.  Charles wrote that since Chilperic had been Daniel the monk and had no direct heirs, he appointed young Theuderic IV to be king.  And let that be an end to the discussion.  Charles was very clear about that.  The only break in Margueritte’s work and routine came on Samhain, the once in four years visit to Vergenville, where the Lords of the Frankish mark met with the Breton King and renewed the ties of friendship and peace, and discussed grievances, if any.

The work in Potentius continued in 720.  The dimensions for the castle were laid out and the towers planned and marked, but little actual work on the castle got done that year.  The barracks were finished, but some of the men, who were not strangers to the Breton and to the area, fetched their families and thus built more homes in the growing village.  Potentius got to be a boom town, but then again, there was work to be done in Potentius, and men actually got paid for their labor.

Brittany turned two on November thirteenth.  Martin turned four on December second, and Margueritte began to consider looking for a tutor for his reading and writing in Latin, and his arithmetic.  Grace turned one on December twenty-sixth, and Margueritte began to casually think about a travel route.  She wrote a letter on the first day of the year of our Lord, 721, to Duke Odo in Aquitaine warning him about the Muslim ambitions and to be on the lookout.  Toulouse came next in line after Narbonne and Septimania, and she did not want him to be caught unprepared.

Margueritte, Roland and Tomberlain went over the maps very carefully in 720, and Margueritte wrote kind letters to everyone she could that she knew was squatting on Tomberlain’s land, including the little city of Laval.  She said she would visit in the next several years and hoped to work out an equitable payment of taxes as well as to hear any grievances or thoughts concerning the land distribution and usage.  It was not at all a threatening letter, but she knew some would take it that way, regardless.

She did get some letters back, mostly from out toward the Sarthe River, where some claimed they had bills of sale written by her sires, and Margueritte encouraged them to produce the papers because her only substantial information was the original land grant of Chlothar, son of Clovis, and she expected there were some properties sold in the meanwhile.  Margueritte decided at that time, that whatever had not already sold east of a certain point, needed to be sold if possible, or given to the church.  The Storyteller looked things up for her, and she decided the twenty-first century department of Mayenne would more than enough for Tomberlain.

Margueritte did not feel sure what to do about the quarter of Anjou province, which was all that land west of the Sarthe and north of the Loire. and west to the Breton border.  That land included her made up town of Potentius as well as Peppin’s Craon.  She thought that might do well for Elsbeth and Owien, though it would require some serious talking to Tomberlain.  Mother would help.  As for herself, she did not worry.  Roland would be getting the lion’s share of his father’s property, which she thought was a more frugal grant, but more than enough for them and their children and grandchildren.

M4 Margueritte: The Breton March, part 3 of 3

Margueritte sat, still patting Brittany’s back, though Brittany had gotten quiet.  She thought through what Gerraint proposed.  If Abd al-Makti was not permitted to get to her directly, either to have her killed or remove her from the picture in some way, he could still get to her through her family.  He could tie her up with worries and being needed at home, and thus keep her preoccupied forever.  She had no proof that Abd al-Makti might have been responsible for her father’s stroke.  God knew Father did not exactly eat right or properly take care of himself over the last few years especially, but it felt suspicious enough to get her thinking, or get Gerraint thinking.  She squeezed Brittany for a moment and let out a few tears.

“What is it?” Mother asked.

“The building is going well.”  Father felt he had to change the subject, even if there wasn’t any subject yet.

Margueritte nodded and wiped her eyes.  “All of it is going as well as might be expected.”

“Yes, but all the expense.  I scrimped and saved my whole life, and you are making me a pauper.”

“Father,” Margueritte looked up.  “Nobility is supposed to be land rich and cash poor.  Besides, it is worth it.  I will do almost anything to keep the Ahlmoreds of the world from coming here and taking over.”

Father nodded and reached out his good hand to take Mother’s hand, which she gladly gave him.  He looked at her and let out his crooked smile.  “I met the man, you know.”

Jennifer came in from the back where she had been out by the kitchen generally hiding from all the humans.  The servants, Marta and Maven were good friends, and Lolly was a dwarf as well, so that all seemed fine, but that was enough, especially when her hands were full of children.  LeFee kept trying to help, like a grown-up girl, but the boys, Martin, Cotton and Marta’s boy, Weldig Junior, the oldest boy at nearly three-and-a-half, were too much to handle.  Marta’s older girl, Morgan turned seven, but she seemed content to play with Margo’s three-year-old girl, Larin.

“Boys.  Sit.”  Jennifer ordered, and the boys got more or less up on the couch while Jennifer collapsed in a soft chair.  “I never imagined.”

Margueritte smiled at her own thoughts.  “It won’t be long before the boys go sneaking off to go fishing without telling anyone.  Before you know it, they will be getting into big trouble.”

“Getting into trouble is what boys do best,” Elsbeth said, as she came in holding Owien’s hand.

“It is not,” Owien protested.

“It is,” Mother confirmed.

“Soon, the boys will be coming home with frogs in their pockets and innocent faces that don’t understand what they did wrong,” Margueritte concluded.

“What we have to look forward to,” Jennifer said.

“Not my problem,” Margo said, but Margueritte shook her finger at the woman.

“Careful, or you will end up with junior there running after these three sixteen-year-olds yelling, “Wait up.  Wait up.”  Margueritte made a face and waved her hands. People laughed at the image, but Brittany interrupted.

“Ma-ma.”

Margueritte hugged her baby.  “You heard that.  You all heard that.”

Brittany continued.  “Da-da-da-da.”

“Dada is not here,” Margueritte said.  “Here, sit with your aunt Elsbeth for a minute.”  She handed Brittany to Elsbeth and stood to fetch Martin off the couch.  He had started to squirm, so she put him in her lap and brushed her fingers through his unkempt hair, like a nervous twitch while she talked.  She told them about Abd al-Makti, the sorcerer, and some of the harrowing experiences she had been through.  She shared her suspicions about him turning on her family to keep her occupied and out of the way.  Then she apologized, like it was her fault in some way.

“Don’t be stupid,” her father said.

“It’s not your fault,” Mother quickly joined him.

“But maybe what Abd al-Makti does not realize is I don’t have to be in Saxony to work.  The important work is being started right here.  But I am afraid he may figure it out, and then I will be afraid for you all.”

Not me,” Margo said and moaned a little.  She held her stomach.  “I would be more afraid for him if he gets you upset.”  The others generally agreed, but Margueritte thought of something else, and she called.

“Doctor Pincher.”

The half-dwarf doctor appeared, took one look at Margo, and scolded everyone.  “How long were you planning to keep this woman in labor before getting her to bed and calling me?”

“Oh,” Jennifer stood right away and Margueritte also went to Margo.  Mother followed while Margueritte and Jennifer helped Margo get back upstairs to bed.

“Boys.  Stay right where you are and don’t move an inch.”  Elsbeth’s words were sharp, and the boys stopped whatever they were doing and thinking.  Father chuckled.

Several hours later, Jennifer and Doctor Mishka came out of the room, and Mother said, “Well?”

“Sweet Babushka, you have another grandson,” Mishka said.

“Wait up, wait up,” Jennifer said, made the face and waved her hands.  Mishka joined her in a laugh and Mother tried not to snicker as she went in to see her new grandson.

###

Roland and Tomberlain showed up around November first.  Roland said they beat the Saxons back and moved down to thrash the Alemanni.  Charles finally had to let the army disband for a time, and anyway, he promised to meet Boniface in Paris.  Apparently, Boniface made a good start on organizing the church and reducing some of the overlap, but there was more to do, and he was anxious to see what land Charles had to offer.  A few prime spots would help the church, greatly.

It turned November thirteenth when they all sat down to supper in the Great Hall for the first time.  Margueritte thought she had to get more tapestries or something on the walls to deaden the echo.  Father called it the best room he ever saw, and four new rooms upstairs, which they struggled one day to get him up there to see, he said were perfect.  Now he knew his family would be well taken care of.

Brittany turned one on the thirteenth.  Martin would turn three on December second.  Jennifer would probably have her baby between the two, somewhere in those two weeks.  Margueritte probably wouldn’t have hers until after Christmas.  Roland and Father Aden were talking like old friends who had never been apart.  Margueritte thought the only one missing was Thomas of Evandell.  She had to interrupt.

“I trust in Boniface’s mind he is concerned about bringing peace to the church, but what I want to know is why are these bishops so greedy?”

Father Aden, who arrived a whole month before Roland shook his head.  “I would like to think it is not greed, even if I don’t know what else to think.  A monastery needs enough land to support itself, and that is all.  A bishop needs to provide oversight in matters of faith, and that is all.  That is what a bishop is, an overseer.  Anything more than that is of the devil, as Jesus said.  You can’t serve God and money.”

“But it does look like money and power are in the front of the mind of some of these men, and some women,” Roland said.  “Too many noble sons and daughters being elevated as a way to give them something when they are not going to inherit.”

“Money and power,” Margueritte concluded.  “They are generally not worth the trouble, but it does not look good for the church.”

“Attention.”  Father banged his spoon against the table.  He sat at the head of the big table.  The children had their own smaller table off to the side, and Giselle and Goldenrod volunteered to help, now that Margueritte had figured out how to let Goldenrod into the house without setting her father to sneezing his head off.  “Attention.”

Mother sat beside Father so she could cut his food to bite sized pieces.  Elsbeth and Owien were beside her while Tomberlain, Margo and their new baby boy, Adalman were right beside him.  Margueritte made Roland sit next to Tomberlain.  Father Aden sat next to Owien, which put Margueritte and Jennifer on the end, with four seats still empty at the table, but being at the end made it easier if they had to get up for the children, especially Margueritte who expected Brittany to start fussing any minute.

“Attention.  I just want to say how proud I am of all of you.”  Mother stopped him for a minute because he started drooling.  She wiped his chin, and he began again.  “You are all the best a father could hope for.  It was touch and go for some of you for a while.”  Mother wanted to interrupt, but he brushed her off.  “Let me speak.  Tomberlain was a hardhead ten years ago, and Margueritte kept getting whisked away by some monster or other, and Elsbeth.”  Father patted Elsbeth’s hand.  “But you all grew out of it, and this hall, this home is the proof that everything is about perfect.  You have the best children.  You are the best children, including all of you that married or got like adopted.  I am not leaving anyone out.  And right now, Owien wants to say something.”

Owien had no idea this was coming.  He looked at Elsbeth, looked to Mother, back to Elsbeth.  He looked embarrassed.  He stood up.  “Elsbeth said yes.”  Everyone applauded and cheered.  “I mean, we were going to wait until Elsbeth’s birthday to announce our engagement, but I guess we can say something now.”  He sat down, and Elsbeth gave him a kiss in front of everyone.  All Margueritte could think was now Goldenrod did not have anyone to tattle to that Elsbeth and Owien were getting all kissy face.

Father banged his spoon.  “I say, let al-Monkey do his worst.  I got the best family a man can have, and nothing can change that or take that away.”

It was a good little speech, and Margueritte saw Giselle, of all people, crying.  She meant to ask her about it later but forgot for a long time.  Father died within the week.

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

MONDAY

Margueritte discovers there is far more land in their land grant than she ever suspected.  She will have to survey it all for Count Tomberlain, and in the process, accidentally start the Middle Ages.  Until Monday.  Happy Reading

*

M4 Margueritte: Prince of the Franks, part 3 of 3

The first evening across the border, they had a visit from a rider.  He caught the captain by the fire, and Margueritte sat right there, listening.  The rider said the duke had moved on to get behind the stout walls of Bourges and they were to meet him there.  From Bourges, he had plans to send word to Languedoc and to Bordeaux and Poitiers to call up the army.

“So, you expect the Franks to follow?” the captain asked.

“I don’t know what to expect,” the rider answered honestly.  “But the duke has the Neustrian king with him, so someone is bound to follow.”

“What happened?”  The captain missed all the action.

“It was a complete disaster,” the rider answered with a heavy sound.  “The king and his mayor were only able to raise six thousand men, and I think they were only the ones dependent in some way on the mayor.  They were able to double that number with conscripts, but you know militia doesn’t always fight well.  The numbers were more even when we got there, but still.”  The man paused to sip his drink.  “It was an utter defeat.  Charles, the Austrasian and Ragenfrid the mayor stared at each other for three days, and Ragenfrid blinked.  That is the only way I can explain it.”  He shook his head.

“So how did the duke end up with the king?”

The rider shrugged.  “I assume the king asked for protection, maybe sanctuary.  All I know is the duke said he was lucky to get out with as many of his men intact as he did.”

“How many?”

“About a thousand.  Nearly three thousand of our men ended up dead, wounded or captured.  It was a disaster.  And I don’t think the king of the Franks saved that many.  Ragenfrid appears to have fled.  Who knows where?”

“And now Duke Odo thinks Charles may be coming here?” Margueritte asked.  The two men turned to stare at her, the rider with his jaw open.  “What?  I’m sitting right here.  You didn’t think I was listening?”

“I heard she is a witch,” the rider said, calmly.

“Hello.  I’m right here.  Are you asking if I’m a witch? I may become one if you don’t answer my question.  Does Duke Odo think Charles is coming here?”

The rider shook his head and spoke plainly.  “I don’t know what the duke thinks, but I think Charles is bound to come, for you if not for the king.”  He turned again to the captain.  “When the duke heard who you captured, he got bad angry.  When he calmed down, he said maybe she would make a hostage, but he said to tell you if Charles or his advanced scouts catch you, don’t harm the woman.  Give her back, unharmed.  He said, no point in pissing off Charles more than necessary,” The rider took another sip.  “I tell you the duke was badly shaken by the way the battle went.  He said Charles was like a cat playing with a mouse.  It was bad.”

“So, wait a minute,” Margueritte interrupted.  “If the duke did not send you to take me prisoner, who sent you.  And how did you know it was me?”

The captain stared at her again and the rider kept looking back and forth between the two of them.  The rider looked for an answer, but in the captain, Margueritte could just about see the millstone grinding away at the wheat in the desperate attempt to make flour.

“I don’t know.  I don’t remember.”

“Well, someone sent ground castor seeds to spice the soup.  Deadly poison.  My friends at the inn where you found me are probably all dead, and I want to know who did it.”

The captain nodded and fingered his lips, like it might magically help him remember.  Margueritte could just about see the water wheel this time going around and round but not getting anywhere.  “So do I,” he said.

###

Captain Gilbert and his men stuck around for three months.  They watched the army gather in May, escort the duke, the king and Margueritte to Toulouse in June, and get bored in July.  It started to look like everyone guessed wrong, and Charles was not coming.

Margueritte staved off the boredom by playing chess with Odo.  He seemed a nice enough man, and she did her best to keep the conversation pleasant.  She wanted to be clearly distinguished from Chilperic II, who was an annoying and demanding sort of person that no one would ever guess used to be a monk.  Margueritte, by contrast, got Odo to talk about his favorite subject, himself.  She asked about his people and his land, his staff and counselors and such.  She asked nothing about his army, so he had no reason to be suspicious.  But in all that time she got no indication that anyone might have sent the captain and his men to kidnap her, and she found out nothing about castor seeds.  It seemed like whoever stood behind the crime simply vanished, or maybe they vanished.  She admitted the poison and the kidnapping might have been two different people. 

She heard nothing to indicate it was not Abd al-Makti, but nothing said it was, until an ambassador from Cordoba showed up in Toulouse and became smitten with Margueritte.  All he could talk about for four days was her hair, her fascinating green eyes, her figure.  Good grief, she had gotten four months along and began to show.  Apparently, that did not matter.  The fact that she was married did not matter either.  He got overheard saying unbeliever marriages were not real marriages.

On the fourth night, he offered Odo a great deal of gold for ‘the girl’.  Odo stayed strong and refused.  In fact, everything the ambassador did and said seemed to offend the duke.  The duke prepared to escort the man back to the border, when the ambassador tried to steal Margueritte in the dark.  The man would not settle for no.  All he could talk about was putting her away in his harem.  He said he had to lock her away where she could be safe and not get into trouble.  Captain Gilbert had to kill the man.  His company had to make sure none of the Ambassador’s people, mostly Visigoth slaves, escaped.

The duke went into a tizzy.  Naturally, Charles showed up.  The duke tried to stay strong with Charles, but he mostly worried about what he could possibly say when the Iberians came looking for their ambassador.  He suddenly felt surrounded by strong enemies, and at this point, due to recent experience, he feared Charles more.  He only knew the Muslims by rumor.

Charles made it easy.  He offered to confirm Odo as Duke of Aquitaine for life, as long as the duke did not make any outside alliances with anyone but the Franks.  He also offered to take Chilperic off the duke’s hands, which the duke was eager to allow, so in all, it became an amenable discussion until Charles brought up the issue of money.  Duke Odo got testy.  He had an army of his own.  But then again, he saw what Charles’ army could do, and the money was not worth the risk of losing everything.

“What about the ambassador’s gold?” Margueritte whispered in Odo’s ear.  “That leaves no evidence that the ambassador ever arrived here.”  Odo smiled at the thought and said he could do that.  As a result, the down-payment for Charles’ standing army got paid for by the Caliph.

Roland carried Margueritte out of Toulouse, talking the whole way.  “Charles gave Chilperic a choice.  He could proclaim Charles Mayor of his palace in front of the assembled Neustrian nobles, and Charles would proclaim him King over all the Franks.  Then Chilperic could stay in the palace or go back to the monastery, his choice, as long as he shut up and kept his opinions to himself.  The alternative was to go and meet his maker.”

“He didn’t really say that did he?” Margueritte asked.

“Basically.  Those were his words.”

Margueritte wondered when she stepped into a grade B western movie.  She laughed, then she told Roland about her experiences and concluded with, “That is twice now.  Someone wants me out of the way, and it is getting serious.”

“Poison is serious,” Roland agreed.

“I almost went into a harem,” Margueritte objected.  “If I ended up there, I would look for poison myself.”

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

MONDAY

Battles and the political struggle for dominance is nothing. What is hard is Margueritte birthing child number two and them traveling all the way to the Saxon March to introduce herself to Roland’s family. Until then, Happy Reading.

*

M4 Margueritte: Prince of the Franks, part 2 of 3

Margueritte imagined she would be at the inn for a couple of days.  She tried to make it as comfortable for everyone as she could.  The innkeepers were a nice older couple who spent most of their time doting on Martin like a couple of grandparents, and frankly were not good for much else.  Rotunda took over the kitchen.  Mother Mary kept the beds and everything else clean.  Sigisurd kept up with the crawling machine, having assigned herself the position of Nanny.  Even Relii did dishes, and Margueritte thought this was very different from the Storyteller’s day.  Three days at the Holiday Inn in his day and the women would be ordering the staff around, complaining about everything, and gossiping about everything else.  This seemed almost pleasant, and she wanted to get a good book and lay around the pool and would have if they knew what a pool was.

“But pools haven’t been invented yet,” she told Sigisurd, who learned to ignore her when she said things like that.

By the third night, Margueritte became a wreck for worry.  She felt sure she should have heard something by then.  She paced, did not feel hungry, stayed in her room, and refused supper.  Sigisurd shared a scrambled egg with Martin, but otherwise she said she was also not hungry.  Sleep came as a fitful thing, and in the morning, Margueritte felt no better.  Sigisurd had Martin on the little balcony just off the room.  She said Martin slept through the night but got up with the sun.

“Sorry if we woke you.  We just got up, but I tried to get him out here to let you sleep.”

“That’s all right,” Margueritte responded, as she got dressed.  “I don’t think I really slept all night.”  She considered calling for Tulip or Larchmont to see if she could learn about the battle, but she had been good so far, as she thought of it, and maybe she could wait a little longer.  “Let’s see what’s cooking.”

Margueritte picked up Martin and walked down the stairs, but on the last step she handed Martin right back to Sigisurd.

“What is the matter?” Sigisurd asked.  The old couple and Mother Mary were all at the table, probably from the night before, and there were signs of diarrhea and vomiting and bowls of what may have been soup.  Margueritte glanced at the door to the back kitchen but did not want to find Rotunda and maybe Relii back there. 

“Don’t touch anything,” Margueritte ordered and Sigisurd looked like she had no intention of touching anything.  Margueritte crept close and heard Mother Mary moan, but she still did not dare touch the woman.  Mary never opened her eyes, but she had something clenched in her hand, and her hand opened to reveal a bean of some sort.  Margueritte took out a handkerchief and picked it up.  She put it right back down and grabbed Sigisurd and dragged her and the baby to the door.

“What is it?” Sigisurd repeated herself.

“Castor bean,” Margueritte said, having heard that from Doctor Mishka all the way in the twentieth century.  “If Rotunda crushed them to add them in powder form to the soup, thinking they were like a spice.”  Margueritte shook her head.  “Castor oil doesn’t taste good, but the shell is deadly ricin.”

 “Deadly?”  They went outside.

“No known cure.”  Margueritte confirmed, and she let out a few tears for her friends and from fear.  Sigisurd tried not to join her, but Martin picked up on the sentiment and made his weepy face.  Margueritte took Martin and hugged him when they heard horses approaching.  Margueritte wiped her eyes to look but took a step back when she did not recognize the uniform.

“There she is.  How convenient.  Get her in the wagon.  Bring the girl and the baby.  Careful with the baby.  Tie them so they stay put.  There isn’t much time.  Move out.”  And Margueritte, Sigisurd and Martin got dragged off by strange soldiers with curious accents.

Margueritte knew these men were not Muslims, but they were not from Austrasia or Neustria either.  They were certainly not Frisian.  She imagined they might have been Burgundian, but she would have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, she considered the castor beans.  Those beans were not native to France, except maybe the Mediterranean coast, like around Septimania.  Otherwise, they had to be imported from Iberia or Africa.  That thought shouted Abd al-Makti loud and clear, but she admitted the evidence was circumstantial.  Then she had another thought.

“Oh, you’ll be safe here,” she mumbled with only a small touch of sarcasm.  She considered how easily she got captured by Ragenfrid’s men after the first battle outside Cologne.  She ran from the camp and exposed herself, so she figured it was her own fault.  But now, here she sat, a prisoner again, and this time she did nothing to give herself away. What is more, these men seemed to know just who they were looking for, and just where she could be found, though she was supposedly secretly hidden away in a small village inn.  Yet they knew exactly where she was.  

Margueritte considered her predicament.  Chivalry owned Great Britain, thanks to Arthur, and it had slowly begun to take over the mindset of the Franks as it worked its way into Christian Europe through the stories told about Arthur and his Round Table.  Margueritte thought that taking women hostages was not standard procedure, even at this early point in Medieval history.  “Something smells,” she said out loud.

Sigisurd checked Martin’s diaper.

###

Margueritte got forced to ride in the wagon for the first five days, and became black and blue all over, since the two men driving the wagon seemed talented at hitting every rock, hole and bump they could find.  More than once, Margueritte suggested those men should be flogged.  At least they untied her after the first day, so she and Sigisurd could take turns holding Martin.  Finally, she figured she complained loud and long enough to where the captain relented and let her walk.  The truth was, they had left Frankish lands and entered the domain of Odo, Duke of Aquitaine.  Also, they came to an old Roman road that appeared well kept, and the captain figured not knowing where she was, she had no choice but to be good, her being a woman.  Just for that, Margueritte had to fight mightily to keep herself from running off.

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 2 of 3

They rode all day, came to a mountain, and rode up the side to a large meadow that Roland had scouted out ages ago, never dreaming it might prove useful.  The meadow could only be approached from the front, and at the back, after a hundred yards of forest, another bit of grass grew before cliffs and some caves.  

Roland had his camp set up around the big cave.  He had tables and maps and plenty of food and equipment for a small party.  He had also gathered about a hundred men on short notice, and they wanted only their general, Charles, to set things in motion.  Lord Birch reported before Roland calmed down enough to talk civilly.

“No sign of pursuit.  Larchmont has men out.  Grimly and his gnomes are watching the ways to the meadow.  At least we should not be surprised.”

“Thank you.”  Margueritte got that out before Roland grabbed her by the elbow and took her off to a corner for some privacy.

“I am so angry with you right now I hardly know what to say.  We had plans to get Lord Charles out.  That was not your job.  You could have gotten yourself killed.  How dare you take that kind of risk.”

“But maybe it was my job,” Margueritte said in her most humble manner.  “I’ve told you, Charles has serious work in the future.  I don’t know exactly what, but I feel it for sure.  They had him chained in a dungeon.  Look at his hands and feet.  I could not risk losing him in this struggle.”

“No one planned to lose him, but we had plans to get him out.”

“What?  A hundred men against a fortress?”  That comment did not come out quite so humble.

“No, but sort of.”

Margueritte looked up at Roland, looked in his eyes, ready to quiver her lip, and it was not all acting.

“I was so scared.  Hold me,” she said, and he did, and said no more about it.

###

The god of light and dark brooded over a map of the known world.  He spoke to himself as much as to his guest, imagining his guest would only understand half of what he said, at best.  “Timing is everything.  The Sassanids in the east were in serious decline and collapse when the Caliphate poured out of Arabia.  It was easy to overwhelm Persia, I understand.  Rome in the west was equally in the throes of decline and collapse, but the Kairos, in Constantinople, produced that fire, and Constantinople stood.  Now, the eastern Romans have a chance to beat back the Caliph and that will make my work harder.  Here, in western Rome, all the petty tribes and would-be kings have beaten each other raw for some control and for land.  North Africa fell easily enough, and Iberia is coming apart as anticipated.  All that is needed is enough courage to go over the mountains and the infernal religion can rule Gaul and easily move down into Rome itself.”

“Lord.  Why do you speak so against the faith of the Prophet?”  Abd al-Makti shook his head.

“Because most of the people of Islam do not know what they believe.  Most are new converts.  It is not two hundred years, and even the people of Arabia have not yet plumbed the depths of what that man taught.  All that most men understand is Jihad, a supreme excuse, a holy excuse to conquer and control the world.  Most men see Islam as a means to power and wealth, and the power to dictate and control every aspect of other men’s lives.  Men treat women like cattle to keep them oppressed, while they enslave or kill the so-called unbelievers, but to be honest, it is not Allah that men strive for, it is land and gold that men want, and power.  See how the so-called believers compete with each other and act as rivals for the crumbs of power they can wrest from one another.”

Abd al-Makti did not know what to say.  As a teacher of the faith, he knew this to be true of many.

“You have shown some small talent in sorcery, Abd al-Makti.  You should be put to death.”

Abd al-Makti stood in silence.  He knew the passages.  He had studied them ever since he discovered what he could do, but he also knew the penalty for sorcery, and he could not deny that he had a talent.

“Teacher Sahm al-Muhamed Ibn Caddifi, do not fret.  I do not condemn the power you hold.  Indeed, I will strengthen the power within you.  I will give you such power as you have never dreamed of, and in the fullness of time, I will reveal myself to you.  Then worship of the one true god will sweep back across all the lands of uncertainty, for what the Caliph builds for the pretender is in truth being built for me.  Then men will at last understand what it was all about, for the one true god speaks to men of power and riches beyond dreams.”  He laid hands on Abd al-Makti and the Teacher reeled with the power.  He saw the stars twirling in the sky for him and the sun and the moon proceeding at his command.  He saw the smallness of man against the vastness of the universe, and then the universe receded, and he felt his own limitations as never before, but in those limited ways he found some ability to control the outcome and bend the limits to his will, and it felt glorious.

“Abd al-Makti, I have a task for you.”

The man held his breath.

“The Kairos has come into the land of the Franks and remains as unpredictable as ever.”

“Shall I deal with him?  Shall I kill him?”  Abd al-Makti presently felt that it would be an easy thing to do.

“No!”  The god of light and dark paused to consider.  “The Kairos in this lifetime is a woman, and must be handled delicately.  It may come to killing, but that would best be done by others of their own free will where no taint of arranged circumstances or compulsion may fall on us.  For now, it would be best if she were put out of action, tied up as it were, where she cannot affect the events that swirl around her.  This young lady will not be intimidated or controlled like your Muslim women.  She must be moved gently, subtly manipulated into a place of ineffectiveness, and then we can proceed.”  

The god of light and dark waved his hand and Abd al-Makti found himself in his own rooms.  He felt startled by the sudden transition in space, but he hardly had time to think about it.  All he could think of was what came into his mind, the picture of a young woman, unveiled, a woman of the Frankish barbarians.  She had long dark hair, a pretty round face, and might have modeled for an Arabian Princess but for her strange green eyes.

“Marco!”  Abd al-Makti called his servant, and the Romanized Visigoth came straight to the door.  “Fetch the Basque, Catalan, and pack three bags.  We have a long journey ahead of us.”

“My master, are we headed to sea, to Africa or further?”

“North,” Abd al-Makti said.  “Over the mountains to the land of the Christians.  I have much work to do to make straight the paths for our god.”

“With winter approaching?”  Marco wondered out loud, but when he saw the look on his Master’s face, he thought to say, “Very good,” and he left. 

Abd al-Makti walked to his desk where his precious copy of the Holy Koran rested open.  He read the verse from Surah V.  “And when I inspired the disciples (saying): Believe in Me and My messenger, they said: We believe.  Bear witness that we have surrendered (unto thee).”  He closed the book.  Surely the people will turn from a nebulous sky god to a god that is present, in our midst, and full of power and glory.  If the seeds of doubt are so easily sewn in the teacher’s heart, how much more easily will the students be swayed.  Indeed, what the Caliph builds for the one god will be owned by the other, and all the world will bow to the one true god.

Abd al-Makti confessed himself.  “I am no Muslim.  I am a sorcerer and a secret servant of the one true god.  Islam is just my cover by which I will penetrate the land of the Franks.”

###

Margueritte rode beside Roland and protested the whole way.  “The troops are not ready.  They have not been properly trained.”

“But we have been collecting men all winter, and as soon as the spring fields got planted, we doubled our number.  We have five thousand men willing to fight for Charles, and it would be a shame to hold them back.”  Roland tried to sound reasonable.

“Barely three hundred light horses and the rest on foot.  And we are jumping at an opportunity which may not pan out.”

“Charles has experience fighting against the Burgundians, the Saxons and the Alemani, all successful campaigns.  I trust he knows what he is doing.”

“He is leaping off the cliff.”  Margueritte did not feel like sounding reasonable.  “They have more than twice our numbers and no doubt twice our horses.  Even if Charles picks the advantageous position on the field, he will have to fight a defensive battle.  Offense would be suicide, and his only hope is to somehow maneuver between Ragenfrid and Cologne, so Ragenfrid has to fight through him to get to the city.”

“That is the plan.”

“But the troops are not ready to fight a defensive struggle.  They haven’t been properly trained.”

“I think this is where we started.”

Margueritte shut up.  She did not feel like talking anyway, until she said, “I threw up this morning.”

Roland pulled up.  “What is it?  Are you all right?  Can I get you anything?  Do you need to lie down?”

Margueritte responded when he took a breath.  “I may be pregnant.”

Roland stared and then whooped!  He pulled his horse out of line to give it a good run.  He yelled the news to Charles who yelled at him to get back in line.  He rode up and down the line shouting the news, and the men who knew him shouted back, congratulations.  When he came back to his place in line, all Margueritte could do was grin.  She did not dare point out that she said maybe.

M3 Margueritte: The Hag Undone

People watched the hag melt.  They could not turn away.

“The Wicked Witch of the West,” Margueritte said, as she took a big Lord Birch’s hand and stepped away from the wood pile.

“I remembered what my Lucky told me,” Lolly said and waved her water bucket with a big smile.

“Is it Lucky now?”  Brianna asked as she ran up and hugged Margueritte.

“Abraxasss!”  The Hag called out one last time.

“I told you he will not dare show his face here,” Margueritte said, but she looked around and up at the sky because she felt she was really bluffing.  She heard Danna’s voice, however, inside her head, echo down the halls of time.

“I never bluff,” Danna told her.

Soon enough, the hag became no more than a wet lump of fur on the ground.  She was not actually a child of the god, like the Grendel, and had no convenient lake to jump in to retain her shape in death.

Then they heard horses coming up fast.

“Majesty.”  Brianna spoke to Lady LeFleur, but she had already gotten out her wand and in a second, every little one in that area became invisible.

“What is happening?”  Urbon said as he came out from under the spell.  Without Curdwallah to focus through, Abraxas could not maintain the enchantment.

All the people began to come to their senses.

The Franks rode into the village square.  It looked like the whole army.

Margueritte felt surprised to see Duredain at the front.  Owien rode there, too.  Roland leapt from his horse and came running up but stopped.  Tomberlain hid a smile which Margueritte did not understand.  Charles, of course, lead the way, and he was aware enough of what was happening to hold his men in check before unnecessary fighting broke out.

“What?”  Margueritte looked at Roland and wondered why he stopped.  She wanted so much to throw herself in his arms, but she did not dare.  What if that was not what he wanted?

“Just once,” he said, and turned a quick look to Tomberlain.  “Just once I wish you would let me rescue you all on my own.”  There, he said it.

“I promise,” she said.  “Next time you can rescue me, and I won’t help a bit.  All right?”  She looked pensive.

“All right,” Roland said, and he stepped up and took her and kissed her and bent her to his desire, even as she was eager to bend, cliché though it may be.

“Ahem.”  Sir Barth coughed and looked away.  Brianna came up and took Barth’s arm and helped to turn him away.

“I told you I would be back,” Owien said, proudly.  Elsbeth reached up for his hand, but her eyes were all on her sister and Roland.

“Jennifer?”  Father Aden asked Tomberlain because he did not know who else to ask.

“She’s fine, and the baby,” Tomberlain said through his smile.  “With Constantus and Lady Lavinia having a wonderful time.”

“Sir Roland.”  Charles spoke from horseback.  He paused to wait, but Roland did not pause.  “Roland.”  Charles said it again and drummed his fingers on his wrist and finally rolled his eyes.  “Sir Roland!”  He insisted.  Roland and Margueritte barely parted.

“Sir?”  Roland said, as if he was listening, but not by much.

“This young woman has caused me no end of trouble.”  That got Margueritte’s attention and she looked up, so Roland turned his head a little.  “Every time she gets in the middle of it, you go rushing off, and I lose you for weeks or months.  I can’t have this.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Roland said.

“Me, too,” Margueritte spoke in a whisper.

“Therefore, I have decided.  As your superior I command you to marry the woman and bring her to the camp.  Next time at least you won’t have so far to run.”

Roland and Margueritte, still held each other as tight as they could and looked dumb for a second before they smiled.

“Yes sir!”  Roland shouted.

“It would be my pleasure,” Margueritte said, softly.

“No, mine,” Roland said.

“No, Mimmm.”  Her word got swallowed up in a kiss.