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.

 

M3 Margueritte: Guests, part 3 of 3

Once in bed, Marguerite stayed awake half the night, convinced that Roland must think her the most backward, provincial child on the earth.  She had no idea how the ladies of Paris were.  What did they wear?  What carried their conversation?  Their behavior?  Were courtly manners the same as her table manners, or was she hopeless?  How did they wear their hair and their faces?  Poor Margueritte felt miserably filled with unanswerable questions.

She overslept in the morning.  The sun topped the horizon when Elsbeth woke her.  She had to dress quickly for the ride to Lady Lavinia’s and her Wednesday Latin.  Charles and Roland would be going with them, of course, and that caused her to pause at her little mirror to be sure her face and lips were at least as good as she could make them.  By the time she got downstairs, she only had time for a quick bowl of yesterday’s bread crumbled into milk, as was the common breakfast among the Breton.  Then she went straight to the barn where Elsbeth already sat up on her horse.

Margueritte breathed when she saw her own mare saddled.  Meanwhile, Sir Roland checked the straps on his horse and Charles’, as well as the one Bartholomew sent in the hope that Father Stephano could be convinced to return to Paris.  She also saw the mixed Arabian they would be taking.  A present, Margueritte gathered.

“Sir Roland.”  She got his attention.

“Margueritte.”  He looked up and brightened from his work.  “And just Roland, please.”  Marguerite turned to her own horse, embarrassed once more because she had forgotten.  “And where is that Goldenrod of yours this morning?”  Roland asked.

“Flitting hither and yon,” Margueritte said.  “That is what she always says.”

“She doesn’t hang around much.”  Elsbeth spoke up.  “And never comes in the house, she sets Father to sneezing so bad.  He has the allergies, you know.”

“A condition I am glad not to share,” Roland said.

“But where is Sir Charles?” Margueritte asked in return.

“My Lord is in the chapel with your parents, your brother, Father Aden, and that most remarkably beautiful creature.  Jennifer, I believe.”

“That isn’t her real name.”  Elsbeth spoke up.  “It’s Little White Flower.”

“What an unusual name.”  Roland said, and with a thought he pointed to Margueritte.  “One of hers?”  Elsbeth nodded.  “I suspected,” Roland concluded.

“She came from the other side of the world,” Elsbeth said.

“As far as Cathay?”  Roland asked offhandedly.

“America,” Elsbeth said.  “That’s what Marguerite calls it.  She says the world is round, like a ball, and all the land from here to Cathay does not even fill a quarter of the ball.  She says most of the earth is covered by oceans, but far over the Atlantique there is another world unknown to us which she calls America, not Amorica, mind you.”

“I see you found your tongue today,” Margueritte said to her sister.

“Yes.”  Elsbeth said.  “Here it is.”  She stuck it out and Roland laughed as Owien came outside and mounted his much-improved horse.

“Have you met Owien, Elsbeth’s boyfriend?”  Margueritte asked, in a moment of cattiness.

“He is not,” Elsbeth shouted and spurred her horse some ways out into the triangle.

“I am not,” Owien protested as well, but his eyes followed Elsbeth all the way.

Roland really grinned then.  “Sisters,” he said.  “How I have missed my sisters.”

Not long after that, Charles, Bartholomew and Lady Brianna came from the chapel.  The two Franks who escorted them in those days, having already arrived and taken to their mounts, waited with Elsbeth and Owien out front.  Margueritte mounted and joined her sister.  Tomberlain and Roland followed.  Lady Brianna gave her usual advice about being careful on the road and to keep their eyes open for the dragon.  Then Charles paused to shake Lord Bartholomew’s hand and he, and a servant to bring the spare horse and the mixed Arabian completed the party, and they were off.

It took two hours, a gentle ride to the home of Constantus, and they normally planned to arrive by ten; but with this crew and their slightly later start, ten–thirty was the best to be hoped for.

The two guards lead the way followed by Roland and Charles.  As most of the way was only suited to two abreast, Margueritte rode beside her brother.  Owien and Elsbeth straggled along in the rear, followed only by the man with the horses in train.  Owien felt honored to be given the rear-guard position, as he called it.  Elsbeth rode most of the way doing her best to ignore the boy.

The only time Roland dropped back, Tomberlain pushed in and Margueritte found herself riding beside Sir Charles.  They passed pleasantries at first before Charles surprised her.

“Roland is quite taken with you, you know,” he said.

She could not help taking one quick look back before answering.  “And I with him,” she admitted, and then covered her tracks.  “What young girl would not be taken with such a brave and handsome knight?”

Charles said nothing, so Margueritte went on.  She talked about her Latin, being fluent in both the Frank and Breton languages, and even a little Greek that she learned from father Aden.  She spoke of spinning, weaving, sewing and pointed out the tapestry that covered the wall right by the front door of the Manor House, if he saw it.  That was hers.  She told him she played the harp and could hold a tune well enough.  Then she paused and thought she might be bragging a little like a man, and perhaps that was unbecoming.

“You’ll forgive me,” Charles said.  “I am not really conversant with the conversation of women and maidenly virtues but do go on.”

“Oh, no, Sir,” she said.  “In fact, I just remembered a rather serious question I wished to ask you.”  She changed the subject.  “It seems to me if the Saracens found an easy raid and grew rich in Aquitaine, they may test the waters again, do you think?”

He looked at her and cocked one brow.  “I think that very thing,” he said.

“And is there no help we can send to the people there to shore up their defenses?” she asked.

“My Father won’t have it,” Charles answered straight.  “Duke Odo of Aquitaine will have to see to his own.”

“But why, if we have been such good friends with the people there?”  Margueritte asked, not meaning to press, but to give the man a chance to talk on more familiar ground.

He looked at her again and nearly tipped his hat before he spoke.  “Our king is so enamored with Christian piety he spends most of his days locked away in his apartments.  He has lost touch with the real world and has left the running of the kingdom in the hands of my father, Pepin, who is himself getting old and stuck in his thinking.  This is not a good thing, because some have filled in the gaps, as it were, and most of those others cannot see past their noses or their purses, and they see no reason to help anyone but themselves.”

“Ragenfrid,” Margueritte nodded.

“Among others,” Charles affirmed.

Then Roland pushed up again, and Margueritte felt forced to fall back beside her brother, and there they rode until they reached the house.

The home of Constantus, built in the Roman style with a great fountain in the central courtyard, had rooms all around, upstairs and down.  This, of itself, did not appear unusual since the Romans had ruled over the land for some five hundred years.  What was odd in the household was the fact that Constantus insisted that nothing be spoken there except Latin.  In fact, the letter he wrote to the Pope in Rome concerning questions about certain finer theological points, so impressed the Pope in its’ perfect grammar, construct and style, the Pope felt moved to send Father Stephano all the way to Brittany.  Now, Charles and Roland waited in the courtyard while Father Stephano got fetched.  The girls, Tomberlain and Owien retired to their room to wait Lady Lavinia and the beginning of their lessons before the noonday meal.  Among other quirks, Constantus had never quite taken to doors, and so many of the rooms off the walkway were closed only by a curtain.  Margueritte could not help overhearing the conversation in the courtyard, though she did not have to listen.

“I am not sure I approve or disapprove of your sentiments.”  Charles said to Roland.  “She is certainly bright, and will no doubt make a fine woman and a fine wife when she is older.  But you must remember she is still quite young.”

“She will grow,” Roland said.

“Yes, but she is also a farm girl, a county maiden, and not a true member of the genteel court.”

“And I am a farm boy, lest you forget.  I grew up on the Saxon Mark,” Roland countered.

“Yes, but she is cute now, however she will age fast in the country.  Soon enough she will look haggard and quite likely fat.”

“Not so,” Roland countered again.  “I have seen her mother do not forget, and she is a very striking woman for her age.”

“Yes,” Charles said.  “I will grant you that one.  But still, you must be sure.  This is not the kind of girl you toy with.  For her it will be marriage or nothing.”

“I have had enough of toys,” Roland said, and they wandered to another quarter of the court and their conversation got lost.  Margueritte hid her face in her hands.  The boys stayed quiet enough, and kindly showed no great expression on their faces, but she was not about to look at Elsbeth.

In a short while, Lady Lavinia came to fetch them, to take them to an upstairs room.  Father Stephano had also arrived with Constantus and the pleasantries and introductions seemed about over when Margueritte arrived at the staircase where she lingered behind.

“You were at the queen’s birthday celebration when the cake was set out, were you not?”  Charles asked the priest.

“I was indeed,” the priest said.  “And I did see the chamberlain sprinkle the dead flies on the cake.  He told me he did it because of some offence the queen had done to him, and I will swear to this before the king.”

“Lover’s quarrel,” Roland quipped, and Charles tapped Roland’s arm to shut his mouth.

“I appreciate your help,” Charles said.

Father Stephano looked to his host.  “The king kept me all but prisoner in Paris for six months before he allowed me to finish my journey, and though I have not been here but a few days, I will set the record straight and pray for a safe return to this haven.”

“And I will pray for you,” Constantus said.

Margueritte moved then, by she knew not what.  She took the clean handkerchief out from the sleeve where she kept it and stepped toward the men who naturally paused in their talk for the lady.  “Sir Roland,” she said.  “I have enjoyed our conversation.  Please take this to remember me.”  She handed him the handkerchief.  “Perhaps you may wish to return it to me someday, as you please.”  She curtsied quickly and mouthed the word, “Gentlemen.”  Then she turned and hurried up the stairs to where the others waited before Roland could respond.

In the upstairs room, she nearly fainted for thinking of what she had done.  To her surprise, Elsbeth took her arm and smiled broadly for her sake.  She really was a good sister.

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MONDAY

Margueritte has sweet dreams, and is surprised to find that dreams can come true when Roland returns for a visit, Next time.  Happy Reading.

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