Margueritte had her baby on December twenty-sixth, the same day it snowed for the first time that winter. She had another girl, and they named her Grace, to match Jennifer’s little girl, Mercy but she thought her life was now finished. Grace and Brittany being so close in age would mean interminable fights and rivalries over everything. Brittany seemed excited and happy to have a sister, but Margueritte thought, just wait for it. Martin seemed happy about another sister, but at the moment he got all of his father’s attention, so he seemed happy about most things.
In the middle of January, in the year of our Lord, 720, late in the afternoon, on a day that felt not quite so cold, Roland took Margueritte out on the new porch where they could sit quietly and look down the Paris Road. Margueritte sat under several blankets, and took Roland’s hand, because it felt warmer than her gloves alone, and she explained what Wulfram and his men were doing before they left for the winter break.
“All the way back in the days of Chlothar, the first Chlothar, Clovis’ son, the Franks developed some lancers. They were short lances, with no stirrups, so they were hardly better than spears on horseback, but a strong weapon at the time because no one else had such a thing. They ran over the Burgundians in those days. But as early as Dagobert the first, say about seventy years later, now about ninety, almost a hundred years ago, it got too expensive for every man on the farm to have a riding horse. Horsemen had to be gotten from the men with property because that was the only place to get the Chargers. The thing is, the men with property were not about to risk their assets, so the foot soldiers got to do all the fighting, again. Charles has just about only foot soldiers. Now, that has to change. Stirrups, like the Muslims use, make all the difference. We need heavy cavalry because that is what our enemies are going to get. Now all those nobles need to put up or shut up.”
“Put up or shut up?” Roland asked. “It is a great phrase, but I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean, if they pledge to the king, that pledge should include fighting for the king. Anyone who won’t fight should have their land taken away and given to someone who will fight. We need the horsemen, the lances and stirrups, and nobles, based on their land and numbers, should be required to supply however many men and horsemen.” Margueritte had little love for greedy cowards. “And another thing,” she said. “Any man who tries to make a deal with the invaders thinking they can work things out to keep their land should be treated like the traitors they are. Their family should lose everything, and as I said, it should be given to someone who is loyal to the king.”
“Interesting ideas,” Roland said off handed as he stood. Margueritte looked where he was looking. A rider appeared on the Paris Road. The man and his horse puffed and looked half frozen. Roland thought he might know the man despite the wrapping that barely showed his eyes. As the man rode up, he proved that he certainly knew Roland.
“Sir Roland.” The man got down. He had a packet of papers.
“Childemund?” Roland asked.
“I am.” The man unwrapped his face a little.
“What? I was warming up by the forge and Luckless was telling stories. They were about Festuscato. Want to hear one?”
“Hush,” Margueritte shushed him. “Take this man’s half-frozen horse and get it warmed up, fed, brushed, whatever you think best. And thank you.”
Grimly reached out for the horse’s reigns and the horse followed him off while Childemund commented. “Small fellow. I guess that’s why I didn’t see him when I rode up.”
Margueritte called again. “Lolly.” Lolly appeared on the porch, and this time it was hard to explain away. “Lolly, this man needs some hot tea, and maybe some hot soup to warm him up.”
Lolly stuck her thumb out and looked like she might be measuring him for a painting. “Looks more like Burgundy, or no. One of those bottles sent from Bordeaux by your friend, Duke Odo.”
“Yes, well, start with the soup.”
Lolly nodded and turned to walk back to the Kitchen. “Chicken soup is the thing before that cold sets in.”
Margueritte stood and took Roland’s arm. She was still weak from childbirth. “Come on. We can get you warmed, and then we can read all about it.”
Childemund hesitated. “Charles said I was to deliver the letters and get right back.”
“You will. No reason why right back can’t be after you spend the night,” Margueritte said.
“It’s no good,” Roland interrupted. “You will get nowhere arguing with my wife.”
Childemund nodded and followed. “Lady Margueritte,” he said. “Charles told me all about you.”
“And some of it may even be true,” Roland said.
The sun would set soon, anyway, and it felt much warmer inside.
Once inside, the family gathered around the supper table, and Owien’s first question became, “Where’s Narbonne?”
Tomberlain commented. “We should go there and kick some Muslim butt.”
“Mister Mature,” Elsbeth said, while Margo gave Tomberlain a pat of approval on his shoulder, and Margueritte spoke.
“Narbonne is in Septimania, Visigoth country, not Frank, but it is on this side of the Pyrenees Mountains, and from there the Caliph can mount a full-scale invasion.”
“They would need time to build their forces, though,” Childemund said between slurps of the best chicken soup ever made. “That would take three or four years, you think?
“Narbonne got taken last year, I mean in 719,” Margueritte clarified. “They will need 720 to cow the rest of Septimania. I think the earliest they may invade Aquitaine would be about this time, 721.”
Roland put down the letter. “That’s what Charles says, but he says they will go after Vascony first.”
“No need,” Margueritte said. “Giselle.” She called the au pair from the children’s table.
“No need, as my lady says,” Giselle responded, and took a moment to step to the table. Margueritte knew she had been listening in. “The Vascon Lords have signed certain agreements with the Emir of Cordoba. Many are cowed, to use the Lady’s term. We have heard nothing because there has been no invading army and no fighting, but even the Basques, the mountain dwellers, are not willing to start the fight.”
“How do you know this?” Margo asked.
“I am Vascon. My family fled the land when the Muslim merchants came in and the beginnings of persecutions filled the air. That is how we came to Paris by way of Orleans. We have a small community there, but it is growing.”
“You’re a Vascon?” Margo jumped. “And we were getting to be such good friends, too.”
“None of that,” Mother interjected before Margueritte could speak up. “No reason to stop being good friends.”
Margo paused. “I suppose not,” she said, but she did not sound convinced. Prejudice was a hard thing to get over.
“So, Vascony is already taken, if not in name.” Margueritte brought the discussion back to topic. “I am sure the Muslims believe they can swallow the Duchy when they have some spare time. So, no. I see Aquitaine in 721, but January or February at the earliest, and more likely around the spring equinox. The followers of Mohamet are used to a Mediterranean climate and North Africa. They are probably not prepared for our cold winters and shorter growing season.”
“Not to mention our food.” Childemund had a piece of bread in his hand and was sponging up the last bit of soup. “This was magnificent.”
“All credit to the cook,” Lady Brianna smiled for him and offered him a piece of off-season apple pie, which he devoured.
“So, this is something Charles maybe needs to know,” Roland said, and looked at Margueritte.
“You write him,” Margueritte said, and to Roland’s puppy dog face, she added. “I’ll help.”
“My wife,” Roland pointed at Margueritte.
Childemund nodded. “But in this case, it is your cook I can’t argue with.”
“I made the pie,” Margueritte said, casually.
“I made a pie once,” Elsbeth said.
“And when she finished, three days later, we had to scrub everything, even the overhang, overhead,” Margueritte responded.
“Even the nearby tree,” Tomberlain added.
Elsbeth screwed up her face and gave them both her best and loudest raspberries, and Owien tried hard not to laugh.