Forward

Around 1990 I read several of the early family histories of the Lambert family that were written in the latter years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. I wanted to know more about the life and times of the Lambert nobles to which the surname Lambert was attributed. I got as many books as were available from the King County Library system, The Library of Congress, I purchased old history books that covered the period in the vicinity of Brabant from the time of Charlemagne to the time of William the Conqueror in 1066.

The history of Lower Lorraine during this time is entwined with the histories of the Roman Empire, Germany and France. I made many visits to the University of Washington Library and wrote several letters to the Manuscript section of the Bodleian Library at Cambridge University.

The Librarian of the Cambridge University Library was the most helpful. She looked for answers to my questions and saw how little had been written about the area during this period and seemed to take it as a personal challenge to get more information. I took her letters to the librarian at the University of Washington who helped me find additional histories that mentioned the Lamberts of the period.

I found the history of the era intriguing. The marriage of Duke Lambert to Duchess Gerberga seemed like a fairy tale and I decided to write a novelette based on my two years of research hoping that it might interest my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I hope you may also enjoy reading it.

Sanders Dumas Lambert


Background At the end of the nineteenth century several researchers wrote histories of the Lambert family of Great Britain and all agreed that a Rodolphe de Lambert that came to England with William the Conqueror was the ancestor of the Lamberts of England, Scotland and Ireland. However the ancestors of Rodolphe varied. Some researchers thought that Lambert I Count of Mons and Lovayne was the same person as Lambert I Duke of Brabant (b. @ 950, d. before 1015. The "I" after the name Lambert indicated that this person was the first of that name to hold the position not that it was the same man. In this saga I have these as two men, 'father and son'.

There is little doubt that all the Lambert families of Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, United Kingdom and the rest of the world are descendants of one or both of these Lamberts.

The historical events and the main characters of this story are factual. The dialog is fictional.

Lambert I Duke of Brabant and his Duchess Gerberga were distant cousins. Both were descendants of Charlemagne. Duke Lambert I died September15th, 1015 and was buried at the Cloister of Saint Gertrude at Niedes. Gerberga died at an unknown date after 1017 in Florines.

Children:

1. Henry Duke of Brabant, slain 1038. His only son died the same year.

2. Lambert II Duke of Brabant married Oda daughter of Gothelon I Duke of Lorraine. He died after 21 September 1062 and was succeeded by his son Henry II (b. 1028, d. 1078/79).

3. Maud Countess of Namur married Eustace I Count on Lens who died 1049 and was succeeded by Lambert I Count of Lens.

4. Baldwin of Flanders was the ancestor of the Lambertini family of Bologna, Italy. This was the family of Pope Benedict XIV.

5. Reginer of Normandy the father of Rodolphe de Lambert who married Lady Alienore de Toni was the ancestor of the Lambert families of the British Isles.

The Story

The costal fog of early morning hung dankly to everything it touched and Lambert's leathers clung limply to his arms and legs. He was aware that the Northmen had to be still waiting for a favorable breeze before setting sail for the next village marked for pillage, for the air had been still since the terrified villager had stumbled into his camp the previous afternoon to tell of the attack on his village of Lilo. The soldiers of Mons had been packed and ready for marching within minutes of Lambert’s command to break camp. They marched without a break the rest of the day and on through the night. The going was slow in the dark of night and the fog even shut out the starlight. The bogs beside the path sucked in and tried to hold the unlucky foot that stepped into them. Now he and his men moved cautiously along the path toward the sea, listening for any sounds that would indicate that the object of their march was near at hand. Soon they began to hear the not too distant sea as it lapped the sand covered shore, but there was no other sound, even the sea birds kept to their perches in this thick soup of a fog.

Lambert whispered "Halt" and his command passed down the column. He then spoke softly to Robert, one of his scouts, "Go ahead to the shore and see what there is to see. We will rest here until you report back." Robert was a young man of only sixteen or seventeen summers of age. His father was a huntsman and had taught his son well in the ways of the forest. No other man could move as quickly and silently through dense growth as this young Robert. After receiving his orders, the scout moved swiftly ahead and disappeared into the fog. Lambert's men, glad for the chance to rest, collapsed into the small patches of wet marsh grass on the sides of the path.

The time for rest was short. Young Robert was suddenly at Lambert's side without anyone observing his arrival. "My Lord", he excitedly whispered, "they all sleep, including the watch. Still drunk I'd reckon for all the empty flasks around."

Lambert quickly called for his captains and gave them their orders. "Have your men form skirmish lines around the entire enemy camp and attack simultaneously on my command." Then Lambert's own group silently worked their way around to the beach side of the village. When men were in place he waited only moments before he raised his sword and shouted, "For Mons." and plunged into the camp of the now awakening Norsemen. His shout was echoed from the throats of his three hundred valiant men, "for Mons and Lambert! Lambert! Lambert!” as they charged swinging swords and long axes. There were no sounds of clanks of metal against the Norsemen's shields, only screams and groans as the Vikings were dispatched to join their ancestors in Valhalla. The battle, if one could call it that, was over as quickly as it began. There wasn't a single injury to report when the men of Mons rallied.

A breeze was beginning to stir the leaves on the trees and the fog was a little less dense. The day's first light filtered through revealing a scene that was horrifying.

Lambert shouted "Search the few huts that the Norsemen have not burned for any surviving villagers." Two huts were found with some of the young girls of the village in them. They were bound hand and foot like animals. All the men, the older women and the children of the village lay about the area with their heads split open like melons. Two soldiers of Brabant were found bound and tortured to death. These poor hapless men had their entrails removed and arranged in the Norse fashion 'shaped to resemble an eagle in flight'. Norse soothsayers believed that they could predict the future in the folds and curls seen in the display. Lambert shuddered at the thought of any man performing such an act for entertainment. "If as the Vikings believe, the entrails of ones enemies can predict the future they would surely have seen their death this day." Lambert said aloud to himself. A soldier standing nearby thought that Lambert's remark was directed to him. "At least there are over two hundred fewer Vikings now to murder and rape in the villages along the coast and the waterways of Brabant." he answered.

There had been fewer raids this year than in previous years. Since his marriage, which brought as dowry the Countdom of Lovayne? Lovayne and the Count of Gent also sent out patrols. The patrol from Lovayne, under the command of his son, took the spring patrol and the men of Mons patrolled in the fall. Winter was now approaching and he would be able to return to Mons with his men. He had the men give a Christian burial to the villagers before removing valuables, looted by the Northmen, from the dragon ships. The weapons and valuables of the slain were the property of his men, but the treasures stored on the dragon ships were his as the Count of Mons.

The sun had burned through the fog by mid-day and was well to the west before the grisly tasks of the soldiers were completed. Swarms of flies had been attracted to the last of the corpses. The last task was the placing of all the slain Norsemen if their ships, piling them high with brush and setting them aflame before putting them adrift in the currents of the northern sea.

Count Lambert had the men pitch camp and prepare food so that all could rest for the night before beginning the return march to Mons. His tent was set up in the center of the village common beside the tent of his nephew, Reginar V, the son of his brother, Reginar IV. His brother, the Count of Hainault, had sent his son to Lambert, as a youth, for education and training that would enable him to rule with skill and sagacity when he took his father's position as Count. Now as a man he returned each fall to go out on patrol. Before Lambert's tent stood his personal standard topped with a female centaur holding aloft the thorny rose of Mons. Against the staff leaned his battle shield of Mons, a silver shield blazoned with three red roses, their petals in the shape of spearheads. The roses resembled three stars as a result of the petal shapes. Beside the shield were skins piled high with the stolen treasures taken from the Viking ships. This village must have been the last raid just to obtain girls to present as slaves and concubines on their return to their own village, for surly there was nothing else that this poor village had that was worthy of pillage.

Lambert strolled over to the treasures piled on skins and gazed in wonder. There were beautiful crafted utensils made of gold and silver encrusted with precious stones, cloths of fine wool, linen and many bolts of sheer shiny fabric in white and several bright colors. The latter fabric he had never seen before.

Reginar approached with the scribe. "What have we this time Uncle?" he asked and then was struck dumb at the sight. "By all that is holy, My Lord; I'd swear that the bolts of cloth are that wondrous material said to be from far off Cathay." crooned the scribe.  "How could those Viking fiends come by such a treasure?"

Lambert pondered the question a moment and then replied, "I've heard that these Vikings raid as far away as the sea that is south of Rome. They must have taken some of this loot from a merchant ship sailing those waters." He then added, "What name is given this fabric?"

"I know not my Lord, but tis said to be made by magic of some sort." answered the scribe.

"I saw it once in Paris, Uncle." crowed Reginar. "It is called silk and is worth more than its weight in gold. It is said to be made from the wool of a worm."

Lambert laughed. "Worm wool indeed. I hope you filled your head with more factual knowledge than that when I sent you there to read the law." He paused, pulling his beard, and then said "But I have seen some worms with what might be referred to as fur, so perhaps there is truth in what you've heard." He turned to the scribe, "Tally all this and place it in my tent."

He walked away as Reginar and the scribe eagerly sorted through the wondrous treasures. His men sat about the village in small groups. Some were still eating and others were playing games of chance for the coins and other items of value gleaned from the fallen Vikings. He knew every man by name and knew much about the families from which they came.

He saw Gui, a veteran of many battles, sitting alone sharpening his great broadsword. His many scars from wounds stood white against his sun browned skin. As Lambert drew near he was greeted by a friendly smile of broken teeth. "Welcome My Lord." He said as he quickly rose to his feet.

Seeing a grimace caused by sore tired leg muscles, Lambert commanded "Sit, sit! Don't stir your ancient bones on my account."

"Ancient? These bones may be tired, but there are many years left in them for your service My Lord."

True, for mine ache also after double day marches, but I look forward to many more active years before I'll consider allowing someone else lead these patrols. Are you sharpening that sword of yours in preparation for another fight on the morrow?"

Nay my Lord, 'tis rusty from the wet. I am removing the rust before coating with oil to keep the metal dry." He laid the sword aside and withdrew a leather pouch from beneath his belt. "I must show you a holy trinket that I took from one of the Vikings." He removed a metal chain and medallion of some sort from the pouch and held it out to Lambert.

Lambert took it and on inspection saw that is was a silver chain with a cross intricately designed to look like it was made of fine lace. Its threads sparkled as the cross was moved.

"That I shall give to my Sarah when we return to Mons." said Gui.

"She will be the proudest woman in all of Mons. It is a thing of great beauty." Then Lambert added "Even the Countess will be envious."

Gui stammered "Th-then take it for the Countess Sire? I would not that the Countess be envious of my Sarah."

Lambert held out the necklace shaking his head. "No! Give it to Sarah. Sometimes I feel that we spoil the Countess too much. She has more jewels than she could ever wear. Besides, your Sarah deserves it. She has never, to my knowledge, complained when I take you away before the end of harvest."

"Nay, My lord, she knew what to expect when she agreed to be my wife. She knew that soldering was first in my life."

Young Robert, the scout, approached. "Your evening meal is prepared My Lord. We have freshly baked bread, cheese and a bottle of fine wine furnished by one of the women of the village."

Lambert nodded to Robert and spoke to Gui. "I'll see you on the morrow. Have a restful night." He then accompanied young Robert to his tent where two beautiful maids of the village were already serving Reginar. The girls were laughing and flirting outrageously as though the horrors of the past two days had been forgotten. Lambert begrudged them their ability to push troubles from their minds. Yet the sound of their laughter did much to raise his spirits.

As he drew nearer, the girls grew silent, stood aside and bowed their heads. One, a lusty blond maiden of sixteen or so, raised her mischievous eyes and spoke.  "A good eve to you Sire. May we serve your meal also?"

Her smile was infectious and he smiled in return as he nodded acceptance and took a seat at the crude table that had been set for the meal.

After he had been served and had eaten he sat back to enjoy the goblet of fruity wine. "This food was delicious and the wine is excellent." He commented; please give my gratitude to our benefactress." His thanks and obvious pleasure was rewarded by beaming smiles from both girls.  "What can I give in return for such hospitality?" he asked.

"Sire, some of the women do not wish to leave the village. The few villagers that managed to escape have begun returning and" she hurried to add before he could speak "a few of your men would like to remain here and take wives."

He smiled. She had spoken the last portion of her request as though it might be unthinkable, but the same had occurred before in other villages and would happen again in the next or the next. He had lost many good men from his patrols after they had met village beauties that thought of them as great heroes and loved them for rescuing them from a fate worse than death. "My men are free to stay if they have no indenture or bonds in Mons." He replied

"Oh thank you my Lord." cried the girl. She threw her arms around his neck and covered his bearded face with kisses. His goblet was knocked flying and the girl quickly withdrew. Her face was as red as the roses of Mons. "Please forgive me My Lord." cried the girl "I forgot my place because you've made me so happy." She stood, head lowered, wondering if the Count would allow her to live out the day after so great a blunder on her part.

Count Lambert regained his composure, "Think nothing of it my dear. I can see that some soldier in my service has made a choice that he will not regret." He turned to Reginar, "Have the priest sanctify any unions required and see that the men that stay in the village receive full pay for this patrol. We return to Mons on the morrow."

       

 

The patrol had taken the men of Mons as far north as the hook of the coast beyond the Maas and Waal rivers. They had crossed the Maas only the day before the attack of the Northmen on the village of Lilo and now crossed the river again and marched south toward Mons for two days. They forded the river at Boom Crossing just east of Tamiset. The carts containing the belongings of the village girls made the going slow. There would be at least two more days of travel before they reached Mons.

As Count Lambert swayed in cadence to the slow stride of his horse he pondered matters that occupied much of his thoughts lately. The weakening of power of all the rulers in the land worried him. If it continued it might affect Brabant and Hainault even more than it had already. His family had ruled this vast area since times before Charlemagne reached out from Brabant to subjugate the Roman Empire. The Dukes and Counts of Brabant, Hainault and Lovayne had always handled problems of their own domain with little or no help from outside. The troubles that existed today had all started a hundred and fifty years ago in Verdun when Louis and Charles forced their brother Lothair to divide the empire and retain the title of Emperor. Lothair got the domain from above Brabant down into Italy. He made matters worse when he died by dividing his portion between his two sons; Lothair II got this northern portion called Lothair. Then in 870 A.D. at Mersen the French and German kings decided to divide the area again. They called the area Upper Lorraine and this area Lower Lorraine. Since then Lorraine had been a bone of contention between France and Germany.

Seven years ago Otto III was crowned King of Germany and three years ago Hugh Capet was elected King of France. Otto III is a child ten years of age and Hugh Capet has no real power outside Parris. The northern Dukedoms, and that included Brabant and Hainault in Lorraine, were distant from their Child King. The Dukes and counts of Lower Lorraine were very much on their own. His cousin, Baldwin Count of Flanders, held the reins of government there and because of his close family ties with Lorraine and also Normandy was feared by the King of France. A messenger from Charles Duke of Lorraine had reached him only two weeks ago. The message said that Duke Charles wanted to meet with him at the earliest possible time to discuss matters of mutual interest. What ever these matters could be must be very grave for why would he send the messenger to find him while he was on patrol. Reginar had put down the whole mater by saying "Charles is like an old woman, it's most likely trivial and Charles is blowing something up all out of proportion." Still Lambert worried.

Thinking of Reginar, Lambert turned to check the rear of the patrol where Reginar followed with the village maidens and their carts. He was basking in their attentions. "Oh to be young again!" he mused.

"'Tis growing late My Lord. Shall we be stopping soon for the night?"

Startled, Lambert turned around to see who spoke. Rodolf, one of his captains awaited an answer.

"Oh! Yes of course. We will only have to go a little further to the village of Assche. The scouts have been sent ahead to inform the villagers of our expected arrival. Tonight we will have meat, fresh bread and wine."

The men that were near enough to overhear his reply quickly passed the word back through the column. "The Count says we'll eat this night in Assche. Meat, bread and wine."

Minute's later Reginar reined his horse to a halt beside him. I hear that we will have a great feast in Assche. There will be entertainment, music, dancing and all the wine we can drink."

Lambert shook his head perplexed. "If my countdoms could grow as fast as that tale, I'd be Count of the World by the morrow. Food and a little wine will be quite sufficient. Now ride back to your maids and see how long it takes you to get this wild tale corrected while you are on your way."

Reginar's face fell and he muttered as he returned to the end of the column.

Within the hour the standard bearer called "Smoke ahead!" and the men looked to see the smoke from the ovens and cooking fires of Assche. A shout went up. Soon they could see villagers running toward them and presently they heard shouts of welcome. The fatigue of the soldiers seemed to lift and the pace increased the speed of the carts. It was a good ending for a very long day.

The men of Mons entered the village to the clamor of barking dogs, squealing pigs, squawking fowls and people shouting. It was a beehive of activity and noise.

Lambert saw Old Drogo, the village chief, emerge from his hut followed by Little Drogo. Little Drogo wasn't so little any more. He toward above his stooped father by more than a head. Both smiled as Lambert dismounted to accept the hospitality of the village. Little Drogo stood silently with head bowed as Drogo spoke the ritual words of welcome. The ritual ended with Drogo bowing his head to await the acceptance of the great Lord.

Lambert didn't respond in the expected manner. Instead he stepped forward, grasped the Chief in a bear hug clapping him on the back. Releasing the Chief from the embrace he clasped Drogo's shoulders as he spoke "Drogo, it's good to see you. You look as hearty and healthy as ever."

"Thank you My Lord. I wish what you say was true, but I fear that I may not have many more winters ahead. Little Drogo may be Drogo the Chief by the time of your next visit to our humble village. Already I find I must leave much to his able hands."

"Nonsense. Come show me around the village. I saw several new huts that were not here when last I came." They walked about the village with Lambert supporting the arm of the Chief. The breasts of the watching villagers swelled with pride to see their chief so honored by this great Lord.

Tables had been set for the Lord and his officers and skins were spread about on the ground for the men of Mons. The women of the village carried baskets of bread from the ovens to the shade for cooling.  Boys still turned spits over hot embers on which huge roasts were on skewers.

When the tour was over, Drogo seated the Count and his officers at their table and then raised his hand for silence. He nodded to his son. Little Drogo moved forward and shouted, "Men of Mons, Drogo the mighty chief of Assche bids you come, sit and eat."

With much disorder each man found a skin to sit upon and the women began to serve the food. The women of Drogo's own household served Lambert and his officers. The women and children of Assche sat about to watch. They would eat after the men had all been fed. This was the old way, practiced still in these Frankish villages even in these modern times.

When the men had eaten and were being served wine a youth came out of one of the huts and bowed to Lambert. He carried an ancient looking string instrument on which he began to strum slowly. Then with a voice as sweet as an angel he began to sing. The song was a story of an ancient time. A time that may never have been when men were free from aggression and fear, free to love and play, to hunt and fish. A time of plenty in all the land.

All that were present remained spellbound and silent even after the last haunting note was sung. The youth broke the spell by bowing again to Lambert and rushing toward his hut.

The men applauded and shouted for another song. Instead three young men came forward juggling Saxon throwing axes. A group that performed old Freisland dances followed them.

When the performance was over, Lambert called for all the entertainers to return and rewarded each with silver coins and thanked them. He in turn thanked Drogo for the food and drink as well as the entertainment.

Lambert's captains searched out their men to get them bedded down for a night's rest before the morning.

Two days later, before noon, they arrived at the junction of the highroad between Zinnik and Mons and knew that they would be in Mons well before nightfall. Then a little over an hour's march from the city Lambert saw six riders on the horizon. He knew that these were the outer guard soldiers of Mons. He watched to see how long it would take before his banner was recognized. Before he could make out the red and white livery; two of the riders wheeled their horses and raced full stride toward Mons. Two remained at their station and the other two rode toward the column. Without guessing Lambert knew that Luitbert was in charge of the northern outpost this day. Only his old eyes would have made out the banner of Mons at so great a distance. He turned to Reginar "One of the riders approaching is Luitbert."

"Luitbert? What ever makes you think that Uncle? Would you care to wager?"

"Very well. But make it easy on yourself. I'm sure that I am right this time."

"All right, if it's Luitbert I'll serve your meal this very evening, and if it's not you will serve mine. Acceptable Uncle?"

"Accepted Nephew. Serve me white wine before the meal."

"That wont be likely, dear Uncle, the odds are in my favor."

Shortly Luitbert and Milo drew rein before the column and saluted. "Remember the white wine before the meal." chuckled Lambert.

"But how could you have known? All you could have seen was two riders on horseback and that none too well. Was it a lucky guess?"

"No it wasn't a lucky guess. Don't you remember the teachings I gave to you when you were in my care as a youth? I said get to know the men in your service. I have learned as much as I can about each man, woman and child in my Countdom. Luitbert can see clearly much further than others in charge of the Northern Outpost. I knew it was him when he recognized the banner at so great a distance. You can forget the wager, but always remember the things that I have taught you."

"Thank you Uncle Lambert. One thing I'm very slow at learning is that I should never doubt you."

Lambert called to Luitbert "What news do you have from Mons?"

"Duke Charles of Lorraine passed through two weeks ago My Lord. I believe he awaits your return at your Hornu Castle."

"Waits?" inquired Lambert.  "How many are in his retinue?"

"I know not the exact number My Lord. I saw only his attendants, the Duchess and her attendants, several knights and a small company of mounted soldiers." Then Luitbert added quickly "A great Lady, I know not her name, travels with them."

"May the Saints preserve us, my larder will be empty if they stay very long." groaned Lambert.

"I dispatched Hugh and Stephanus to Hornu with news of your return My Lord."

"Thank you Luitbert. I had planned to spend the night in Mons as guest of the Bishop, but I know now that I have another hours ride to my castle." He spoke to Milo "Ride to Mons and have a dozen fresh horses ready for my use when we arrive."

Milo gave a salute of acknowledgement and rode away at a gallop.

Less than an hour later the patrol reached Mons. The Bishop and his company, the leading citizens of Mons and many of his people met them. Lambert got through the annual ceremonies as quickly as he could. He apologized to the Bishop and the First Citizen for having to leave so soon, bade Reginar join him and left for Hornu Castle. The Viking treasures were to follow with ten mounted guards. They covered the six miles to Hornu in a little over half an hour.

 

 The tower guard had the bridge down and the gates opened. The courtyard seemed to be overflowing with the Dukes men. He and Reginar rode straight to the keep and turned their horses over to the waiting grooms.

His beloved Countess met them in the entrance hall, her face radiant. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. He noticed that she wrinkled her nose as she released him.

"Forgive me my love; I did not take the time to wash away the dust and dirt of the patrol in Mons. We rushed here as soon as we heard that visitors had arrived."

"Never mind my dear. You are more than welcome, dirt and all. I've been at my wit's end trying to see to our guest's needs. Now that you have returned I gladly leave the hosting to you." She turned to Lambert's personal servant and asked "Is the Counts bath prepared?

"You never cease to amaze me. How did you know I wouldn't tarry in Mons for even a bath?"

The Countess smiled as her Count followed the servant away. After Lambert had cleansed himself from head to toe, he was rinsed with scented water and dressed befitting he who would meet Duke Charles. A maidservant had delivered word at the chamber door that all were gathered in Great Hall for a banquet to welcome him home.

He entered the hall and was ushered to the seat of honor. He noted that the Duke and Duchess were seated to his right and with them was the great Lady that Luitbert had told him about. Something about her was familiar, but he couldn't recall where he had seen her before. To his left were, of course, his wife and Reginar. Seated at the side tables were the knights of the Duke's company and opposite were the knights of Hornu Castle. All were seated in their order of rank. Some were with their ladies. He looked to the galleries and saw that they were filled with the servants and soldiers of the castle as well as other men and women that he assumed were in the service of the Dukes party. A page stood behind each of the guests seated at the tables.

The Duke rose to his feet and the chatter and movement in the hall ceased.  "The Countess has graciously granted me the honor of extending welcome to the Count on his return from the northern frontier, bravely defending all from the enemy of the far north beyond the sea…." He droned on and on for several minutes.

Lambert leaned to the left and whispered to the Countess "If he continues much longer we'll all starve to death. I'm famished." He noticed a sharp tug on the Duke's tunic delivered by the Duchess.

The Duke paused "---so in conclusion let us all bid our Count welcome."

The hall echoed with hand claps, foot stomps and cheers as the servants from the kitchen arrived with huge trays piled high with food. For meat there was pork, beef and fowl. There were boiled vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and breads. Two salt cellars were placed before the Count. He passed one to the Duke for him and his party and the other he used and passed to his left.

After the pages had served the wine he turned to the Duke "I am truly sorry that I was not present to welcome you on your arrival." He then looked toward the Duchess and added "I now welcome you both and the Lady.

The Duke laughed "Thank you; and the Lady is our daughter Gerberga that I have recently made the Duchess of Brabant."

Lambert laughed also as he spoke to her "I knew that I should know you, but I haven’t seen you since you were a girl of twelve or thirteen. You are now a very beautiful Lady.

Gerberga blushed and thanked him.

Lambert spoke again to Duke Charles. "Your Highness, the message that I received from you in the field sounded as though there is some urgent matter for us to discuss?"

"Please! You don't need to address me so formally. Just call me Charles and I will feel a lot more comfortable in your presence. As to the matter that I wish to speak to you about, let's leave that for the morrow."

"Very good, I will call you Charles and will look forward to a discussion of your concerns after we break our fast of this night. Is our banquet to your liking?"

"Excellent! The food is still hot in spite of my long windedness. Sorry if I kept you too long from your meal. Once I get started talking it takes my wife to shut me up." He glanced at the Duchess smiling and was rewarded in kind.

"I hope your other children are in good spirits and health." commented Lambert to Duchess Bonne.

"Thank you, yes. Our son Otto is attending to some matters of Lorraine for his father and Gerberga's younger sister, Ermengarde, is at home with her tutor and is fast becoming the Lady. She's almost sixteen now."

A servant interrupted by placing a roasted pheasant before them. "Ah, that looks delightful." cried the Duke grabbing a leg and twisting it off the bird.

Charles spoke to Lambert, "The entertainment was arranged by me. Tonight's troupe has been in Mons for the past three days awaiting your return." He clapped and five brightly attired tumblers emerged from the entrance door. All present were thrilled by their feats of skill and daring. As they completed the act, Charles' jester appeared with a great bear on a chain. The bear walked on his hind legs and rhythmically beat his forepaws together as though he was applauding the tumbling act. The jester began to beat on a drum and the bear danced to its sound twirling about in human fashion. As the drum stopped, the bear applauded his own act and the hall was filled with laughter. The next act was a group of young girls who danced to the music of a lute played by a man dressed as a minstrel. After the dancers left the floor the minstrel sang a song about Charlemagne's great battles followed by another songs of heroes of the past until Charles stood and called for an ending of the entertainment, wishing all a good night. 

In the bedchamber, Lambert told his wife that Charles had put him off 'til the morrow when he asked his reason for coming to Hornu Castle and then asked " Have you any idea what this matter is that Charles wants to discuss?"

"From what Duchess Bonne has told me, I'm sure he is going to propose marriage between our son and Gerberga."

"What? That would mean that our young Lambert would be the Duke of Brabant! Are you sure?"

"As sure as one can be.  Bonne wields the scepter in that family."

"Then we must send for Lambert. I will not decide a thing like that for him." And then he added "But if he is in his right mind he will not mind a marriage to a beauty like Gerberga, Dukedom or no."

"I sent a message to Lovayne to tell Lambert to come to Hornu several days ago. He is to arrive on the morrow.

"Then I will ride as far as Mons and send word to the Northern Outpost for him to stop and meet me there. He has need to know of this before he arrives."

Lambert mused "Imagine that, a Duke."

 

          

 

In Lovayne, the day dawned clear as Lambert the Younger mounted to leave for Hornu Castle. The message from his mother had said that there was no emergency but she wanted him to come and be with her and his father while Duke Charles and his party were there. He wondered about the Duke's unannounced visit. Did it mean perhaps there was trouble brewing? The Duke still begrudged Hugh Capet the crown of France. Old Charles had a large following and could, if he so desired, man an army of many thousands to take the crown away from Hugh. He had always been a man of negotiations and appeasement; but then had he not been persuaded by Count Lambert and Count Reginar to take the city of Rheims to punish his lifelong friend "The Bishop of Rheims" when he turned on him in favor of Hugh Capet as King of France. Other lives were precious to Charles; yet a man could change if pushed hard enough by the right persons.

As he road along the high road he looked behind to see if all in his company were keeping together. The cattle tethered to the carts loaded with pigs, chickens, sheep and dried foods slowed the travel. Youths of the herdsman's family had to constantly prod the cattle to keep them moving. Lambert was sure that more foodstuffs would be needed at Hornu to feed such a large group. He wondered if the Duke's officers had thought to bring provisions with them. Feeding a hundred extra mouths would tax almost any castle's ability.

The group prodded on through the day and stopped at nightfall in Nijvel. He purchased bread and cheese from the villagers for their evening meal; and gave orders to the watch to have everyone up and ready to travel at the following dawning.

The next morning he felt restless and anxious to reach Hornu Castle. He divided his men into two detachments. One detachment was to remain behind and follow with the carts and the other to ride at a much faster pace with him. That way he would reach Mons before noon and the carts would reach the castle by nightfall.

He used the technique that his father had taught him to use whenever distance had to be covered quickly. The horses were ridden alternately at gallop and walking gaits. The milestones fast slipped by, and soon they reached the northern outpost of Mons.

Roger, in charge of the guard, rode out to meet them. He saluted and wheeled his mount to ride beside Lambert. "Sire, your father awaits your arrival in Mons. He said he would be somewhere around the market place talking with the merchants." 

As soon as Lambert reached Mons, he left his men at the gates and rode directly to the central market place. He dismounted and handed the reins to one of the horse-holders. In the market he had not far to look before he saw his father talking to Henry. Henry had accompanied him in a great deal of his youthful mischief. He had married the daughter of a merchant in Mons and now ran one of the market's largest shops. He ran to embrace his father and Henry in turn. Henry's wife rushed out from the back of the shop accompanied by their son Phillip. She had grown plump since he saw her last but was just as beautiful as ever. He noted that there was another child on the way.

Count Lambert, the elder, excused himself. "Catch up on each other's news while I have another word with Sol before we leave for Hornu." Sol was short for Solomon, a Jewish merchant that he used to dispose of goods gleaned on patrol from the Vikings. Sol traded as far away, in the west, as Rouen and as far south as Marseilles. The Vikings were making them both rich.

When the count returned a few minutes later, Henry asked "How long will Lambert be with you at the castle?"

Not wanting to go into the 'why and when's' Count Lambert replied 'I'm not sure exactly, but there will be time enough for you and Lambert's other friends to get together before he is away once more."

He took his son's arm and they walked back to where the horses were held. Six castle guards came almost at once without being called. Joceline, in charge of the castle strong room was one of them. Lambert the Younger knew that some of the castle's treasure had been brought to the market for Sol.

When they got to the city gates the Count had his guards ride a short distance ahead and those with his son to follow a distance behind. This would put the guards out of earshot while he talked to Lambert about the proposed marriage.

Once they were underway he spoke. He had rehearsed the way he would breach the subject a dozen times, each time changing his mind, trying it out a different way. No way seemed right. "How would you like to be the Duke of Brabant, Son?" he blurted. Then thought "By all that's holy, that wasn't any of the ways that I rehearsed."  

Thinking it was a part of one of his father's jokes he laughed. "Very much. What's the punch line?" Then looking at his father's face he sobered and said "You aren't jesting are you Father?"

"I've never been more serious in my life. This morning Duke Charles proposed that you should marry his daughter, Gerberga, who is now the Duchess of Brabant."

"What?" shouted his son, me marry that knobby kneed, skinny daughter of the Duke?"

The guards couldn't be far enough ahead or behind to be out of earshot of such an explosive response. It would be lucky if he wasn't heard in Mons and Hornu.

"Not so loud, please."

"But Father no dukedom could be worth being married to someone like her. She's spiteful and mean as well as ugly."

"You remember her as she was. She has grown-up since then. I think you will like her now."

"Never!" replied Lambert.

They rode the rest of the way to Hornu in silence. Count Lambert couldn't wait to see the reaction on his son's face when he met Gerberga, but it would be worth the wait. He chuckled at the thought and his son looked toward him in askance. He didn't offer an explanation.

 

Gerberga sat on the bench in the grotto set in the wall of the castle garden. It was a private place where she remembered coming before as a child of twelve or thirteen but feeling a lot older. From this bench she had been able to spy on Lambert and his friend Henry. She remembered how much she hated him for not allowing her to tag along and enjoy the company of adults. He and Henry were almost nineteen and considered her far too young to have around them. They didn't seem to realize that five years difference in the age of a man and woman made no difference at all. Her father was twenty years older than her mother and that was a perfect age difference. He had called her a brat and told her to go play with her dolls. Oh how she hated him. She watched their every move and everything that they did that was wrong, she related to the Countess. Such as the time they pulled long stemmed roses to throw at one of the castle cats like spears, pretending to be hunting bears. They were the ones being childish she thought.

She looked now at the fall roses and could smell their fragrance. If he had given her the roses instead of throwing them at the cat, she might have told him she loved him. But it wasn't until much later that she had known that. At the time she had truly hated him.

Looking across the garden she saw her father leaning over to smell a clump of tiny blue flowers. She did love him. He had suggested marriage for her several times since she was sixteen, but each time she had rejected the prospective groom. He had bowed to her wishes. She had not dared tell him of her unreasoning love for Lambert. Upon reaching eighteen, he had given her the Duchy of Brabant, making her the Duchess. As a boon he asked "Now who would you choose to be your Duke?"

She didn't have to think about it. She knew her choice. "Lambert of Hornu." was her instant response.

"Lambert? But he's beneath your station. I meant which Duke's son would you choose?"

"How can you say he's beneath my station? Isn't Mother the daughter of one of your knights? Lambert is at least a count's son."

"Well, one of the reasons for rejecting me as King of France was because I married your mother. Marriage beneath one's station is frowned upon."

"And to think those Dukes of France call themselves Frenchmen. Even if you don't wear the crown you are better than all of them put together and that includes that pompous Hugh Capet."

"All right. I'll see if a marriage can be arranged with your Lambert."

Gleefully she kissed him. "I love you. I love you. I love you." she sang.

She looked out into the garden again to see him approaching the grotto. "Had the Count accepted his proposal?" She didn't want to ask the question aloud for fear that she would find that another had already been chosen for Lambert.

Instead she said "Good morning Father. It's a beautiful day isn't it?"

"There you are. Your mother said you were in the garden, but I assumed she was mistaken when I didn't see you."

When he didn't say anything about his conversation with the Count she raised her eyebrows and asked "Well?"

"Well what? Oh that---He says that Lambert is free to choose his own bride, that he cannot make the choice for him. I guess the trait runs in the family. He is a descendant of Charlemagne the same as you and me. Our independence will be our downfall. At any rate Lambert will arrive this day and I will ask him personally."

"I heard horses only moments ago. Perhaps he has arrived already. Oh please go and see Father."

The Duke turned and made his way back to the keep. Gerberga put her head in her hands and sobbed "Please God, let him say yes." Then she cried.

Charles had entered the keep through the side entrance. He heard the two Lamberts as they came through the entry hall. Their voices echoed so much that he couldn't make out the words spoken, but as they neared he heard the Count demand "At least meet her." Before they saw him standing in the doorway.

The Count gestured "My good Charles, Lambert has arrived." And turning toward his son, "Charles has a proposition for you to consider, my Son."

Lambert's manner was so stiff that Charles knew he had missed something of the conversation between these two that the Count thought he had heard.

Young Lambert bowed and greeted him. "I'm glad to see you again My Lord.”

"Have you discussed my proposal with him?" asked the Duke.

"I think it would be best if my son and your daughter got reacquainted before any formal decision is made on either side. Both have changed a great deal since they knew each other."

"You may be right. Gerberga is in the garden." he spoke then to the younger Lambert, "Why don't you go into the garden and pay your respects?"

"I'll accompany him." the Count frowned.

"Please don't bother. I know the Countess has anxiously awaited your return. She has seen so little of you and all on my account I fear. I believe she is in the great hall with Bonne getting the place back in shape after last night's feast."

Charles couldn't know what he was asking him to miss seeing. "Son I'll be with your mother in the great hall. Don't forget to come in to see her a little later." He gave his son a slap on the back. "Now go meet Gerberga." and then watched as Lambert left.

Gerberga waited none to patiently for her father to return. She paced slowly up and down in front of the grotto and had her back to Lambert when he reached her. As she turned Lambert stopped dead in his tracks. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. Gerberga was astounded by the look of him. He resembled the court fool of the palace in Paris. Had something happened to befuddle his mind that no one had dared tell her about?

She gave him a perfunctory curtsey and timidly asked "Are you Lambert?"

Lambert remained spellbound.

"I am waiting for my father." she ventured, but still got no response. "My name is Gerberga." and then again asked "Are you Lambert?"

"You are beautiful" he sputtered.

"He is demented, the poor dear." she thought.

Lambert managed a smile on his second attempt. He knew he was awake but felt he must be dreaming. With a great effort he composed himself and spoke "Yes. I am Lambert and am very glad to see you again. I am sorry; I don't know how to explain my reaction just now. You are just so different from what I expected. I must have seemed some sort of simpleton."

"Well, I did sort of wonder." she sighed "but I am glad you aren't."

They both laughed and he realized that something was happening inside him that he couldn't understand. He had never felt so peculiar before. "Come let us sit on the bench and talk." He took her hand and a tingle went through his entire body. He knew from her expression that she had experienced a similar reaction. "My father says you are now the Duchess of Brabant."

"And I've never even seen Brabant." she added and they both laughed again.

"You will like it there. It is a very beautiful part of the country."

She smiled and asked "Do you like living in Lovayne? I've heard that the people are quite different."

Gerberga had put him on firm ground by asking him about Lovayne. He now felt more at ease. He told her about the mixture of the many tribes in the countdom and she truly laughed when he tried to mimic the way some of them spoke. He described some of the citizens of the town and also the surfs on the manors surrounding the town.

One, Richard the innkeeper, he described in greater detail than all the others. Richard had a bristling black beard, ruddy   cheeks and eyes that were always filled with mirth. Anyone meeting Richard for the first time within minutes felt that they had known him for a long time. He always created a festival atmosphere in the inn even when only three or four guests where present. His jovial manor was catching causing the serving wenches to be more friendly and tolerant where the guests were concerned. As a result the inn was busy from morn' 'til night.

Then there was Godfrey, squire of the largest manor about. He was the opposite of Richard in every way. His face was gaunt with deep set piercing eyes. He shouted at the children in the streets when he came into the town, causing them to scurry to their mother's skirts for protection as he passed. He was gruff toward the merchants accusing them of overcharging him, which most of them did. No one liked Godfrey.

"Is he not respectful to you?" asked Gerberga.

He told her that when Godfrey was in his presents he was all sweetness and fawned like a puppy.

Gerberga laughed, You make it all seem so real. I think I know the people there already and I like them. ---- Even Godfrey."

Lambert realized that the afternoon was almost gone and he said, "I haven't seen my mother since I got here. She will be hurt if I don't go in to see her." He held her hand again, "Come." and they walked hand in hand toward the keep. Lambert mused. For some reason the colors of the flowers seemed brighter and the fragrance sweeter. Life was wonderful.

  

Duke Charles and his father sat with Duchess Bonne and his mother at a small table located near the door to the kitchen. This portion of the great hall had been screened off to make it a small room on its own. Before each was a steaming cup of a honey sweetened spice-drink which they sipped with obvious enjoyment. The Duke and Count had found the spice among the treasures brought back from the north. Lambert thought it was some sort of perfume, but the Duke knew that it was a spice called cinnamon from the same far away country that had made the silk fabrics. The Duchess and Countess were eager to see how the drink made from it would taste. The kitchen provided the boiling water, honey and cups and the Duke prepared the drinks himself.

They all turned to look as Lambert and Gerberga entered the hall. Just seeing the pair was enough to let them know that plans for the wedding would be needed. The Duke sighed with relief, but Lambert gave him an 'I told you so.' look and a nod.

There would be a lot of discussions over the next few days. Many questions had to have answers. When would the wedding be? Who should be invited? Who should be left off of the guest list?

Duke Charles, wanting everything done correctly for the daughter of 'The Rightful King of France', had his scribe draw-up a parchment charter of marriage intent. In it he promised as dowry the Dukedom of Brabant along with the consideration of monies. He requested in return the ceremonial Pledging of Homage and Swearing of Fealty before the Nobles of his choosing.

Once this parchment was signed and witnessed, the more difficult problem of which nobles were to be invited to the wedding, and which were not, had to be considered.

Charles offered, "Perhaps we had better start with the easy choices, your brother, The Count of Hainault and his son Reginar, my son Odo." Then he rambled, "of course you know his true name is Otto. Gerberga called him Odo when she was first learning to talk, because she couldn't say Otto. Somehow that way of saying his name stuck and we have always referred to him thusly." Then he continued with his original train of thought " we shall invite the Counts and Countesses of Tournai and Jumet the Bishop of Namur, the Count and Countess of Namur, the Duke and Duchess of Flanders"----

"But Charles, there is no Duchess of Flanders, don't you remember that Ogive died?" interrupted Bonne.

"He has remarried. The new Duchess is Eleanora, daughter of Richard II 'The Good'. Surely you heard about the marriage even though we didn't receive an invitation." commented Lambert. Baldwin knew of your dislike for the Normans and wished to avoid the insult of your refusal to attend the wedding."

To change the subject Lambert suggested "Should we invite the Duke and Duchess of Liege?"

"Heaven forbid!" exploded Charles "That Duke is the lapdog of Nutger, the Bishop of liege. He's as big a power grabber as Attilla the Hun. I've heard it said 'Liege can thank God for Nutger and thank Nutger for everything else.' If he has his way he'll be Pope. Let's let him continue to look to the east to extend his See. I don't wish his interference in the matters of Lorraine."

There was a sudden peal of feminine laughter in the Great Hall. They all looked up to see Gerberga followed by Lambert and Reginar. Gerberga carried one of the bolts of white silk. "Mother, can I have my wedding gown made from this?' she asked.

 Bonne looked questioningly toward Count Lambert who nodded his assent and then answered, "You may of course, but the wedding will be in winter. You would freeze in a gown made from that thin material."

"Oh piffle Mother. I can wear wool beneath. That will keep me warm."

"Very well, silk you shall wear."

Gerberga draped the silk over her shoulder and nestled her cheek against it. "It's so soft and smooth." she cried. When can we start the gown Mother?"

"We'll get it underway after other matters have been settled. Now run along. I will get together with you later. Right now we are busy."

Gerberga looked disappointed for only a moment then took Lambert's hand and pulled him toward the kitchen "Come let's drink a cup of that spice that smells so good."

"Don't take the cloth into the kitchen." scolded Bonne "You may get grease on it. Leave it with me."

After handing over the silk to her mother the three continued into the kitchen.

Charles looked after the trio. "They are such children in so many ways.---Now where we? Oh yes, Baldwin Fairbeard and" he paused again "What did you say the name of his new Duchess was?"

"Eleanora." replied Bonne.

"Right, and the Counts of Flandreasts, Rodanensis, Glandendensis, Courtracensis, Iserae and Menpicus. That will complete the Flanders invitations." Then he continued "The Duke and Counts of Cambria can be invited. The Bishop of Cambria is of the same ilk as Nutger, but he seems to know his place and keeps to it."

"Should the wedding be held at your castle at Valenciennes?" inquired Lambert "or at the abbey of Saint Waudru in Mons?"

"If the wedding is held in Valenciennes there may not be accommodations for early arrivals and late departures, but there would be sufficient space in Mons and here at Hornu." Charles said as he weighed the question.

"Then let's plan on having the wedding in the Abbey." said Bonne "Mons is more centrally located for everyone concerned anyway."

"Shall we set the date for the wedding for the first Sunday in December?" asked Bonne.

"But that's only five weeks hence!" protested the Countess. "Can all preparations be made in so short a time?"

"Lambert, we will leave on the morrow for my castle at Valenciennes and send messengers with the invitations to Flanders and Cambria. I'll also see Count Reginar lV to let him know of our plans. Better yet," continued Charles" we can let Young Reginar inform him. I'll leave notification of those from Brabant, Hainault and Namur to you. Also contact the Bishop at Saint Waudru and arrange for him to conduct the ceremony."

With an importune sound in her voice the Countess ventured "I'll make all the arrangements for the wedding feast. I can leave the arrangements for entertainment to our son. Everything will be in readiness in time for the wedding."

Lambert pulled the cord on the servant's bell and moments later a maid appeared from the kitchen doorway. "Nannette, have the scribe come with his apprentice and parchments. Tell him to hurry."

"Yes, My Lord.' She said as she dashed across the great hall toward the scribe's quarters. "And tell him to hurry." she reminded herself aloud as she ran.

Bonne looked at the Countess. "Will you be able to get everything in readiness for the wedding on your own? You seemed a bit worried about the shortage of time."

"I can but try." the countess replied apprehensively. "The more I think about the preparations, the more I realize the number of things that have to be done."

"Then let's have Gerberga remain here with you to help. I can have her gown made at Valenciennes without her. She is only slightly thinner than I am, so there should be no problems."

"I am so glad you have offered her help. I want everything to be to her liking. After all it's her wedding. Will you ask her now?"

"There will be no need. She will be only too happy to remain behind so that she will be near Lambert." replied Bonne.

"But Lambert will not be here. He has to return to Lovayne and make arrangements to be away from there for a longer period of time. I heard him talking to his father about it earlier today."

"He'll not be in Lovayne very long, I venture, if he knows that Gerberga is here in Hornu."

"True, I hope his horse can stand so hard a ride as I fear it will receive."

The scribe scurried into the room followed by a youth. "My Lord?" he questioned.

"The Duke will have you draw up the invitations to a wedding. There will be a great number, John. Have you anyone that can assist you, other than your apprentice?"

The scribe turned to the Duke and asked "Will the invitations be in Latin or French Your Highness?"

"French. Many of the lesser Counts may not have our command of the Latin tongue."

"In that case my wife and daughter will be capable of assisting me."

"What?" exclaimed the Duke "Women able to write?"

"Yes Your Highness. They wanted to learn and I have found that their skill has come to equal my own."

"Amazing! Fancy that! Women knowing how to write. Come, let us go to my chambers and I'll give you a list of guests and tell you what to write." said the Duke as he stood and lead the way. "You'll have to write much of the night, I fear, as there are so many parchments to prepare. Have you sufficient writing materials? I have some that---" and the duke's voice went out of earshot as they left the Great Hall.

"I hope he remembers to have invitations to some of the northern and eastern Counts written in Flemish. They may be offended if the invitation is in French; although I'm sure they read French well enough."

 Bonne suddenly jumped to her feet. "Heavens above!" she shrieked placing her hand over her mouth.

"What's wrong?" asked the Countess perturbed by Bonne's outburst.

"We've forgotten something. When will the Betrothal Ceremony be held if we are leaving tomorrow?"

The countess looked at Lambert and when he didn't say anything, she interjected "Go to Charles and tell him I am getting the priest, our son and his daughter and then bring him to the chapel for the Betrothal Ceremony." She pulled the bell cord urgently several times and before she finished pulling the maid, Nannette, came running in.

"Yes, My Lady?"

"Is Duchess Gerberga and Lambert still in the kitchen?"

"Yes My Lady, they are eating."

"Then go and send them in here and then find the priest and have him meet us in the chapel. Tell him to hurry. We've got to have the Betrothal Ceremony."

Nannette turned and ran back toward the kitchen muttering "Hurry, hurry, hurry, always hurry. A body gets tired of hurry all the time."

"Nannette!" sharply chastised the Countess.

"Yes My Lady." responded Nannette as she disappeared through the kitchen door.

Moments later Gerberga, Lambert and Reginar appeared with questioning looks on their faces.

Bonne spoke "Gerberga, your father and I will be leaving early tomorrow morning for Valenciennes, so we will hold the Betrothal Ceremony in the chapel right away tonight."

"Tonight? We leave tomorrow? So soon?" cried Gerberga.

"Your father and I are leaving. You will remain here to help with the wedding preparations."

"Oh." sighed Gerberga with obvious relief.

"Come let's be on our way to the chapel or your father and the Count will be there with the priest and he will have no betrothal to bless." snapped the Countess as she pushed Lambert toward the door.

 

In the chapel, after the priest had intoned suitable prayers, he looked at the two before him and said. "Now give your vows."

"What are we supposed to say?" whispered Gerberga.

The priest looked at Lambert and said "Tell her you will take her for your wife." and then to Gerberga "And you will take him for your husband."

They awkwardly exchanged their promises. "I will take you for my wife.

 "And I will take you for my husband."

"Not very formal, but good enough." stated the priest. He took from his robe a small silver box and said "This contains dust from the sepulcher of our Lord. Place your hands on it and swear to your promise."

Lambert and Gerberga each placed a hand on the box and said "I swear."

The priest looked toward the Duke and Duchess and the Count and Countess and asked "Do you consent to this union?" They answered together "We do."

He extended the silver box containing the Holy Relic. They each in turn swore over the relic.

The priest then smiled at the pair and stated "Remember you are not wed yet. God bless you both."

 

 The following morning dawned bright and clear. The Duke's retinue was ready to leave before mid-morning. The Count, Countess, Young Lambert and Gerberga saw them off from the courtyard. Duchess Bonne rode in a cart pulled by two horses. Duke Charles rode a beautiful black stallion. Duke Charles mounted with obvious discomfort. He seemed too old to sit a horse. After the company had said their goodbyes and rode out of the gates, the Count said to no one in particular "Charles seems so old yet he isn't very much older than I am."

"His health isn't good." stated Gerberga. Each month he seems feebler. Mother will have him in the cart as soon as they are out of the sight of Hornu. He insisted on leaving on horseback for appearance sake."

"Come; let us get on with plans for the wedding. Time is wasting." ordered the Countess as she turned to re-enter the keep. 

 

Mons was a beautiful walled city on a knoll between the Trouille and Haine rivers. It had grown around the abbey founded about 650 A.D. by Saint Waudru. She was the daughter of Gieselbert I Count in the Maasgau, Sister of Saint Lambert of Liege, wife of Vincent Madelga and mother of four children that all obtained Sainthood.

During the ninth century turret ramparts were built encircling the town. These protected the citizens of Mons from the numerous raids by the Vikings. It had been the capital of Hainault since the year 804.

Everyone in Mons was excited about the wedding taking place in the abbey. The streets were all swept clean, the houses were made to look newer and in the turret ramparts that encircled the city the stones were replaced that had been dislodged over the previous centuries. The bright banners of Mons were hung along the streets between the gates and the abbey. The inns had newly painted signs and the innkeepers had ordered foods and wines, from the merchants, suitable for the nobility. Their rooms were cleaned and new bedding obtained from the surrounding fiefs. The bed covers were washed and rinsed in fresh smelling water that was made by boiling evergreen boughs. The innkeepers knew that the nobles would not be accustomed to fleas, lice, spiders and rats so sulfur was burned in every room and chamber to kill any creature that might disturb their guests. Everything was in readiness for a Royal Wedding. Count Lambert made almost daily journeys into Mons, just to be sure that nothing was overlooked. The few weeks before the wedding had gone by quickly.

Young Lambert intended to be in Lovayne for only one week, but had remained there for over two. He sent a message after the first week to state that his delay was unavoidable. On his return he explained to his father that when he arrived at the Castle of Lovayne, he saw it as Gerberga would on her arrival. It was austere with only the comforts required by soldiers. It was not a very appealing sight for the eyes of his new bride. He had gathered craftsmen merchants from the city and presented them with the problem. After hearing their suggestions he had given his orders for renovation, waited for the transformation to get under way and only then had left for Hornu. "The castle isn't like the palace of Charlemagne, but I know that Gerberga will like it better than she would have if I had left it as it was. There are so many workers that it looks like an anthill. At least the gardens had been kept in order. If they had not, it would have been too late to do anything about them"

"I'm glad you saw to the gardens. They were planted by your Great Great, Great Grandmother, Albrada, when she was Duchess of Lorraine almost one hundred years ago. Since then the garden has been maintained by the family. Did you know that Saint Waudru was born in that very castle? Of course the outer wall and many of the structures inside the bailey were made of wood, instead of stone, back in the seventh century. So much has changed since then."

"Yes Father, I must have heard that story a thousand times, but I didn't know about the gardens. I guess I just had them kept in good shape because they are so beautiful."

"There is so little time left before the wedding and your mother wanted you to make all the arrangements for the entertainment at the wedding feast. Will you be able to do that for her?" asked the Count.

"I have a troupe of entertainers coming from Lovayne for the entertainment of the citizens of Mons for their celebrations in the market place, and the entertainers of Mons will be able to entertain at the castle. That is if it meets with Mother's approval."

The Count nodded, "That's good work Son. Each will have someone new to entertain them. Our guests will not have seen the Mons troupe. You've used your head with these arrangements."

 

 

Reginar lV was surprised and pleased when his son delivered the invitation from the "Duke and Duchess of Lorraine. Surprised at first and then suspicious after giving a little thought to the turn of events. He spoke of his suspicions to his son, "Regi, did the Duke say anything about his feelings concerning Hugh Capet?"

"Say anything! He becomes livid at the mention of the man's name. He still considers himself the rightful King of France." The Count pressed further, "Did he speak about taking the crown by force?"

"Not in so many words, but I dare say he'd not discourage the suggestion. Why do you ask?"

"By this marriage he is forming a blood-tie between his line and the strongest family of the north, and may assume that your Uncle Lambert will form an army for that purpose. As the Count of both Mons and Lovayne, his influence has greater breadth than even Young Lambert will have as Duke of Brabant. My brother has the love of all the peoples of Hainault and Brabant. They would flock to his banner if he decided to back Charles for the Crown. Don't you agree?"

"That may well be true Father. I know that I would follow him through Hell if he asked me to."

Reginar lV chuckled, "You do almost that every fall on patrol without his asking."

Young Reginar looked thoughtful. "I don't really think Duke Charles is well enough to be considering any move to take the Crown. He can't even sit his horse any more."

"Whether he is or not, Hugh Capet is bound to believe that he is, after he hears about this wedding. Charles had better watch his back. From now on he will be marked for assassination. Hugh is too weak to risk a northern attack."

Reginar was alarmed. "Father, you must warn him. He may not suspect that his life is in danger. I truly believe that he only has Gerberga's happiness in mind."

"I'll talk to him about the danger, but he may think that I am trying to give him needless worry. If so, I won't be in his favor for a while. I tried to warn him about Hugh Capet over three years ago and he failed to heed my counsel. Instead Charles talked to and took the advice of Adalbero. I knew that Charles would consult him, but never dreamed that he was against Charles. I think some times I should have administered hemlock to Adolbero before talking to Charles."

"Father, you wouldn't have!" cried Regi.

"Desperate measures are required at times. Perhaps having Charles as King would in some way assure Lorraine's return to French rule. I would have gone to any extreme to accomplish that.  We must come under a strong united crown, but there is little chance of that in the near future." moaned Count Reginar. "For now, we are on our own. Lorraine is as independent as we would be if Germany did not exist. The Low Countries have the potential to be a very important part of the world. I think we can look forward to becoming a jewel to be fought over among the greater powers of the world in the not too distant future. Control of this area is going to be of utmost importance.  "I'd much rather that we would be French rather than Spanish of German." Be that as it may, we've got a wedding to think about now. Let's think of what we can bring with us to Hornu as our wedding gift."

"Father, do you remember the golden oil lamps that were recovered on the spring patrol?" asked Regi.

"Do you mean those that were covered with the exquisite faceted design?"

"Those are the ones." answered Regi, "Wouldn't they make a nice wedding present?"

"They would brighten that drab castle at Lovayne. Lamps it shall be, and also the serving tray and goblets of the same design."

 

Count Reginar lV, and his son, departed from their castle in Tournai at dawn on the Friday before the wedding. They went south to Valenciennes to travel from there to Hornu in the company of Duke Charles and Duchess Bonne. Normally, from Valenciennes, the journey took only three hours, this day they rode slowly. The fall rains had softened the roadway and the horse and cart traffic had formed ruts and holes. The wagon, which the Duke had prepared for the wedding procession rocked and swayed dangerously because of its heavy canopy. About noon they arrived outside the gates of Hornu castle. The wagon driver had blasted a ram's horn to herald the arrival.

As they entered the outer bailey, they saw Gerberga racing across from the inner bailey. Count Lambert stood at the inner gate watching her as he waited.

"Did you get the gown finished Mother?" she asked breathlessly as she reached the wagon.

"Gerberga, can't you have the courtesy to greet your father before you ask about the gown?" admonished Bonne.

Gerberga looked at her father and apologized, "I'm sorry Father." Then without pause she asked her mother again, "Did you?"

"Yes I did."

Gerberga climbed up on the wagon to ride back to the keep beside her mother. The men dismounted as they reached Count Lambert at the inner gate to walk with him.

The Countess awaited them at the keep door. "Did you get the wedding gown finished?" she asked.

 Bonne laughed. "Yes I did. Gerberga will look lovely in it. She can try it on as soon as we are refreshed. That wagon was never designed for a long journey. Every muscle in my body protested punishment the entire trip."

 

 

 

Duke Baldwin of Flanders and his retinue arrived at Rueulx on the Wednesday eve. Their tents were erected just south of the village and made it look like a veritable tent city. Upon receiving the invitation to the wedding, Baldwin had inquired of the messenger if any other invitations were to be delivered within his Dukedom. The messenger informed him that he sought the Duke's permission to deliver invitations to the Counts of each pagi in Flanders. Baldwin gave permission and then told the messenger to inform each Count that they were to arrive in Ghent on the Wednesday prior to the wedding and that they would all journey together to Mons.

On Wednesday morning the Duke and Duchess along with six Counts, their families, attendants and eight to twelve knights for each Count departed from Ghent. There were over a dozen wagons in which the Duchess and Countesses rode together with their children. The banners of the counts proceeded by the banner of the Duke led the procession. To those that saw them along the route it seemed to be the retinue of a great king. Before nightfall on Thursday they reached the Countdom of Hainault and stopped outside the village of Ellezeiles. On Friday they continued on to Zinnik. Baldwin sent messengers ahead to Mons and Hornu that the Duke and Counts of Flanders would arrive in Mons before noon on the following day. A list of the members of the party accompanied the messenger in order that accommodations would be prepared.

 

  

The gate guards at Hornu admitted the messenger form Duke Baldwin well after dark and sent word to Count Lambert. Lambert and the Countess were still in the great hall. Duke Charles, Duchess Bonne, Lambert's brother, Reginar lV and his son Regi had much to talk about and had lingered over goblets of wine. The messenger was ushered in and handed Count Lambert a parchment.

After reading, Count Lambert leaped to his feet. "Holy Mother, I expected unanimous acceptance in Lorraine, but would you believe there is total acceptance in Flanders the Duke and all of his Counts with their families arrive tomorrow morning in Mons."  He turned to the servant that brought the messenger, "See that this messenger has food and drink and put him in one of the spare chambers to rest for the night."

"We will all have to be in Mons to meet the Duke of Flanders on his arrival tomorrow" spoke Bonne.

Charles assented "We will all be up early so let us call it a night and retire to our chambers." He then added, "I wager they've all accepted just because Baldwin failed to invite me to his second marriage wedding."

"No matter," said Lambert, "their coming makes this wedding an even greater occasion than I anticipated."

Count Lambert had ridden out to the northern outpost of Mons to meet Duke Baldwin's group. Count Reginar accompanied him so that the welcome of both Mons and Hainault could be extended. The wait for the arrival was not long. In the distance they counted the seven banners of Flanders. Next they recognized the colors on the tunics of the knights of Flanders. Next they recognized the colors on the tunics of the knights at arms. The leading banner was that of the Duke of Flanders, black horizontal bars on a golden field. The sight was very impressive. With the honor guard of twenty knights of Hornu, they rode out to meet the Duke. The banners of Mons and Hainault led the guard.

Lambert and Reginar knew their cousin, Duke Baldwin, and his father before him, having met and even joined him on patrols of past years. They also knew several of his Counts. Ghent was located on the route that the patrols took when going to the northern coastal areas.

"Greetings Duke Baldwin of Flanders." shouted Count Reginar as they neared the Flanders group. "Welcome to Hainault."

"My greetings to you, my kinsman." responded Baldwin.

The nobles dismounted and clasped each other's arms in friendship. There was much clapping of hands on backs, inquiries as to health and families.

"Our wives await your arrival in Mons," said Lambert, "and I'm sure half the citizens of the city will be on hand to welcome you."

"Then let us be under way. Our wives and families are wagon sore and will be glad to reach your fair city. How much further do we have?" inquired Baldwin.

"We are only an hour outside the city walls." answered Reginar.

Many of the citizens of Mons had climbed the northern ramparts of the city's walls for a view of the procession from Flanders. They cheered as the column neared. The children in the wagons along with a few of the mothers waved in return, but the nobles and their knight's rode sedately through the city gates. Duke Charles, Duchess Bonne, the Bishop of Waudru and the First Citizen of Mons met the procession. Following the welcoming the Counts of the Pagi of Flanders were placed in the care of appointed hosts to accompany each group to their assigned accommodations. Duke Baldwin and Duchess Eleanora were to continue with Lambert and Reginar to stay in the Hornu Castle.

Hornu Castle was constructed as a fortified camp in the fourth century by the Romans fortified by Charlemagne in the eighth century and kept modernized by the Counts of Mons since. The keep was surrounded by thick walls between round towers. Pennon staffs projected form the twin gate towers. This wedding day dawned with a wintry chill in the air. Usually there was only the Mons pennon flying at the top of the center staff, but this December morning it was accompanied by the pennons of Lorraine, Lovayne, Hainault, Brabant, Namur, Cambria and Flanders. The outer bailey had tents of the visiting knights pitched around a central cook fire. A beef had roasted over it the previous evening to be eaten by the knights. Breads and vegetables had been brought out from the kitchen of the keep and served with wine. The Great Hall had only been large enough for the nobles and their families.

The wedding was set for the eleventh hour, so the squires of the knights were already polishing swords, shields and armor. The horses were being curry-combed in preparation for the ornate ceremonial bridles, reins, drapes and saddles. Each squire took great pride in the splendor of his knight.

 Before the ninth hour the procession of nobles left Hornu. Along the way to Mons there were groups of serfs awaiting the passing of the dazzling cortege.  They doffed their caps to the Dukes and Counts as they passed and then joined the procession to Mons. The villains of Jemappes, Guaregnon, Bossu and Dour were well represented along the roadside.  By the time the procession arrived before the gates of Mons the column of followers stretched behind for over a mile. There was a blare of trumpets from the gate towers to announce the arrival. The enclosed wagon followed Duke Charles. Duchess Bonne and Gerberga were inside. Gerberga would not be seen until after the ceremony of marriage and the investiture of Lambert as the Duke of Brabant.

From the chantry could be heard the Psalms of the first Sunday of Advent as Mass was coming to an end. Young Lambert was escorted into the Abby hall with Young Reginar as his groomsman. They were taken to the alter where they would kneel in prayers until the time of the arrival of the bride and Duke Charles. The hall was already filled with nobles and knights with their families. The higher ranking was toward the front of the hall. The front bench was vacant, having been reserved for the families of the bride and groom. Shortly they were ushered in and seated. Except for the hushed voices of the priests at prayers the hall was silent. The Bishop, with his attending priests entered quietly from the wing causing the air of expectancy to swell throughout the hall. Chanting monks entered from the opposite wing as the heads of the audience turned toward the rear main entrance. Lambert and Reginar had now taken their position before the Bishop to await the bride. There was a sound of oohs and aahs to herald Gerberga's entrance. She was escorted by Duke Charles and followed by their attendants. Lambert and Reginar could not resist turning to see the bridal procession. Lambert had not seen Gerberga since the previous evening. His breath caught in his throat on seeing her as such a vision of beauty. The silken gown made her seem to float down the isle. It was made in the formal layered Roman fashion. Her head was covered by a veil of thin white silk and was held in place by a circlet of gold set with jewels indicating her rank as Duchess. Around her waist was a girdle made of many pieces of gold; each was set with a good-luck stone__agate to guard against fever, sardonyx to protect against malaria and so on for many common maladies. In the clasp were great sapphires and rubies. Her pellisson was made of reddish violet silk lined with fine wool and fringed completely with ermine. From her shoulders was draped a mantle of silk and wool intricately embroidered and dyed purple. Her shoes were made of vermilion leather embroidered with gold threads. Duke Charles, in all his splendor and crown, enhanced the vision. 

After what seemed an eternity Gerberga was at Lambert's side and the Bishop intoned the Latin Collect, Epistle and Gospel of Saint Matthew. He then switched to French "We are gathered here this day to join Lambert, filius Lambert Count of Mons, filius Reginar II Count of Hainault and Gerberga, filia Charles Duke of Lorraine. If there be any man who knows of any reason why this union should not take place, let him speak or hereafter hold his peace."

 The Bishop, after a suitable pause, continued with the ceremony. After pronouncing the pair Man and Wife he blessed the union. "Let this woman be amiable as Rachel, wise as Rebecca, faithful as Sarah. Let her be sober through truth, venerable through modesty and wise through the teachings of Heaven."

Then "Agnus Dei" was chanted by the monks. Lambert advanced to the Alter and received, from the Bishop, the kiss of peace. He then transmitted the kiss to her. This completed the ceremony.

The nobles rose to their feet for the recession of the bride and groom, but the Bishop held up his hands to dissuade their action. "We will now, in the eyes of God and this host of nobles, perform the coronation of Lambert as Duke of Brabant."

There was an air of excitement as Duke Charles moved in front of Lambert and turned to face him.

Lambert knelt before him and Duke Charles spoke, "Lambert; are you willing to become completely my man?"

Lambert placed his hands between those of the Duke and answered, "I am willing. I promise on my faith that I will in future be faithful to you and will observe my homage to you completely against all persons, in good faith and without deceit."

The Bishop stepped forward carrying a golden chest and asked. "Are you willing to take an oath on the relics of the saints?"

Duke Charles withdrew a golden rod from his belt and held it over Lambert's head. "I, Charles Duke of Lorraine invest you, Lambert l Duke of Brabant."

Lambert l Duke of Brabant came to his feet and then he and Charles kissed. Charles said "I receive you and take you as my man and give you this kiss as a sign of faith, saving my right and that of others."

"The Bishop turned to the nobles in the hall and said "Now let us stand as Duke Lambert precedes you to Hornu Castle for the wedding feast, God bless you all."

Lambert turned to a smiling Gerberga and took her hand to go to their wedding wagon. The wagon canopy had been removed so that all would be able to view the couple as they proceeded to the gates of the city. They left the Abby followed by the Dukes and Counts, their families and all the knights and ladies in their wagons. There was a great cheering from the crowds of people that lined the streets waiting to get a glimpse of the new Duke and Duchess of Brabant. The couple waved to the people. Lambert had the driver pull the wagon near to the platform and greeted each performer by name. Then as the wagon preceded on toward the city gates the performers shouted after him as one voice, "Long live Duke Lambert." Over and over. The crowds in the market took up the chant. Over and over. The crowds in the market took up the chant.

Gerberga squeezed Lambert's arm. "You are really their Duke; I hadn't realized it fully until they started shouting that chant. They really love you, don't they?"

"And you are their Duchess. They will love you also, just you wait and see."

At the city gates the trumpets sounded and all the soldiers of Hainault and Mons were standing at attention on both sides of the road each wearing new tunics and all with brightly polished helmets and shields. Every twelfth soldier held a staff topped with the banner of Mons and Hainault. Seeing the roses of Mons on every tunic and banner Gerberga sighed, "It's like riding through a rose garden."

Lambert laughed. "Each carries a thorn in the shape of a sword or lance."

"What does it look like to see the soldiers of Brabant with the Red Lion of Brabant on their tunics." asked Gerberga.

"Most impressive I assure you. My men of Lovayne have red tunics with a horizontal silver bar across their chests. Standing shoulder to shoulder they form what seems to be a silver line across a wide red one to the enemy they face."

"I can't wait to see them. When can we leave for Lovayne?"

 "I'm not sure. The wedding feast celebration is to last several days. Father has a boar hunt scheduled for Wednesday."

"You don't want to go on a boar hunt do you?" asked Gerberga remembering the castle cat and the long stemmed roses used as spears of Henry and Lambert.

"You know that I don't." answered Lambert as he hugged her close.

Gerberga shivered and felt faint with love for him.

 

Trumpets on the gate tower announced their arrival at Hornu Castle. The castle guard was assembled just inside the castle's outer gate. Duke Lambert saw the tents that had been pitched inside the inner bailey were now in the outer bailey and their number had at least doubled. The inner bailey was more filled than it had been. The tents that had been there were now replaced by expansive canopies. These covered long tables piled high with food. To the far right he could see several cooking spits attended by serfs and their wives preparing roasts. Children were carrying wood for the fires.

After the last of the procession had entered the inner bailey, Lambert got out of the wedding wagon and assisted Gerberga. The guards threw open the doors of the keep to reveal the servants of the castle lined up on either side of the passage leading into the Great Hall. In the Great Hall there were two chairs of court on the Dias covered by bright drapes of red cloth where the wedding couple would be seated. Smaller chairs were also placed on either side of the court chairs for the parents. Two low tables were there for the food and drink that would be served. The great hearth, before the fireplace, was the only portion of the walls that wasn't filled by tables of by tables of food and wine. The floor was covered with fresh rushes and mint to protect against chill and odor. On the walls were hung great tapestries between the torches that lighted the hall.  

The couple were ushered to the dais and seated. Then their parents also took their seats. Dozens of servants scurried about bringing in cushioned stools for the nobles as they came into the great hall. A small area of the floor was kept clear, just in front of the dais, for receiving the wedding gifts. When the hall was filled to capacity, Reginar lV mounted the dais and called for silence. He spoke and his voice could be easily heard in the furthermost part of the hall. "We have all come to wish the new Duke and Duchess of Brabant the happiness they deserve and I am sure each of you present will want to express their wishes in person. To avoid any confusion my son, Reginar V, will come to each of you in turn so that you may come forward." He nodded to Regi who stood by Baldwin IV Duke of Flanders and Duchess Eleanora. The nobles would be sought out according to rank and power.

Baldwin and Eleanora walked to the foot of the dais and wished the couple a long and happy life together and then Baldwin and Eleanora mounted the dais and Baldwin held out a broadsword toward the new Duke. Its handle was of gold embellished with numerous precious stones. The scabbard and belt were covered with golden designs. Eleanora presented a matching girdle to Gerberga. The gifts were accepted with their thanks and Lambert bade them enjoyment of the feast.

Regi directed the Count and Countess of Cambia and then Namur to follow. He then accompanied his father, in their turn. Regi carried the golden oil lamps and his father carried a large gold tray piled high with food for the ones on the dais to eat along with six gold goblets filled with wine. The tray was placed on a low table on the dais.

The minor Counts of the realm came forward in their turn. The pile of gifts in the form of mantles, goblets, bliaunts, plates, tapestries, fine linens, furs and candle holders of gold and silver grew. Count Lambert's scribe sat next to the dais and recorded each gift and who gave it. Each guest would expect a parting gift of equal value after the wedding feast was over. Many of the gifts were beyond the value of any parting gift that Charles and Lambert had to offer as a parting gift. This was the intent of the giver. It caused the new Duke and Duchess to be in the debt of the giver.

By late afternoon the last of the wedding presents from the nobles had been gratefully received. Duke Charles suggested that Lambert and Gerberga venture out to the inner bailey to meet the knights and their ladies as well as the villains, merchants and others that had come for the wedding feast. Several squires accompanied them. The squires were to carry away any gifts presented.

The atmosphere in the courtyard was much more relaxed. There was on order of rank for greetings in the great hall, but outside the couple was approached by persons as they neared them. Lambert saw Gui and his wife Sarah standing quietly watching him and Gerberga. Gui had taught him to use a broadsword as soon as he was old enough to hold a light one made of wood. He saw Lambert guide Gerberga toward them and beamed his broken-toothed grin. He bowed elegantly. Sarah curtseyed low. After Lambert explained to Gerberga how he owed his life to Gui several times over, Gui was embarrassed by the praise of this now great Lord. He smiled and said "My Sarah has a gift for your new bride if she will be so kind as to accept it.

Sarah held out a small wooden box toward Gerberga. Gerberga took the box with thanks. It was ornately carved and was to hold some object of value to the Duchess.

"Please open it My Lady." spoke Sarah shyly.

Gerberga had not thought the box contained anything, but now lifted the lid. She was astonished to find a beautiful silver cross, which looked like the finest of lace on a silver chain. "It's beautiful." she cried. "I want to wear it now, Could you fasten the clasp for me please Sarah?"

It was Sarah's turn to beam a smile. "I'd be honored to My Lady."

Lambert watched as the pendant was adjusted. It glittered in the late afternoon sunlight. He spoke to Gui, "I have a great favor to ask of you. I would like for you to accompany me to Lovayne and be the Master-at-Arms?"

 "Master-at-Arms?" queried Gui "Isn't that a position that requires a knight? I am only a soldier."

"I intend to bestow you to Knighthood before leaving for Lovayne."

Lambert and Gerberga left the dazed couple and returned to the Great Hall and joined Charles, Bonne, Count Lambert and Regi. Bonne noticed the sparkling pendant worn by Gerberga and asked who had given it to her. When she explained that Gui's wife, Sarah, had given it when they had gone to the courtyard to greet the guests there.

Duke Charles looked puzzled and asked "How could a common soldier's wife afford a gift like that?"

Count Lambert could hardly contain himself as he solemnly stated, "I pay my soldiers quite well."

 None in the group looked more dumbfounded than Duke Charles. "Do you really pay them that well?" he asked.

Bone saw the twinkle in Count Lambert's eyes. She poked Charles. "You’ve got no sense of humor Charles. Don't you realize that Lambert is joking?"

Then they all laughed so loud that others in the great hall stared at them.

Duke Charles changed the subject by asking, "How goes the feast outside?" 

"Some have already had too much wine." interjected Gerberga.

"That's to be expected at a wedding feast. Even our most sedate ladies will be giggling before the eve is over." said Charles.

From the dais came the voice of Count Reginar's son as he shouted like a hawker in the market place. "Nobles and Ladies, we now bring you entertainers from Mons followed by jongleurs to play music for you to dance"

A fellow came on the stage wearing a cape twice the length of a normal mantle. On his head he wore a crown of exaggerated size. In his right hand he carried a royal staff of authority. He did not say a word, but strutted about the stage in a pompous manner. Everyone knew he was suppose to be Hugh Capet and laughed. The mimic seemed to be searching the crowd in the hall with his eyes. Peering first this way and then that. Finally as the laughter for his antics began to wane, he reached inside his cape and pulled out a bishop's peaked cap and held it out for everyone to see. "I've lost my Archbishop. Has anyone seen my Archbishop?" The hall roared with laughter as he left the stage still searching. The Archbishop of Reams had given the winning argument for the election of Hugh Capet as King of France instead of Duke Charles. Charles had stormed and captured Reams in 987 to punish Archbishop Adelbero and Hugh Capet had appointed Arnulf, an illegitimate son of King Luthair to replace him.

Duke Charles laughed louder than anyone else. "I wish Hugh Capet could have seen that." He said with tears of laughter on his cheeks as the next act came on the stage.

After all the performers had entertained, a group of musicians mounted the platform and began to play lively dance music. The dancing then began in the Great Hall. As the numbers of couples increased on the floor the onlookers moved back toward the walls. The dancing was in twos and fours holding hands as the circled round and round to the tempo of the music. The tempo of the music increased every minute or so until the dancers became dizzy and fell down. The last couple to remain on their feet was applauded. Every other dance was slow and sedate with much bowing and kissing of the hand of the ladies. This allowed the dancers to catch their breath between the fast dances.

Outside in the courtyard the entertainment continued in torchlight. The different acts of the performers were going on at different points on the grounds at the same time. Musicians also were playing for dancing. Excessive wine drinking and eating had thinned the crowd somewhat. The marshals of the castle continuously walked around to separate men that started to fight for one reason or another. Usually because of advances made toward a wife or daughter by the unattached men at the feast. However many an advance seemed to have resulted in mutual agreement? There were very few dark corners without a couple wrapped in an embrace.

Eating, drinking and dancing continued on into the night in the Great Hall and outside in the courtyard. Announcements were made in both areas about games scheduled for the following day. The games included billiards, guilles, and tennis. For those with bolder tastes there would be a contest for jousters on the exercise grounds north of the castle. This would be followed by a melee. The announcement caused excitement among the nobles and knights alike. Boasts were made, challenges accepted and many wagers were made.

As the evening came to an end, the Bishop, the bride and groom, their parents and several selected noble ladies went upstairs to the bridal chamber. It was located just above the Great Hall. One of the walls was the chimney of the fireplace in the Great Hall, so it was nice and warm there. The bridal bed was headed against the chimney with its silk draped canopy drawn back. The sheets were of silk and the bed was covered with a fir comforter. On either side were low tables with one of the faceted oil lamps on each instead of the usual night candle. The table on the left had the matching gold tray with sweets and wine.

The Bishop had the couple kneel beside the bed. It was then censed like an altar. The groom, the parents and the Bishop then left so that the selected noble ladies could perform the ancient time honored practice of "putting the bride to bed".

 Gerberga's clothing was removed, leaving her only her chemise. As they undressed her there was much giggling and giving of advice. All of them seemed to speak at once so that Gerberga could not hear everything that was being said. She heard Eleanora of Flanders say "You should pretend to like----", but the rest was lost in a peal of laughter. After the ladies had left the room she remembered sketchy bits of what had been said. She remembered some frightening words used that she didn't know the meaning of and began to sob.

Lambert entered the room and one look at Gerberga caused him to rush to the bedside and enfold her in his arms. "Did they hurt you? Did they do something to you? What is wrong?" She only sobbed louder. He rocked her back and forth as though quieting a baby.

Finally she sobbed "They told me what I'm supposed to do" and she continued to cry.

"There, there, don't cry. You don't need to be told. You'll see."

"How can that be?" pleaded Gerberga.

He released her and gazed into her swollen eyes. "Do you have to tell a rosebud how to bloom or a little bird to sing?" he asked and then continued "No of course not. It all comes naturally. That's the way it will be tonight with us. Everything will happen naturally."

She smiled. "Really? You aren't just saying that?"

"You'll see." he consoled as they reached and clung to each other.

After Gerberga quieted Lambert stood and removed his belt, then his tunic, shirt and boots. He was standing with only his woolen stocking breeches. As she looked on his naked body a warm feeling seemed to spread all through her. She trembled as he crawled beneath the sheets and took her into his arms once more.

Everything did happen naturally. Oh how naturally and wonderfully it happened.

The following morning Lambert and Gerberga were awakened by a loud knocking on the door. It was Duke Charles announcing that their breakfast was ready. "Don't dally." He called and they heard the sound of his boots as he went toward the stairs.

Lambert rolled over and kissed Gerberga. "Good morning Wife." he said as he kissed her once more. He moved his hand to caress her.

"Don't" she protested "if we don't go down right away everyone will look at us in a funny way."

"They will anyway, whether we go down now or later. Just as well be taken for a lion as a lamb I always say." he said as he drew her closer.

"You are my lion." she breathed as she melted in his arms."

Outside the keep the marshals walked through the tent area calling "All jousters make ready." The knights, as well as others, emerged from their tents with aching heads from excess wine. There was many a groan as heads were held between trembling hands. Squires and other lads were on hand with pitchers of cold water to help wash the cobwebs away. Breakfasts were ready on the tables that held the feast of the day before. There were boiled eggs, melted cheese, gruel, bread and fruit. There was also milk, still warm from the cows, for the little children.

The Great Hall was also set for breakfast with the same fare. The nobles trickled in a few at a time. Many in foul moods of the early morning. The castle servants rushed about getting the breakfasts ready, trying to be pleasant to even the grumpy ones, but were not used to being treated in such an ugly manner. Nanette ran into the kitchen where the Countess stood directing the breakfast preparations. "I refuse to serve that noble." she fumed.

"What now?" asked the Countess?

"He not only shouted blasphemous words at me; he whacked me on the ass and told me to move it. Then he__he__he"

"He what?" prompted the Countess.

"He did something to me that was very unchristian."

"What noble did this Nannette?"

"I'd rather not say My Lady, but he'll get no breakfast from me. That will make him think twice before he acts that way again."

Nannette was the widow of one of Count Lambert's knights. Following his death she accepted the position as servant in the castle, but would never be able to lower herself to the position. Perhaps Gerberga would accept her as her personal maid. That would solve the problem quite well. Nannette had refused to marry any one of the knights of Mons who would gladly have accepted her for her fief and beauty, in spite of her quick temper.

As the nobles and ladies finished their breakfasts they returned to their chambers to dress for the jousting contests. They would be in all their finery this day, for they would be on display not only for each other but for the villains gathered to watch the games. There would be firs of ermine, martin, sendel, vair, sable and samite. Jewels would be worn worth the ransom of a king. The gowns of the ladies and the tunics of the men would be richly embroidered with gold and pearls. What right had the nobles to rule if they did not dress in the delight of the common folk.

The exercise ground, outside the castle walls, was a bustle of activity. The area was surrounded by a sea of tents, merchant's stalls and wagons. The villagers for many miles around had come to witness the contests between the knights. A carnival atmosphere prevailed. The crowds that had gathered waited for the arrival of the splendidly dressed nobles. As each Count arrived accompanied by his lady, knights, squires and attendants, the crowds clapped, whistled and cheered. The more splendid the dress the louder the crowd cheered. The nobles and their ladies went to their lodges to be seated along with the knights that were not to participate in the contests. The competing knights would arrive later and go inside the palisades with their squires, grooms and attendants. A large area over a hundred yards long and fifty wide was reserved for them. After the noble guests were all seated the bride and groom arrived. They were preceded by four heralds who sounded a great blare on their trumpets to announce the arrival. The crowd went wild as they cheered the waving couple. As they took their seats in the central lodge, Gerberga said to her mother, "I do wish that Odo had come to my wedding. He always loved the jousting contests."

"It's so unlike him. He didn't even send a messenger with an excuse for his absence. Perhaps there was a matter to be taken care of outside the Dukedom that prevented him from receiving his invitation. That's the only explanation I can think of." answered Bonne.

The heralds returned to the castle and shortly there was a blast of the trumpets to announce their return to the grounds with the knights of the contest. There was a knight from each Dukedom and Countdom over forty in all. They wore brightly colored tunics with their knight's blazon on it. It was a sight to dazzle the eyes. The crowd again went wild.

The knights were divided into two groups and the names of each knight in one of the groups were placed in a basket. Each knight of the other group drew a name from the basket. The Master-at-arms shouted out the names of each pair of knights that would face each other. The winner of each contest would have the choice of accepting a small prize of gold coins or forfeit the smaller prize for a rematch with the winner of another joust which would double the prize. This would continue until the final joust for "Champion of the Joust."

The Marshal in charge of the jousting walked to the area directly in front of the central lodge and bowed low. He then turned toward the crowd and shouted "The jousting this day will be a maximum of three charges for each contest. The first to unhorse his opponent will be declared the winner. If both remain in the saddle after three charges or if both are unhorsed in any one charge, a draw is declared. Neither knight will be eligible for further jousts in this tournament. All lances will be blunted for these contests. Let the jousting begin."

Trumpets sounded on each end of the list. The list was a single rail fence about four feet in height which ran the length of the field. The knights would charge one another with one on each side of this barrier. They would be armed with lance, shield, breastplate and helmet. As the knights came close to each other the lances would be aimed at the other knight's shield. Each knight would try to remain on his horse through the impact.

The first pair to joust was Alaric of Lovayne and Raymond of Ghent. When each had his horse under control his squire held up his hand to signal the marshal.

The spurs were applied and the horses thundered toward each other. Lances were lowered and aimed at the center of the others shield. Then there was a loud cracking explosion as both lances splintered and the horses were thrown off balance upon their haunches. The crowd roared. There were cries of "Fairly broken! Fairly broken! Good show!"

After the knights had their horses again under control they cantered back to their squires for fresh lances. Again they charged and Alaric was knocked from his saddle and landed flat on his back. The roar of the crowd was mixed with groans of desperation from those who wished Alaric to win. The heralds and squires ran to Alaric to see how badly he was hurt. He had the wind knocked out of him but otherwise all right. 

The next contest was between Heribert of Mons and Arnolph of Mepicus. The first two charges resulted in broken lances but the third unhorsed both knights. Heribert's arm was broken and several of Arnolph's teeth were knocked out by the corner of his own shield as it tipped back by the blow from Heribert's lance. "Let's hope our wedding feast doesn't end with a funeral." Gerberga said to Lambert with a grimace.

"I guess it's too much to hope for only bruises in these contests. Those lances strike with dreadful force." answered Lambert. "Just hold tightly to your little cross and hope for the best."

"I'll do more than hope, but today I have an awful feeling of foreboding inside. I don't know why."

As the other jousts continued there were no more serious injuries, but several knights had to be aided off the field by their squires.

The noon break in the contests gave a booming business to the stands of the merchants. Some of the 'would-be entertainers' played their musical instruments, danced or juggled for coins tossed by the onlookers.

 A messenger from the castle came looking for Duke Charles, who was visiting the lodge of Duke Baldwin of Flanders. When he located him he spoke his message quietly into Charles' ear. "What?" yelled Charles and ran all the way back to the central lodge where Bonne waited for his return.

 Charles was gasping for breath when he reached her. "Our son---is---here.---He's wounded." he sputtered.

"Where? How?" pleaded Bonne as she gathered his arm and forced him to sit.

"Don't know! A messenger just came from the castle, no details. Must go to him now."

Count Lambert had heard what Charles had said and sent for a page for a wagon with a fast pair of horses. Charles was in no condition to go anywhere under his own power.

Everyone within earshot passed on the news and it grew with each telling. Moments later a wagon drew up beside the lodge and as many of the central lodge, as could, piled into it before the driver whipped the horses into a fast gallop toward the castle gates. Others ran behind on foot.

Charles seemed much better by the time they reached the keep. Duke Lambert and Gerberga helped him from the wagon and they all went inside to the Great Hall. Otto lay on a couch that had been set near the fireplace. Only his head, wrapped in bloody linen cloth was visible above a fir coverlet, but the fir shook with the shivers of the body beneath.

Charles knelt by the bed. "Son" he said softly, hoping that Otto was able to hear.

Otto opened his eyes and looked at Charles. He managed a weak smile. "Don't look so worried Father. I'll be all right once I get this ice out of my bones."

"Bring hot wine." Charles snapped to no one in particular. "He needs something inside to help warm his blood."

Wine was mixed with hot water for Otto to sip and shortly his shivering body quieted down.

"Can you tell me what happened?" asked Charles.

"This bump on my head makes my memory fuzzy, but from the bits that I recall, we were attacked by robber knights while we were camped outside Avesnes on our way to Valenciennes to join you for the journey to Hornu. There must have been fifteen or twenty of them. We were taken by surprise."

"How many knights did you have with you?" asked Charles.

"Only six Father. I wanted to travel fast and saw no need for more."

"How did you manage to get away?"

"Were all your knights killed?" interrupted Count Lambert.

"No, two were only knocked unconscious. They brought me here." He looked around and asked "Where are they? Are they all right?"

Nannette answered from behind the group that surrounded Otto "They are in the kitchen with Cook eating. They were near starved I think." She looked at Bonne and inquired "Shouldn't I bring Count Otto some food also?"

"That's thoughtful of you. Please do." Bonne answered.

Gerberga pushed her way to Otto's side. There were tears in her eyes as she asked "Are you sure you are all right Odo?"

"Other than an aching head I am little sister." He smiled and said "I'm sorry I missed your wedding. Will you forgive me?"

She knelt by his side and squeezed his hand as more tears ran down her smiling cheeks.

"Don't cry." he pleaded. "I promise I'll come to your next one."

"Oh you!" she said as she laughingly pretended to strike his chest.

Their light hearted exchange lifted some of the gloom from the room.

Nannette rushed in with a tray filled with enough food to feed and army. Duke Charles and Gerberga stepped quickly out of her way so that she could get to Otto's couch.

There was no table on which to place the tray so Nannette sat on the edge of the couch and held the tray on her lap.

Odo tried to sit up but found that movement caused sharp pains in his head. He put his head back down. His face paled as he placed his hand on the blood soaked linen bandage.

"Don't move" prompted Nannette "I'll feed you."

Odo didn't protest as Nannette held out a piece of buttered bread that she had dipped in honey. After he swallowed she offered a cup of hot cinnamon tea. He sipped and asked with surprise "What's that? I like it." The color was brought back to his cheeks by the cinnamon.

His family smiled at his reaction and Count Lambert explained the drink and the circumstance that it was obtained.

"It smells like a heady perfume doesn't it?" said Odo.

"See I'm not the only one to think that." said Lambert to Charles." And they both laughed.

Odo ate only a small amount of the food before he said that he was full and didn't need any more.

"Let's allow Odo some rest now." said Bonne. "Maybe we should get him an herb tea to help him sleep."

"No! Not after a bash on the head." said Count Lambert. "If he sleeps we will have to awaken him every hour or so to be sure he's all right. If his eyes look dazed we will call a physician. I've taken care of many a head injury before."

"We'll be near." soothed Bonne as she nodded toward the table enclosure by the kitchen door.

"I will stay by the couch and watch him for you My Lady." offered Nannette.

With this method of care arranged, they all went toward the back of the hall.

Duke Charles and Count Lambert went to the kitchen to question the two knights that brought Count Otto to Hornu.

The two knights rose to their feet as the nobles entered the kitchen. Charles recognized one of the knights. "Sir Girard, thank you for seeing my son safely here. This is Count Lambert, the father-in-law of my daughter Gerberga." He looked toward the other knight.

"Your Highness, this is Sir Olivier of Remich. We were lucky to be left alive to come here. All of us fought well but there were too many of them for the seven of us. If we had been twelve instead of seven, we would have won."

"Don't blame yourselves Girard. I'm sure you did as well as could be expected. Do you remember seeing a blazon on any of their tunics that was familiar to either of you?"

"Most of them wore mail but the one that seemed to be their leader had a blazon of Dijon." answered Girard.

"Dijon supports Hugh Capet. I wonder if he had a hand in this. Odo said one of them used the word "Hostage' and not ransom when they thought he was dead. But I can't see how or why Hugh Capet sent robber knights to do something like this."

Lambert spoke. "Didn't my brother speak to you about Hugh's possible reaction to Gerberga's marriage to my son?"

"No. What possible difference could it make to him?

Lambert then expressed Reginar's fears for Charles' life if Hugh Capet thought ties were being made to raise an army to defeat him.

"We should dispatch knights to the area around Avesnes to capture Hugh's knights and make them talk."

"It's too late now Charles. If they were under Hugh's orders they will have returned to Paris by now to report their failure. But mind you that you don't give Hugh the chance to get at you." stated Lambert.

"Don't worry about me. I always travel with at least forty knights." He turned to Girard and Oliver "If you remember anything else that may be of help send word to me at once."

After saying this he and Lambert returned to the Great Hall. On the way in he said to Lambert. "I'm glad that Hugh feels uneasy on the throne. Rightly, as the heir to the throne I should be King of France, but I would never try to take the throne by force unless Hugh starts to conduct affairs in a way that would be the ruin of France."

"Hugh Capet must know well that you could mount an army of at least fifteen thousand, maybe even twenty thousand."

"Yes but thousands would perish on both sides. I'll not be the cause of that."

Duke Lambert saw his father and met him with "I think some of us should return to the exercise grounds. We are the hosts and I'm sure our guests wonder what has happened."

"Perhaps you and I and your mother could go now, but I'm sure that Odo's father and mother would want to remain here with their son. Gerberga would like to be here also."

Count Lambert explained the plan to everyone and Reginar said that he and Regi would also return to the contests.

The marshal of the jousting came to the front of the central lodge as they again took their seats. "May we continue the jousting My Lord or is there a period of mourning declared? The rumors that fly about have Count Otto dead and even have us under attack by some powerful army. Please tell us what is true."

"We feared that some such tales might have been spoken as fact. The truth is that Count Otto and a few knights he traveled with were attacked by robber knights. Four of his knights were slain and Count Otto received a severe blow to the head, but is recovering. Announce that to our guests and then let the jousting continue." said Count Lambert.

"Thank you My Lord. The final jousts are now beginning. There are only two more before the melee begins."

The marshal then returned to his position and the trumpets blared. This time the silence of the crowd was total. Everyone listened to hear what the marshal had to say. "Let all your fears be calmed. Count Otto was attacked by robbers, but is recovering. All other tales are untrue. The next joust is for a third time win between Rupert of Namur and Raymond of Gent."

Before the announcement was finished Duke Baldwin was in their lodge. "Had to come over for this joust. No one will unseat our Raymond. He sits a horse like it is part of him. Just watch his skill."

In this joust Rupert feigned a thrust to the right side of Raymond's shield and a moment before it struck he shifted the point of the lance to the left. The lance tipped Raymond's aside and then struck his breast plate. There was a 'whoop' sound from Raymond's throat louder than the crash of the lance as his breath rushed out.  He lost all control of his body and went flying through the air landing with an ominous thud. The squires rushed to his still form and moments later Raymond's squire lifted his hand to signal the marshal that Raymond was still alive. There had been more shouts of 'foul play' than cheers for Rupert. This didn't daunt Rupert. He pranced his horse back and forth awaiting his next and last joust against Godard of Cambri, the other three time winner of the jousts.

Godard's page ran to the marshal and spoke to him. The marshal lifted his hands, the trumpets blared and he announced "Godard of Cambri has decided against another joust." There were boos groans from the crowd. The marshal continued "It is his right to decline. Therefore I declare Rupert of Namur 'Champion by Default'."

Rupert rode to the marshal's position before the central lodge and shouted "Is there no one among you that is not a coward and will ride against me for a wager equal to my prize monies?"

Count Lambert spoke to Duke Baldwin "He knows that only a noble could make such a large wager."

"That's an unsightly act if ever there was one." answered Baldwin.

"The challenge is accepted." shouted the marshal.

Lambert and Baldwin turned to see the new Duke of Brabant standing by the marshal. His squire and groom were rushing to the list with his horse and armor.

"You've always said he is the best in all of Lorraine," answered Young Reginar, "and also he was out of the lodge like an arrow. I couldn't have stopped him if Id tried."

When Lambert's armor was on and he was astride his favorite horse, Thunder, the squire signaled the marshal.

The marshal looked toward Rupert's squire and received a signal from him. "Charge, for champion of the day, in the name of God and Saint Waudru."

The mighty war horses surged forward kicking great clods of turf into the air. Lambert watched the eyes of Rupert to determine his point of trust as he aimed his own lance by rout. He leaned into the blow, decreasing a little force of Rupert's lance arm as well as increasing force of his own lance. His lance shattered while Rupert's held. Instantly he braced, as the lance struck against the change of force direction and wasn't unseated. Rupert didn't react in time and was knocked in a slow arching spiral before he struck the ground head first.

Lambert wheeled his mount in time to see him strike the ground. He realized that he was willing the man dead, that he had considered him an enemy, not as a guest of his wedding. The thought sobered him and he leaped from Thunder's back and rushed to Rupert's side to be sure that he lived.

By the time that he reached him, Rupert was sitting up shaking the shower of stars out of his head. He looked at Lambert and smiled. "Well done My Lord Duke. Please forgive me for my challenge outburst. I was angry with Goddard for declining the final joust. I didn't want the championship by default. I'm sorry if I angered you."

Duke Lambert helped Rupert to his feet and walked him toward the marshal as the crowd cheered.

Count Lambert's heart swelled to bursting with pride. "That's my son." He stated loudly to everyone in the central lodge. 

When a break in the festivities came, before the melee was to begin, the merchants were happy with the delay as they again were swamped with crowds of guests. They listened to the talk about the last joust. Duke Lambert was the hero of the day and the knights and squires of Lovayne wore their silver bar blazon with greater pride than ever before, as they walked through the crowds where  they basked in some of the Duke's glory for being in his service. Small groups of villains, squires and attendants from the other Countdoms and Dukedoms clustered about each of them to ask questions of his prowess in battle. His men gladly sang his praise and before the break was over, it was a well established fact that Duke Lambert was not only the best in the joust in all Lorraine; he was also the best swordsman.

After an hour the trumpets sounded to announce that the crowds should return to watch the melee. When all the nobles were seated in their lodges the marshal took his position before the central lodge. Following the trumpeted call for silence, he announced, "The melee this day will be between the knights chosen by Duke Baldwin of Flanders and Duke Charles of Lorraine. You will see a mounted charge between the two forces of forty knights each, followed by battle on foot with swords that have rounded edges and rounded tips. There will be no winner. The battle will stop at the trumpeted signal."

 

The knights of each Duke took their places at either end of the exercise grounds; their horses were the only ones that thought the battle was real and pranced about snorting in nervous anticipation. A well trained battle horse was essential in the unhorsing of an enemy and these were the best trained in both Dukedoms.

The trumpets sounded and the marshal shouted "Let the melee begin. Charge in the name of God."

The roar of the pounding hoofs was deafening as the two forces charged toward each other. The battle cries of Flanders and Lorraine filled the air. The banner of Lorraine was carried by Eudes of Tournai and the banner of Flanders by Etienne of Ghent. The crowd was seeing a battle without the death and bloodshed of the real thing. When the lines reached each other and lances struck shields, almost half of the knights in both sides were knocked to the ground. The war horses that had lost their mounts then played their part in the battle. Whinnying and slamming shoulder and side into opposing mounts, trying to throw the other horses off their feet and unhorse the knight on its back. Downed knights continued the mock battle with their swords. Some were still mounted but most were on foot. Grooms caught and calmed horses as they left the melee. Squires rushed in to help the knights that had been knocked down by flaying hoofs and could not remain on their feet. A dense cloud of dust formed almost blinding some of the knights. Their 'good-natured' blows, with their practice swords, often missed the targeted sword or shield and struck the head or shoulder of their opponent. The marshal noted that tempers were starting to flare and signaled the heralds to blow their trumpets to end the melee. A few knights continued to fight in anger, but were quickly stopped by their fellow knights. No knights were seriously injured but the leeches would be kept busy with all the bruises from sword and hoof.

The crowd cheered the knights as they left the scene of battle. It had been a performance they would not soon forget.

When the cheering died away the marshal announced that all were invited into the castle grounds for refreshments and entertainments. The merchants began to close their stalls and repack their wagons. Nobles and villains walked together the short distance to the castle gates. The nobles continuing on to the castle's keep while the knights and commoners headed for the tented tables of food and drink. The musicians began to play and the performers mounted their stands to entertain the guests.

In the Great Hall Count Otto became the center of attention. His head had been bandaged with fresh linen and herbs. The dried blood and dust from his attack had been washed away. Everyone asked questions at the same time so all he could do was smile and thank them for their concern.

Those that had remained in the castle for the time of the jousting and melee were informed of Duke Lamberts joust. On hearing about it Gerberga rushed around to find Lambert. "Are you all right?" she asked him.

"Not a scratch or a bruise." he replied as he put his arm around her. "Come, let's get something to eat. I'm hungry enough to eat a horse."

Lambert's mother saw them as Lambert filled his platter with food. She came over to Lambert's side. "What ever possessed you to do a thing like that? You could have been badly hurt." she chastised.

"Oh Mother, I wasn't hurt, and that Rupert needed to be taught a lesson. Even a good pitcher that goes to often to the well gets broken. You should be proud of me. Everyone else seems to think I'm some sort of a hero." he laughed.

"You'll always be my hero,' she sighed, "but I do wish you wouldn't take such risks. You could have been badly hurt."

The evening continued much as the previous one. The celebration showed signs of fatigue, very early, due to the lack of sleep the previous night and the day's excitement. There was a lot more gathering in small groups talking than dancing. The suspicions concerning the attack on Count Otto were the most popular topic of conversation. Members of Duke Baldwin's court were asked questions because of the connections that they had with Hugh Capet's court and the Norman house. They and the Norman Dukes had envoys to the court of Hugh Capet in Paris and could keep a finger on the pulse of the new regime. The general conception, that had been received, was that Hugh Capet was uneasy on the throne and was capable of anything that would insure the quelling of the power of Duke Charles. The group of knights that had attacked thought that they had killed Otto. If that fact is reported back to Hugh, he would really be worried. Charles would be thought to have the motive of revenge as well as a desire for the Crown of France.

"Hugh had better thank his lucky stars that Otto wasn't killed" said Count Lambert "If Otto was killed at the bid of Hugh, and we knew that it was his order, Paris would be put under siege so fast that Hugh wouldn't have the time to rally sufficient defense to withstand it."

"Flanders would join your attack within days and I'm almost certain that Normandy would want a piece of the pie," answered Duke Baldwin. None of us have any love or loyalty for the new crown."

The group saw Charles coming their way and the conversation stopped. Charles smiled as he approached. "It's been a long day for all of us, so I think that it is time to get Odo bedded down for the night in a quiet chamber and then my wife and I will also retire. Sorry to have to leave the festivities so early."

"Think nothing of it" answered Lambert "I'll see to accommodations for Otto. In fact I think Bonne and my wife have already seen to the preparation of a chamber."

He bade the rest of the nobles to give their pardon and left the group with Charles. 

 

Tuesday morning was overcast and a northeasterly wind was blowing. The winters of late seemed to be colder than anyone could remember. The weather got cold long before Christmas and the spring was later each year. Those that were staying in the tents clustered around the cook fire, carried embers to start smaller fires throughout the tent area for warmth. Water was boiled to make herbal teas that would ward off the ague like fevers and chills that were brought on by exposure to the winter weather. Some of the children already had runny noses and were sneezing. The clouds promoted fears of snow. Many had quite a distance to travel before they would reach the comfort and warmth of their own hearth. The excitement of the previous day was absent this morning and many had hopes that the nobles would decide on an end to the feast so that the journey home could begin.

 However the excitement began to rebuild when Count Lambert and his son the Duke came outside with several servants to bring out archery targets from one of the bailey sheds. As they set up the targets at one end of the game area, the marshals went throughout the area announcing an archery contest that would be open to all from knights to villains. A prize of gold would be awarded to the winner. "Seek out the castle scribe at the entrance of the keep to register for the archery contest." the marshals called out again and again. A line quickly formed at the entrance as the archers of the nobles as well as the huntsmen of the realm, eager to pit their skill against others, rushed to register. An hour later the contest was ready to begin. The nobles were seated on benches to the left of the targets while others took positions around the contest area. There were ten targets placed on hay backing so that ten archers could compete at once.

The heralds took their position beside the marshal of games and blew a long blast on their trumpets.

The marshal faced the nobles and announced, "The archery contest to decide the best archer of Lorraine and Flanders will now begin. The starting line-up will be Robert son of Huntsman Robert of Mons, Henri an archer of Lovayne, Hugues of Ghent, Jean a huntsman of Namur, Pierre an archer of Brussels, Phillipe of Tourant, Rodolphe a huntsman of Ellezelles, Etienne a huntsman of Nijvel, Thibaut a huntsman of Tamiset Guillaume an archer of Burgers and Albert a bow maker in Valenciennes." He then turned to face the line of contestants and continued, "Three arrows will be shot by each contestant. All three will be scored. The contestant with the highest score will compete in the finals. If there is a tie, both contestants will be in the finals. String your bows, nock your arrows and begin the contest."

Count Lambert watched his scout, Robert, as he took aim at the target. Robert wanted to be an archer for Mons, but his stealth as a scout made him far too valuable in that position. Robert's first arrow pierced the center of the target. Count Lambert poked Regi with his elbow. "Did you see where Robert's first arrow struck?"

"Yes I did. So you're watching him too? He has his heart set on being one of your archers. You must admit he is good. I wager that he will win this round with ease."

"What wager?"

"If he's best of these ten, you make him one of your archers."

"But he's too good as a scout."

"You know he will win don't you?"

"I'm not all that sure. There are some real experts in this line up. Just look at the number that struck center in the first volley."

"Then is it a wager or not?"

"Accepted." answered Count Lambert.

Duke Lambert heard the wager. "You two will bet on anything." he laughed.

"Not anything, only things of importance." retorted Regi.

They all watched as Robert nocked his second arrow and took aim. The arrow struck center about an inch from the first. They quickly checked the other targets and saw that Albert the bow maker's arrow was just below his first that was dead center.

Duke Charles had also noted the tie with the first two arrows. My bow maker seems quite good. Would you care to make a wager for your Robert against my Albert?"

Duke Lambert grasped Charles' hand. "I'll wager my horse Thunder, against your black stallion. Is the wager acceptable?"

"Accepted." answered Duke Charles.

 Robert was already taking aim when Charles accepted the wager, but Albert was still checking his third arrow for trueness. Robert's arrow flew toward the target and struck between the first two.

"Albert will never beat that." stated Regi.

"Would you care to wager also?" asked Charles. But before a wager could be made, Albert let his arrow fly. It struck the target a little to the left of his first.

After all the contestants had taken three shots, the judges rushed out to take measurements of three targets. Etienne of Nijvel had a center cluster also. The first to be measured was Robert's, then Etienne's and last Albert's. There was a short discussion between the judges. There was a rumble of voices in the crowd as wagers were being quickly made. The judges measured the target of Albert and then returned to Robert's to check their measurements. There were groans in the crowd from those that had chosen Atienne. After the judges completed their measurements they went to the marshal and spoke with him. He nodded to heralds for a trumpet blast.

"There is a tie in the first round between Robert son of Robert the Huntsman of Mons and Albert the bow maker of Valenciennes. Both will be in the finals."

There were groans and cheers from the crowd. Regi spoke to Duke Charles, "I guess you both keep your horse." Then he added to Count Lambert, "Poor Robert will just have to learn to be content being a scout."

Count Lambert pulled his beard, "I don't know about that. He is very good with that bow. I think I'll make him an archer, anyway I can always ask him to scout if I really have a need for his talent in that line."

The elimination rounds continued through over a hundred contestants. The guests that had little interest in archery were playing other games in the area near the archery contest. The most popular guilles. It was played by setting up nine pins at even intervals in the shape of a triangle; a curved stick was then thrown at the pins from a measured distance to see how many pins could be knocked over with two throws of the stick. Men and women, old and young alike, loved to play this game. The children played games with balls. Tossing the balls to each other, at targets or high in the air checking to see how high the ball was thrown by counting 'one and two and three and four' until the ball struck the ground. The longest in the air, the winner. Dice games were scattered about with men making wagers on their luck.

The feast tables were kept filled with food and drink, so the guests left their games to get refreshments and then returned to the games while still eating or drinking.

By the afternoon the archery contest had progressed to the finals. There were several ties in the initial line-ups, so three semi-final contests were held to eliminate all but two archers. The 'Grand Final' between two archers caused a lot of excitement. The guests that had been playing other games were caught up in the tension and came to watch. Both Robert of Mons and Albert of Valenciennes had been eliminated in the semi-finals. Leonard archer of Ghent and Louis archer of Cambri were to shoot their arrows at a single target. Leonard's arrow shafts were stained red to avoid any dispute as to which archer shot which arrows. The trumpets sounded and the marshal shouted, "The final competition for the prize as best archer will now be held. By the throw of a die the first to shoot will be Louis of Cambri. Leonard of Ghent will follow with his first shot. The nearest to the center will then shoot his second arrow first. Let the final begin."

Leonard's first arrow was at least a hand span further from the center than the arrow of Lewis. Lewis nocked his second arrow; but before he could draw his bow, a gusty cold wind began to blow at an angle to the target. He lowered his bow and called for wind pennons. Leonard protested to no avail because Lewis was within his rights. Pennons were set to four positions. Two were placed to either side of the line of the target. When the pennons were in place Lewis nocked his arrow and took careful  aim before releasing the bow string. The arrow struck the target at almost the same spot that Leonard's first arrow stood. Leonard stepped forward as a few feathery snowflakes swirled down on the game field. He hesitated a moment to pull his hood a little higher protecting his eyes from any snowflake that might strike his face as he aimed. His aim was true for the wind correction. The arrow struck the target dead center. There was a multi-throated 'oooh' from the crowd. It was obvious that the pressure now placed upon Leonard was unnerving him. He studied the wind pennons and then looked at the clouds that were giving an ever increasing flurry of snow. He nocked his last arrow, repositioned his feet and took aim. The arrow struck the target right beside his previously centered arrow. The crowd cheered. The contest was won. There was no way Lewis could best or even tie him. The trumpets blared, but the marshal had to wait several minutes before he could be heard above the cheers from the men of Flanders.

"The winner of the contest for best archer of Lorraine and Flanders is Leonard of Ghent."

The crowd now cheered again as Leonard stepped forward to accept his prize presented by both Charles and Baldwin.

 

The snow stopped as Count Lambert and Duke Charles walked back toward the keep. There was only a thin white layer on the ground. Duke Baldwin saw his two hosts together and hurried to join them. "If this snowfall is any indication of what's to come in the next few days my group may have a hard go of it on our way north." he said with a worried sound in his voice.

"I had a boar hunt with the hounds planned for the morrow, but the cold wind that now blows will have the ground frozen by morning. It will be very cold this night for those in the tents. Perhaps the rest of our plans should be canceled in the name of prudent consideration for all the guests. What say you Baldwin?"

"As much as I like to hunt, I know that it is in the best interest of all to make this our final night."

"Then it's settled" stated Lambert. He looked around for his son and saw him a short distance away. "Lambert, my boy "he called to get his son's attention, "could we speak with you a moment?"

Duke Lambert left Gerberga and ran to his father. "What Father?" he asked.

"We were just discussing the weather and have decided to end the festivities after tonight. Will you and Gerberga mind too much?"

"We were just wondering about how the snow was going to affect the celebration. Frankly I feel that your plan is a wise one."

"Good. Send someone to Mons to ask the entertainers from Lovayne to come to Hornu and give our guests a final treat."

"That won't be necessary Father. They are already here. They came to watch the archery contest. I'll go and find them and get them to get ready for the evening."

"Tell them to come to the Great Hall early. The festivities will be ending early to allow everyone a good night's rest before they leave tomorrow. I’m sure that some will want to leave shortly after dawn. 

A cold wind blew the snow that had fallen during the night. Those in the tent area had to brush it off the tents before taking them down. The tent poles were then attached to the high side boards of their wagons to form arches and the tent skins were stretched over these to give protection from the elements for those inside the wagon. Bedding was then placed on the floors of the wagon beds to keep out the cold from beneath. The wagons for the nobles who stayed inside the castle were prepared the same way. The cold wind made hands cold very quickly and the workers returned to the fires frequently to warm and message the aches away.

Duke Lambert and Gerberga came outside, followed by several servants carrying parting gifts for the guests. They visited all the wagons of the knights and thanked them for coming to the wedding feast. They were chilled to the bone by the time they got back to the great hall and rushed to the hearth of the great fireplace to get warm. Count Otto's couch was already set up by the fire. "Come Little Sister, sit here and share my couch.

"Are you better this morning Odo?" she asked her brother after her shivers had subsided.

"I'm quite recovered this morning, but Mother insists that I remain on this couch for the rest of the day. Have you had breakfast? If not, you are welcome to part of mine. Nanette seems to think I have starved these past few days or that food will cure all ills. Just look at all the food she has piled on my tray."

"Thanks, but I ate before you came down. We had to go out early in order to give out parting gifts to the groups leaving at first light. I don't envy them traveling in this weather."

"Don't speak too soon," spoke Lambert, "we will be leaving for Lovayne on the morrow and the weather isn't likely to improve. I fear it will get even colder with a great deal of snow."

Duke Charles came over to the fire and spoke to Lambert. "We have distributed the parting gifts to the nobles already and now your Cousin Baldwin's group is ready to leave. Come and bid them a good journey."

Lambert and Gerberga followed him outside the great hall to the reception room at the door of the keep. Duchess Bonne, Count Lambert, his Countess, Count Reginar and Regi were already there. The departing wishes were a muddled din of conversation.  "There you are!" cried Duchess Eleanora. We've had a wonderful time at your wedding feast, but now it's time for us to leave."

'Thank you." answered Gerberga. "We hope you have a good journey back to Flanders. Maybe we will come to the fair in Ghent next fall and we'll get to see you then."

"We'll definitely come to the fair." interjected Lambert. "I'll send a messenger to burger and let Baldwin know when we will arrive."

"And when you come to the fair you must stay in my castle." spoke Baldwin.

"That's a promise." said Lambert as he accompanied Baldwin to the door of the keep.

Outside the knights and wagons were all lined up in readiness to depart. The Duke and his Counts mounted up as the ladies were assisted into the wagons. The fir bed robes were tucked around them and the children. The procession got under way with a last moment exchange of good wishes.

All the guests were gone before mid-morning. A light powdery snowfall began as the last guests left the castle gates. Within the hour the footprints and tracks of the horses and wagons quickly disappeared. The servants had begun to clean and put away all the paraphernalia brought out for special occasions. The tapestries were left on the walls for the winter months to help keep out the cold. With everything almost back to normal, the family would relax. Nannette brought out mugs of cinnamon tea to the table in the enclosure by the kitchen door and took a mug to Count Otto.

"Father we would like to take one person with us to Lovayne when we leave, if it's all right with you." said Duke Lambert.

"Your mother and I were talking about that very same thing last night. I haven't talked to Nannette about it yet, but I'm sure she will want to go."

"Nannette, but---"

"Your mother thinks that she would prefer being Gerberga's personal maid. And we think it would be to her liking and also more proper for her station in life."

Gerberga laughed. "You two are talking about different people, but it would be wonderful to have Nannette go with us. That is if she would like the change."

Count Lambert looked at his son. "Then who did you have in mind?"

"I considered Gui, but let's get this thing about Nannette out of the way." He turned to his mother, "Could you ask Nannette to join us so that we may ask her?"

The Countess rang the bell and Nannette came in. "Yes My Lady?"

"Bring another mug of cinnamon tea and join us."

"But I couldn't--It wouldn't be proper."

"It will be all right Nannette," spoke Count Lambert, "for once, do as you are told."

"Ye—yes My Lord." stammered Nannette as she hurried back into the kitchen.

Duke Charles frowned. "You aren't very strict on keeping servants in their place around here, are you?" he said and then smiled.

Bonne jerked his tunic.

"Well they aren't." retorted Charles.

"Where should I sit?" asked Nannette returning with her tea.

Gerberga moved over one chair and said "Sit here between the Countess and me."

Count Lambert cleared his throat and said "We were wondering if you would consider returning to Lovayne with our new Duke and Duchess and be Gerberga's personal maid."

"I'd love to do that, but who would look out for my fife."

"Don't worry about your fife. I'll see it while you are away"

Count Lambert turned to his son. "Now that Nannette's situation is settled; what's this about Gui?"

"I would like have Gui come to Lovayne and take over as Marshal of Arms, Father."

"But he isn't a knight Son."

"I know Father, but it is my intention to grant him knighthood before we leave for Lovayne. You know that he knows more about the use of weapons than anyone; and he has the knack of being able to teach others his skills. If it wasn't for his training, my joust with Rupert would have had a much different outcome His training in the use of broadsword and shield has saved my life on several occasions."

"Then why not have him go as trainer under the present Marshal of Arms?"

"Sir Arnold is getting far too old for the job and anyway he'd never accept Gui's more practical ideas of weapon usage. I think Gui would make an excellent Marshal of Arms."

"Then I bow to your wish." granted count Lambert. "You may have Gui."

"Not only servants but soldiers as well!" Charles exclaimed. "The class system is falling apart."

"Charles" protested Bonne.

"Well it's true. The more freedoms granted to subjects, the more they will want. Mark my words; there will be trouble in the future if this continues to happen. Soldiers, servants, serfs and villains should be kept in their place. Don't you agree Lambert?"

"To some extent," answered Count Lambert, "but the younger generations aren't as firmly fixed in their way of thinking as we are."

"That would seem quite obvious." replied Charles.

"Son, arrange for Gui's ceremony to knighthood this day, so that you and Gerberga can be on your way on the morrow." Count Lambert said to stop any further discussion. He knew that Charles could become very angry and, as Duke of Lorraine, order his son not to knight Gui, should the debate continue. He wanted to avoid another rift in the ranks of Lorraine.

"I'll do that right now." said Young Lambert as he got up from the table to leave.

Lambert sent messengers to bring Count Lambert's Marshal of Arms, the jongleurs of Lovayne, the servant in charge of raiment and Gui. He also had his man servant prepare a hot bath in the bridal chamber.

Sir Edmond, Marshal-at-Arms, was the first to come. "Yes My Lord?" he asked.

"This day I am bestowing knighthood on Gui and will require suitable armor for him. Bring a blank shield, a shield of Lovayne, a helmet, a hauberk, gold spurs, sword and white sword belt."


"Did you say 'knighthood for Gui; our Gui My Lord'?"

"Yes, our Gui." smiled Lambert. "He returns with me to Lovayne."

"That is good My Lord. He will be a fine knight if ever there was one."

"Then you approve?"

"Most certainly My Lord. I'll get the armor right away." said Sir Edmond as he turned to leave.

Matilda, the servant in charge of raiment was just coming through the door as Sir Edmond left. She made a curtsey first to Sir Edmond and then to Duke Lambert.

"Matilda, do you still have the raiment that I wore the day I became a knight?"

"All except your boots are in a chest with cedar chips. You wore the boots afterwards."

"Good bring the clothing to my chamber. Do you know what size boot will fit Gui?"

"Yes My Lord. I have his footprint on a paper with those of the other soldiers and can bring a pair to fit. It's true then that he is to be a knight?"

"True Matilda. You've heard?"

"Yes My Lord. The whole castle is buzzing." she giggled.

"Then hurry and bring the clothes. Go, go, go." he shooed her out the door laughing.

When Gui finally arrived he was out of breath. "Sorry for taking so long My Lord, I was with the grooms giving the horses their exercise. Riding in the cold crisp morning air is quite enjoyable. Did you wish me to do something for you?"

“Quite the reverse Gui.” Today I make you my knight.”

“Someone must inform Sarah so that she will be prepared.”

"Why of course. I hadn't thought of that I’ll get Mother to see that she is properly dressed for the occasion. Thanks for reminding me."

As Duke Lambert went toward the stairs he almost ran into Matilda bringing the clothing for Gui. "Matilda, after you deliver those to the bridal chamber, come to the great hall and see which gown of Mother's can be given to Gui's wife, Sarah, and then take it to her. Tell Sarah that the ceremony will be at noon."

"Very good My Lord."

At the bottom of the stairs Lambert met the jongleurs. He told them what was to occur and bade them come to the hall before noon. Half an hour before noon the knights of the castle along with their ladies began to arrive in the great hall. The galleries began to fill with the soldiers, servants, serfs and their families. No one wanted to miss the ceremony. This was a day of wonderment for it proved beyond doubt that even the low-born could become knights.

Sarah came in and Lambert would not have recognized her but for the gown that he knew as his mother's. Her bearing was not that of a soldier's wife. She looked a Lady from head to toe. Her long brown hair was braided with golden cords and the braids hung down past her shoulders. The gown was a bright blue held at the waist by a golden girdle. Her shoes were embroidered also with golden threads. She smiled as many of the women aahed and oohed. She went to the Countess to thank her for the clothing and seek her approval.

As noon approached, everyone was present and in their places. Otto was allowed to get up from his couch to participate in the ceremony. Two heralds blew the trumpets to announce the ceremony and the jongleurs raised a clamor with symbols, drums and other noise makers. All was music and animation.

Duke Lambert, Duke Charles, Count Otto and Count Lambert were on the platform at the end of the hall. Gui entered the hall and approached the base of the platform followed by Sir Edmond and three knights of the castle with their squires.

When all reached the stand, Sir Edmond kissed Gui and then knelt and placed two golden spurs on Gui's boots. Two of the knights then stepped forward and pulled a hauberk over Gui's head. It was made of soft leather and shiny metal discs sewed on the outside like fish scales to protect the wearer from the blows of sword or the points of arrows upon his head. They placed an equally shinny helmet adorned with precious stones. The remaining knight then girded Gui with a sword from a white leather belt. "Use this sword worthily." he said as he buckled it in place. Gui withdrew the sword and kissed the hilt as a token to his promise.

The knights and squires stepped back as the musicians gave another mighty crash of music. Duke Lambert stepped forward and indicated that Gui was to mount the platform. Gui climbed the steps and knelt before him. "Bow your head and I will give you the blow." ordered Duke Lambert as he lifted his clinched fist high above his head. Gui bowed his head meekly before Duke Lambert. His meekness was tested by a great blow that knocked him reeling. The crowd shouted as the blow was delivered. Before he had completely recovered from the stroke, Duke Lambert seized him in a comradely embrace. "Be brave, Sir Gui. Always remember that you are in the service of famous seigniors and vassals and do nothing base. Honor all knights. Give to the poor. Love God."

Happily Gui replied "Thank you My Lord, and may God hear you. Let me always serve and love him." Gui left the stand and marched toward the door of the hall. The crowd rushed out behind him to watch him mount his stead. Gui waited until all were outside before he attempted his leap. Following the ceremony a knight was to mount his horse without putting foot to stirrup It was not easy for a young knight and many, in the crowd, wondered if Sir Gui could make such a leap. Sir Gui ran across the short distance to where his horse was held by a groom. With a seemingly easy leap he was in the saddle.

 

"Done, fairly mounted." shouted the crowd as Sir Gui was handed a blank shield by his new squire, He rode back to Duke Lambert and dismounted. He bowed low and, in spite of the solemnest of the occasion, he smiled. His squire took his blank shield as Duke Lambert stepped forward with the shield of Lovayne and handed it to Gui. "Serve Brabant well, Sir Gui." 

Duke Charles announced, "Bonne and I will remain here at Hornu for a few more days to be sure that Odo is fully recovered before we return to our castle with him, so I want my knights of Lorraine to accompany you to Lovayne."

As Duke Lambert started to protest Duke Charles held up his hand to quiet him and continued, "Twenty knights of Lovayne is not sufficient protection for all the treasures in the wagons. We would not sleep for worry if you refuse so don't try to dissuade me. No one can be considered safe after the attack on Odo. Please let us have our way."

"Very well Father," consoled Gerberga, "but I'm sure the twenty knights of Lovayne would be able to protect us against twice their number, if we were attacked by robbers."

"You may be right, but with sixty we will sleep peacefully here at Hornu."

Odo asked, "Would it be all right for Sir Girard and Sir Oliver to ride along with your knights, Father? They are restless awaiting my departure. I'm sure they would welcome seeing the country between here and Lovayne."

"The more the merrier." answered Charles and smiled. "I'd venture to say you would be happy to accompany them, wouldn't you?"

Bonne gasped, "Don't even suggest such a thing. He's not well enough."

"Your head hasn't ached and you haven't felt faint since the day you arrived, have you Odo?" asked Charles.

"No Father and I feel fine. So it wouldn't be out of the question for me to go?"

Charles looked toward Bonne, "The ride would be slow and I'm sure the fresh air would do Odo a world of good. How about it?"

"Very well then," Bonne consented, "but I do hope you are right."

Duke Charles ordered that Count Otto's bedding and essentials be loaded into one of the wagons and his horse be brought from the stables along with those of his two knights. The sun was up before the group was to leave; although it could not be seen behind the heavy layers of snow clouds. Last minute wishes were exchanged in the courtyard before the wagons and the long line of mounted knights left for Lovayne. Lady Catherine and Nannette rode in the wagon with Duchess Gerberga. The blanket of dry snow made a squeaky crunch as the wide solid wood wheels of the wagons packed it flat. The drivers were wrapped in great robes of sheepskin to protect them from the freezing wind and snow. Only their faces were visible. The oxen that pulled the wagons were protected by old horse blankets that were stripped of blazons sewn on when they were used as tack for the knight's mounts. Gerberga looked back to the door of the keep as the wagon neared the gate of the outer bailey. She had intended waving her final goodbye to her mother, but found that everyone had already returned to the comfort of the fire in the great hall.

The road to Mons was fairly straight and the wagons traveled behind the double line of knights of Lovayne. The knights were preceded by the banner of Brabant and the banner of their own city. Behind the wagons followed the knights of Lorraine lead by their banner. The sounds of the horses' hoofs were muffled by the snow giving a sort of eerie silence to the column as it moved along.

As they approached Mons, they saw hundreds of the citizens, who braved the weather to come and wave as they passed. They shouted good wishes for a safe journey. The column turned north toward Zennik highroad and reached it before noon. By mid afternoon they knew that Nijvel could be reached before nightfall. The snow that continued to fall throughout the day was twice as deep as it was when they set out from Hornu, but did little to decrease the speed of travel. Gerberga was silent as she gazed out across the fallow fields to the south of the high road. There was no sign of any of the inhabitants of the area. She had seen a few animals but little else. Then she peered more closely at what seemed to be movement of several creatures some distance away. Just as she made out the forms to be people running, or rather stumbling toward them through the snow, she saw seven or eight men on horseback giving chase.

Gerberga shouted, "Lambert look!" and pointed.

"I see them." shouted Lambert as he spurred his horse to race toward them. The captain of his Lovayne knights signaled his men and they wheeled their horses to follow their duke in and uneven line. As they neared those on foot, Lambert saw that it was a man, a woman and two boys with far too few clothes on for the cold. He drew rein in front of them.

"Save us Great Lord or they will kill us all," the man pleaded as he fell on his knees before Lambert.

Lambert leaped from his horse and demanded, "Why do they chase you? Why will they kill you?" but before the man could answer the horsemen who were giving chase rode up.

"Thank you for stopping them Sire. They are runaway slaves."

"Nay!" cried the man and woman as one voice.

Lambert looked down at the pair at his feet. They were shivering with cold and fear. "What say you?" he demanded.

The man answered, "We are serfs of a toft and croft near to Avesnes My Lord. We are not slaves as he says."

"Then why do these men pursue you?" Lambert asked.

"We saw them murder a noble and his knights less than half a fortnight ago." then seeing Lambert frown, he insisted, "It is true My Lord."

"Were there others with these horsemen when the nobleman was killed?"

"I know not how to count My Lord, but there were at least the fingers of my hands more of them." The serf turned to look behind and croaked, "here come the others now."

Lambert looked and saw at least a dozen more riders approaching. One of them wore a tunic with a blazon of Dijon. He turned to his captain. "Get Count Otto, Sir Girard and Sir Oliver." Then after seeing that the knights of Lovayne were all looking his way, he signaled with a swing of his hand for the group to be surrounded. His men moved swiftly to follow his silent command.

"What is the meaning of this?" demanded the knight of Dijon.

"I must insist that you surrender your arms until this matter is settled." firmly spoke Duke Lambert.

"And if we don't?" demanded the knight.

"My men will cut you down before you can do otherwise."

"But surely you don't believe this wild tale spoken by a lying slave My Lord?"

Odo and his knights drew rein by Lambert. He took one look at the knight of Dijon and thundered, "You murdering cur!" and reached for his sword.

Lambert grabbed his arm to stay him. "Don't!" he ordered. "He has answers to questions that we need to know."

The knight of Dijon showed no fear. His lip curled as he said, "So you live."

"Yes I live, but you and your murdering companions shall die." vowed Count Otto.

"The son of The Pretender will think differently if he gives thought to what will happen if we do not return to Paris. Your father will be marked for death."

Duke Lambert snarled, "Tie their hands and also tie them to their saddles. The courts of Brabant will decide their fate." He wheeled his horse as his order was carried out. "Come." he said to the shivering family of serfs as he rode back toward the wagons.

Gerberga and the others in the wagon had watched the exchange of words but were not able to hear what was said. As Lambert rode up to the wagon she asked, "What is it?"

Those are the knights of Hugh Capet that murdered your brother's knights and almost killed him." and then as the serfs stumbled up behind him, he added, "This family saw it happen and have been pursued since that night. They are starved and freezing. See to their needs and call me when they have recovered enough to be questioned."

"Yes My Lord." said Gerberga in an affected meek voice, lowering her eyes like a servant.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to speak to you like that. I'm just angry and was thoughtless." apologized Lambert.

"I know." giggled Gerberga as she looked into his eyes. "I couldn't resist teasing you. Go on about your business as Duke and I'll see to their needs."

"Two of the knights dismounted and helped get the family into the wagon. Sarah and Nannette wrapped each in a fur while Gerberga got them some broth that was still hot in a stone pot. She broke off pieces of bread for them to dip and then she and the other ladies helped to still their shaking hands and guide the bread to their mouths.

"Thank you My Ladies." said the woman.

"Don't talk. Just eat." instructed Gerberga.

The column reached Nijvel before the family of serfs was recovered from their ordeal enough to answer questions. Lambert usually stayed at the village inn when he traveled between Lovayne and Mons and usually had his men set up camp outside the village, but on this occasion he requested permission, of the chief citizen, to have camp on the village common. He had the rescued family taken inside the inn to the fireplace and instructed a hot bath to be prepared for their use.  Following the bath they were clothed in warm woolen garments and served hot wine. Word was sent to Duke Lambert that they were quite recovered and could now answer his questions.

Lambert came into the hall with Odo and his knights. After dismissing the thanks of the man for the rescue he asked the man to tell his story.

"My Lord, I am Jean of Avesnes. This is my wife, Ruth, and my sons. The older is little Jean and the younger is Matthew. We were returning to our hut after a final gleaning of our fields when we saw a campfire and went toward it to see if we could offer any help to the travelers camped there. Sometimes we can gather firewood for travelers for a coin or two. Just before we got to the campsite we saw those knights attack the camp. The few that were camped fought but did not have a chance against so many. I had only a hoe for a weapon, but yelled and started to run forward to help the noble that was being hacked at by three of the knights. My wife shouted at me saying they would kill us also and I came to my senses and turned to flee. It was too late though. We were seen and some of the robbers gave chase. We made it to the Sambre River and jumped into a boat to try and escape down river. The knights thought we had to ford the river and must have gone that way until they realized that we had not. We floated down river the rest of the night for the boat had no oars in it. At daybreak we hid the boat under a tree that had branches down to the water and stayed there during the day. The robbers came past us in the afternoon and later came back. As they passed we heard their leader tell them that we must be found even if it took over a fortnight. They were to continue to look up and down the Sambre again and again until we were found and killed. After dark we again pushed off and floated further. Before dawn our hunger forced us to leave the boat in search of food. The robbers must have found our boat for they passed our place of hiding during the day. We continued to run away by night and managed to find roots and nuts to eat. The snow started to fall and we couldn't hide our tracts. The robbers lost our trail when we crossed windswept areas but always found the tracks again. They were just about to catch us when we saw your knights and then you came to save us. We prayed for your noble and his knights when we prayed for our own safety. God must have heard our prayers.

"If it were not for you these knights would have gone unpunished. I am sorry you suffered but I would like to thank you for leading them into our hands." said Lambert". Then turning to the inn keeper he said. "See that they are well fed and have bedding for the night. I'll require chambers for the Duchess and myself as well as Sir Gui, Lady Sarah and Nannette. Count Otto has decided to stay in our camp on the village common."

"Very well I'll see to your accommodations straight away."

"Lambert returned to the village common to get a promise from Otto that these knights would be allowed to reach Lovayne in one piece although they were as guilty as sin. He wanted a trial on the records of Brabant. Then he would deal with Hugh Capet with a clear conscience.

Citizens of Lovayne knew nothing of the attempt to take Count Otto as a hostage or the subsequent capture of the knights of Hugh Capet that had left him and his knights for dead. They had readied the city for the welcome of their new Duke of Brabant and his Duchess. The guards of the western outpost had sent word that the Duke was approaching with over a hundred knights in his wake. The news spread like wild fire and the people of the city thronged to line the streets for a glimpse of the bride and to see the host of knights that had come to Lovayne with him. A mighty cheer went up as the procession entered the city gates, but as each citizen saw the twenty knights that were bound and tied to their saddles the cheers died in their throats to be followed by mutterings of wonder.

Duke Lambert halted the procession when he reached the city's market place and gave orders for the prisoners to be taken to the castle and chained in the dungeons. After the prisoners were lead away, followed by his knights and those of Duke Charles, he dismounted and climbed into the wagon by Gerberga and the ladies. He shouted loud enough to be heard by all in the market place and some distance down the side streets, "My beloved citizens of Lovayne, thank you for this wonderful welcome for myself and for your new Duchess." A deafening cheer went up and Lambert held his hands to command silence before he continued. "The prisoners are knights of King Hugh Capet of France sent into Lorraine to capture Count Otto, the son of Duke Charles of Lorraine. They murdered Count Otto's knights and left Count Otto for dead." A groan was uttered by the crowd mingled with angry suggestions as to what should be done to the knights of King Hugh. "By the Grace of The Most Holy, we have taken these knights as prisoners and will hold a trial to decide their fate. A notice will be posted here in the market to let you all know when the trial is to be held. Thank you all again for this great welcome."

Again the crowd cheered as he remounted and led the way to the castle followed by the wagons.

As they came into sight of the Castle of Lovayne, Gerberga gasped in wonderment. The entire structure had been white-washed and blended in with the blanket of snow that lay on the castle hill. It looked like a castle from the myths that she had been read as a child. The banners of Brabant and Lovayne danced in the wind from the top of the keep and the castle's guard lined the way from the entrance gate. The sight was magical.

Grooms and stable boys met them at the entrance to the keep. Gui and Lambert helped Gerberga, Catherine and Nannette down from the wagon. Jean and his family got out of the wagon and stood silently to the side wondering what they were to do. Gerberga noticed their plight and spoke to Jean. "Come into the keep with us and we'll get you settled in."

"Thank you My Lady." he said with obvious relief, as he smiled. Lambert took Gerberga's arm and they entered the keep. He introduced each of the servants that lined the entrance way to the great hall. The hall was lighted by numerous torches and they saw Odo with his knights awaiting them by the roaring fireplace.

There were tables set up with food and drink and chairs arranged in a semicircle before the fire. "As soon as we have eaten and rested I will show you all around the castle." He turned to Gui, "Your apartment is on the east side of the keep, at the third level."

"Thank you My Lord." said Sir Gui as he squeezed Sarah's hand and then to her, "We will have the morning sun to awake to each morning."

"When the trial for those murderers would be held Lambert?" asked Count Otto. "The sooner they are hanged, the sooner I'll get this taste of bile out of my throat."

"After noon on the morrow would be the earliest and then Jean and his family will be able to return home. I'm sure someone is looking after their animals, but I'm just as sure they will feel better to be home doing the job themselves. The Count of Avesnes must be wondering what has happened to the family. Tomorrow morning we will have to dispatch messengers to him as well as to Father and Charles. We must let them know what is happening."

"I sent a man to Hornu from Nijvel. Didn't I tell you?"

Lambert scowled and his face reddened, but before he could say anything, Gerberga stayed him with a shake of her head and said " We all know that decisions are yours to make, but Odo was so distressed after the capture of his 'would be abductors' that he must have forgotten. You must realize how anxious he was to inform Father that they had been captured."

One look into her pleading eyes melted away his anger and he turned to Odo and said, "Then only a messenger need be sent to the Count of Avesnes. Could you see to that for me?"

"Think no more about it. I understand." he responded.

"Now let's eat so that I can show off my castle and see some of the changes that I ordered to be made for the first time myself. Also I must see to quarters for your father's knights. This castle can easily accommodate that many extra knights and more, but bedding must be seen to as well as food."

"Don't trouble yourself My Lord." spoke his old Marshal-at-Arms. "I'll see to all the arrangements for those knights."

"Thank you Sir Arnold." said Lambert as he again remembered that he must find some way to tell Sir Arnold that the position of Marshal-at-Arms would be taken by Gui. It was not a task that he looked forward to.

The following morning was busy with all the preparations for the trial in the great hall. The time had been set for noon and the notice was posted to that effect in the market place and at the gates of the castle. By mid morning the galleries were filled with the citizens of Lovayne and fires had been made in the castle's court yard for the comfort of late arrivals that would find no room in the galleries.

Just before noon the gate guard sent word that a wagon pulled by a team of horses approached at a gallop, followed by a company of twenty knights. Lambert rushed to the battlements of the keep and made out the banners of Lorraine and Mons. He dashed back down the stairs and went to the gates of the castle. He was just in time to greet his father and Duke Charles.

Lambert climbed into the wagon to ride with them to the door of the keep. He had not planned that the trial be conducted by Duke Charles. "Charles! Father! You need not have come all this way. I could have handled the trial for the world. Any way I'm anxious to find out what the instructions were that Hugh Capet gave to these men. The trial is set to begin at noon. I'll have more chairs placed on the dais and you may conduct the trial Charles."

"Fine, but first I need a little food and drink. We rode here without stopping and had nothing along the way."

Lambert conducted Charles and his father into the great hall while the needs of the knights with them were seen to by Sir Arnold. He ordered one of the servants to get more chairs and another to bring food and drinks. As soon as the two additional chairs were placed on the dais he asked Charles and his father to come and eat. They were followed to the dais by Odo and Gerberga. Charles took the Seat of Justice and Duke Lambert sat in the chair to his right with Gerberga in the chair beside him. Odo and Count Lambert sat on the opposite side. Odo's knights occupied chairs to the left of the dais. Jean, with his family, stood behind them.

"Bring the prisoners before us." commanded Duke Charles as he reached for his goblet and took a bite from a piece of beef.

"Yes My lord." said Sir Arnold hurrying out.

"Who are those?" questioned Charles waving his piece of beef in the direction of Jean and his family.

Lambert explained.

"Good. Their witness will leave no doubt as to the guilt of the murderers. Have the scribes write every word spoken here today. I want Hugh to receive a copy when I send my protest to Paris." Lambert nodded to the scribes that were already digging out extra parchments from a box. "You intend sending a protest to Hugh Capet?" he asked.

"Most certainly, and I shall anxiously await his reply."

The prisoners were brought before the dais and stood there in chains. The knight, with the blazon of Dijon stepped forward and without ceremony shouted, "What is the meaning of this? We have committed no crime."

"Are you the spokesman for this group of murderers?" demanded Duke Charles.

"We are not murderers, but knights on a quest for King Hugh the rightful king of France and should be returned to Paris after a suitable ransom has been paid by France; "I, Raymond of Dijon, demand that you send word to the king."

"Well, Raymond of Dijon the court will decide whether you are honorable knights or murderers." replied Charles. Then he demanded, "Who accuses these knights of murder?" turning his head toward Odo.

Count Otto rose to his feet and replied, "I, count Otto of Lorraine, accuse these knights of murder and intent to commit more murders." He then told the court and all those attending, of the night when his knights were killed and he and two of his knights were left for dead. He told of the rescue of Jean and his family from certain death outside the town of Nijvel.

"Do you deny these charges?" asked Duke Charles.

"We deny the charge of murder My Lord Duke. We did slay knights that night in the effort to take Count Otto for the king, but that was not murder. We did but slay in battle which is honorable."

"There is no war between France and Lorraine. If there were you would have been facing the forces of Germany not travelers outside Avesnes." stated Duke Charles. "What say you to that?"

"You have said that you are the rightful King of France, so the war is with you, not Germany. Our quest was to take Count Otto as a hostage and avoid an open conflict of war. What say you to that?" demanded the prisoner.

"Charles ignored the barb and asked Sir Girard and then Sir Oliver to give witness. After they had given their accounting of the night of the attack they were instructed to point out each of the prisoners whose faces they remembered seeing during the attack. He instructed the prisoners whose faces they remembered seeing to step to the right of the group as they were identified. Twelve of the knights were pointed out and moved to the right.

Duke Charles then asked Jean and his family to tell their story. After the testimony was heard Duke Charles asked, "Did you see the faces of the knights that attacked Count Otto and his knights?"

"Not close up on that night, but the next day when they passed our hiding place I did My Lord." answered Jean.

"Point them out then and they will move to the right with their fellows."

Jean pointed out all the knights previously identified by Girard and Oliver as well as six others. Two prisoners were left standing to the left.

Charles asked Otto and Jean's family, "Can one of you say that these two were in the attack?" and received a doubtful "No." from Otto and a definite "Nay." from the serfs.

Duke Charles turned to the two unidentified knights, "Were you not with Raymond of Dijon on the night of the attack?"

"No My Lord we were in Avesnes at the time." answered one of the knights. "Our bowels forced us to make privy at least a dozen times during the day and begging the Ladies pardon, I thought we might have the flux. We had heard that there was an old monk in Avesnes that treated such malodorous conditions with God's own herbs so Sir Louis and I went to see him We did not locate Sir Raymond and the others until four days later."

"Is there such a monk in Avesnes? asked Duke Charles of Jean.

"Yes My Lord, he is Father Matthew and he can perform miracles with his herbs from The Most Holy Father in Heaven."

Duke Charles then spoke to the knight, "What is your name?"

"I am Simon of Sombernon serving as a knight's fee to the Count of Dijon under the Duke of Burgandy My Lord."

Charles spoke to the Marshal-at-Arms "Sir Arnold, take these two to a chamber to be refreshed. Guard them well for I would speak to them after this trial is over."

"As you wish, My Lord Duke. They will be at your disposal when you require." spoke Sir Arnold. He led Louis and Simon away followed by six of the guards of the castle.

Duke Charles conferred with Duke Lambert and then with Odo and then stood and spoke to the prisoners. "Each of you is as guilty as the other in the slaying of the noble knights of Lorraine. You are all guilty of the chase of the family of the serf, Jean, which you would have killed if you had caught them before they were rescued by Duke Lambert. I believe you when you say that you were on an honorable quest on the orders of Hugh Capet and because of this you will be spared the dishonorable death by hanging." he paused.

Raymond of Dijon sneered. He knew well that Duke Charles feared for his own life and would not hang them. They would be returned to Paris. Of this he was certain.

"You will be taken by cart to the field of execution and beheaded. Afterwards your bodies will be allowed a Christian burial."

Sir Raymond screamed a protest, but the other knights, with him stood meekly resigned to their fate.

The great hall rang with the repeated shouts of those present, "Justice, justice." and "Death to the enemies of Duke Charles."

The castle guards parted the crowd and marched the prisoners out of the great hall into the courtyard where farm carts were lined up waiting to carry them to the field of execution. Duke Charles, Lambert, and the other nobles had followed the prisoners through the crowded hall and now stood and watched as pairs of prisoners were lashed back-to-back on posts affixed to the beds of each cart. As soon as all were secured to posts, the procession moved toward the castle gates. It was lead by the executioner robed in black with a black hood over his head. Everyone knew that the executioner was Bernard of Lovayne, for he acted as surgeon for the castle's soldiers when an arm or leg had to be removed because it had filled with pus after a wound received in battle. He only wore the hood when a head was severed from the body as sentence for a crime. In this way the victim's family pride could be preserved, since none of them would see the face of the executioner no revenge would be required.

The carts were followed by six priests chanting the psalm of the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Latin.

Gerberga placed her hand on Lambert's arm and asked "How is it that the executioner, the carts and the priests were all ready and waiting in the courtyard?"

"The verdict handed down by your father was the same decision I had already planned to give before your father arrived. The only part that could have varied was the granting of Christian burial. The priests would not have been required to hear each knight's final confession and give the bread and wine. Come let us go with the others. As Duke of Brabant I must be on hand to witness the executions and I don't relish the next hour of my duties. With you by my side the ordeal will be less difficult to get through. A short distance to the right side of the castle stood two gallows by a pit that contained the bones of those that had been hanged here for several hundred years. This was the traditional place of executions in Brabant. Before the crowd had all arrived the priests were busy with confessions of the first six prisoners. At the completion of the ceremony each in his turn walked silently and knelt before the executioner to receive the cutting blow from the great two-handed broad sword that would sever the head from the body. The crowd marveled at this show of bravery in face of certain death. The last of the prisoners to go before the executioner was not a brave man. Two soldiers had to drag him as he screamed in fear for mercy. This knight was Raymond of Dijon. The soldiers forced him to kneel before the executioner by pulling his arms away from his body with one hand and forcing his head forward. The great sword swished through the air and his head rolled away on the blood soaked snow. There was a silence in the crowd that was so thick that Gerberga's sigh of relief that it was all over sounded like a roar in her own ears. She clung to Lambert's arm and whispered "Let's leave here now!"

Without answering he led her slowly back toward the castle gates. The quite mutterings of the crowd gathered volume as ever one began to leave to return to their world of reality. They had been drawn here by morbid curiosity and would not soon forget this day. Behind them the soldiers loaded the bodies into carts as the priests chanted. The carts would take the bodies to the church where twenty graves had been dug and awaited their occupants. Two of them would remain empty. These had been dug for the two knights that escaped death on this day.

Gerberga and Lambert had not spoken on their walk back to the castle. Lambert led her silently to their bed chambers where she burst into tears. "I don't like your duties as Duke she sobbed." as he cradled her in his arms for comfort.

"This is not the way I had planned to spend our first day in Lovayne." murmured Lambert "and I hope it's the last such day we will have together. I wanted this day to be a day of new happy adventure as we saw the town, the people and the surrounding countryside. There is tomorrow to look forward to so get some rest now and later we will supper and talk of more pleasant matters." He kissed her and pushed her back onto the bed pulling the fur coverlet over her to warm her shivering body. He called Nannette to come to him when he returned to the great hall and told her to go to the chamber at the top of the stairs where Gerberga rested. "I don't think she has ever witnessed an execution before today and the sight has really affected her badly. She needs to talk with someone that will understand the way she feels and can help her get over the memories of this day."

"Don't worry My Lord I'll talk with her. I can still remember how I felt after my first sight of death and how my mother helped to make me feel better." Nannette answered as she squeezed his hand in assurance and rushed toward the stairs.

Lambert continued across the expanse of the great hall. He could see that Duke Charles and his father were having an intensive conversation with Sir Louis and Sir Simon of Sombernon. As he neared them he overheard Sir Simon saying "--- and he fears you more than you could ever believe My Lord Duke."

"I have certainly protested his election to the position of king, but I haven't made any move to take the crown from him. If I was assembling an army I could understand his fears." said Duke Charles.

"Word of the marriage arrangement for your daughter to Count Lambert's son reached him and he went nearly mad with worry. His advisors told him that you were making plans to march on Paris. Is that not the way that it is Sire?" asked Sir Louis.

"The Lord knows that I would be a better King of France than Hugh Capet, but I shall never attack Paris or anywhere else to obtain the crown. If the Dukes and Counts of France that support Hugh withdrew their support I could gladly assume the crown and rule justly. I can understand how uneasily the crown rests on his head." Charles saw Duke Lambert arrive in their midst "We were talking about Hugh's reasons for what has happened. I'll send a strong protest to him and hope that these two knights will be able to calm his fears of me."

Lambert shook his head. "He'll think that their tale is a trick and never believe a word they speak. You had better assemble some sort of force to defend your castle. Hugh Capet will make some move to eliminate any threat from you be it real or not. My father and I will furnish as many knights and soldiers as you wish to use as a guard against any move that Hugh will make."

"Piffle! I'll wait for Hugh's answer to my protest before I do anything of the sort. If his answer is threatening I'll have plenty of time to get knights for defense. Don't worry so much about what Hugh will do or think. These good knights will accompany us to Hornu and then go with me to Valenciennes. They will then ride to Paris and see Hugh Capet."

Nannette knocked on the bedchamber door but did not wait for an answer before entering. The sound of retching greeted her as she opened the door. Gerberga lay on the bed with her head over the chamber pot. Nannette rushed to the table that held a pitcher of water and a wash basin. She soaked one of the washcloths with water and wringing it out she went to Gerberga and wiped her face as she stroked her back with a downward motion. This was the way her mother calmed her stomach when she was ill.

 Gerberga drew several deep breaths and murmured her thanks. She had nothing left in her stomach but could not stop retching. As Nannette took her in her arms she clung to her and said "I feel so sick. I know that what was done had to be done, but I wasn't prepared for the sight of so much blood. I feel so sad for the families of those knights. They will not have them for Christmas celebrations and I fear that the memory of this day will spoil our own celebrations this year. Do you think me silly?"

Nannette comforted her. "This feeling will pass. You've already accepted the fact that the death of those knights was inevitable. Odo could not have rested until they were put to death for the murders of his lifetime friends. Direct all your sorrow for him and the families of his knights. The horror of this day will be acceptable to you soon."

"I guess you are right but isn't there more that I can do to get this day out of my mind?"

"You will be so busy preparing for the celebrations of Christmas that you will not have time to think of anything else. Just think of all the baskets we will have to prepare for the families around. The Duke will be visiting every croft to take the baskets and let you meet the people that are so dear to his heart."

Gerberga smiled. "He's told me about lots of his people and they will be my own also from now on. What will they expect in the baskets?"

"Ham, dried fruit, nuts and maybe a goose or some other fowl."

Gerberga laughed. "You can't put a goose in a basket of fruit and nuts. It would eat them."

"Silly, the goose wouldn't go in the basket." Nannette smiled. She had made Gerberga think of more pleasant things. "Some of the families will require clothing, bed covers, pots and pans, so you will get to rummage through the castle storerooms for the items required. Duke Lambert will know exactly what every family needs. There are only two weeks until Christmas, so we need to get started on the baskets right away."

"We can start right after Father and Odo leave tomorrow. Let's go down and tell Lambert now." 

 

 Christmas, Christmas! Oh what a wonderful season." thought Gerberga as she rummaged through the chests, sacks and baskets of the storage room. "I like this custom of taking baskets to everyone. I'll get to meet the people that Lambert has told me about." she said aloud to Nannette.

"Don't you do the same at Valenciennes?" asked Nannette.

"No Father had gifts for all the servants, but those outside the castle were taken care of by the knights. I hardly ever saw anyone outside of the household.

"You may be surprised by the conditions that the serfs live under." mused Nannette. "Somehow I don't think you'll like what you see."

"Then things will have to change." Gerberga retorted. "I will have something to say about what goes on in Brabant now."

"If only a serf's way of life was that easily changed." murmured Nannette.

"What?" asked Gerberga? "I couldn't hear what you said."

"Oh nothing. I was just wishing out loud. These are the cook pots wrapped in oil skins. How many will we need?"

"Only five families have reported cracked or broken pots, but let's have seven or eight just to be sure."

"What's next on the list? Let's see --- some water pitchers and some storage jars will complete the list for this store room. The rest of the items are all in the larder."

Sir Gui directed the removal of some of the arms on the walls of the Great Hall that were to be replaced with green boughs and garlands. Two of the castle guards used ladders to reach the hangers that held swords, spears and axes in place and tossed the weapons down to pages waiting to take them to the armory. The guards worked quickly. They didn't yet know how stern their new Master-at-Arms would be and none of them wanted to be the first to test his temperament by being slow or clumsy.

Before the last of the arms had been removed servants began to arrive with armloads of evergreen branches. The maids began to tie them to ropes that would drape them from hanger to hanger all around the great hall.

Lady Sarah came in with a basket piled high with bright red silk fabric that had been fashioned into ribbons.

"Who said that this priceless fabric was to be used?" demanded Gui.

"Duke Lambert himself. He says that no expense will be spared in making this the most beautiful Christmas the Duchess has ever seen." answered Sarah.

"But Sir Arnold said that the linen ribbons are a tradition of Lovayne Castle."

"Not any more." chirped Sarah "they will be used on the gate and outer doors. We are starting a new tradition it would seem."

Gui laughed We'll be remembered as the ones that started it. I can hear the Duke's grandchildren saying "It was old Gui and Lady Sarah that first decked the hall with silk. What a mark to be remembered for."

"Stop being a prophet and get on with it or with the silks will never be hung."

One of the pages had started for the door with an axe in one hand and a sword in the other. "You there" shouted Gui "you can carry more than that. How do you ever expect to become a knight if you act like a weakling?"

The youth returned and grabbed several more swords and other arms. The other pages began loading themselves with more and more weapons to avoid another outburst directed at them. Excessive loads of arms fell to the floor. "Heaven help me." grumbled Gui. "It's either to little or too much." Then louder he ordered "Take care or you'll be buffing dents into the next year."

Sarah laughed and shook her head. He had used those exact words years ago while training the Duke.

Gerberga, Nannette and several servants carried the last of the boxes and baskets from the kitchen to the carts in the courtyard. Several carts were lined up, minus their oxen, and all but the last were filled with the Christmas deliveries for the families of the oxen and all but the last were followed with the Christmas deliveries for the families of the serfs. The wheels of the carts were decorated with red ribbons and red streamers fluttered in the breeze from the corner posts of the cart beds. A scribe stood by the last cart waiting to check the names off his list of each family box and basket. "Load them on the cart from front to back in the order that I call out the names." he instructed the servants. "I don't want the Duke to have to rummage around looking around looking for the right gifts each time he stops. We've just got the last cartload rearranged because you aren't paying attention to what you are doing."

"They will get them right this time" Gerberga soothed. I'll get in the cart with Nannette to position each delivery."

The scribe paled with fear, thinking that the Duchess assumed he was speaking to her. "Please forgive me My Lady. I only spoke to the kitchen servants. I would never…."

"Stop whining and help us into the cart." laughed Gerberga. "I know you would never speak to Nannette or me like that."

"Thank you My Lady." he whimpered as he got down on his hands and knees so that the Duchess and Nannette could use his back as a step.

The kitchen servants giggled and were silenced by a look from Nannette.

When the last basket was placed in the cart the servants covered all the gifts with oiled skins while Nannette and Gerberga returned to the keep. Gerberga was tired, hungry and thirsty. Nannette had tried to get her to stop for food and rest several times, but she had been anxious to get everything ready for the deliveries. As they entered the Great Hall the smell of roasted meat and baked bread coming from a table set up by the fireplace made their mouths water. Ooh that smells good." cooed Nannette as they hurried across.

After their meal they sat by the fire and made plans for the delivery of the baskets. Lambert joined them along with Sarah and Sir Gui. There were a lot of rough roads to cover the next day. Many of which were barely trails. Sir Gui had already appointed a rider to precede the wagons and announce their coming. This would greatly speed the deliveries and would also avoid a long wait in the cold for the peasants along the route.

The following morning they were off to an early start. The first to receive baskets were the merchants and tradesmen of the village. All had gathered in the market square to receive their gifts and wish the Duke and Duchess a 'Merry Christmas' They then headed out through the South Gate to the huts that dotted the countryside. At each hut the entire household was lined up by the road with friendly smiles and a greeting from the head of the house About two miles along the road they approached a dwelling with only the faintest wisp of smoke from the smoke hole in the roof and no one outside to greet them. Sir Gui dismounted and went to the door and knocked. The door was opened by a thin peasant. Sir Gui turned to the Duke after speaking to the man. "There is illness in this hut My Lord" he called.

Lambert dismounted to join him, bidding Gerberga, Sarah and Nannette to remain in the wagons. Gerberga wanted to follow and spoke to Nannette "Let's go in. We may be able to give them some help. I hear a child crying inside."

On entering the hut they saw the peasant's wife and three children huddled by the central fire that was too small to emit much in the way of warmth. An infant whimpered in hunger as it tried to get nourishment from the mother's empty breasts. The paleness of the mother's skin gave the soot and grime on her face an ashen appearance. The other two children were shivering from the cold, wrapped only in thin tattered blankets. "What sickness do you have?" questioned Gerberga.

The woman tried to answer but only succeeded in a spasmodic fit of coughing. Her husband moved to pummel her on the back and answered the Duchess. "It all started as the ague, but it's becoming something worse now. Two of our children died and are buried out back. I was too ill to go for the priest."

Gerberga went to the door and shouted to the driver of the last wagon which was now empty. "Bring another driver with you and come to the hut."

When they came to the door she ordered that the peasant and his wife be assisted to the wagon while Nannette and Sarah carried the oldest two children, She gathered up the infant and followed. "Take these people to the castle and see that they are fed and made warm. Get the herb seller in the market to come with whatever is needed to make them well again. Have this done before we return tonight. Do you understand?" They nodded mutely unable to speak. They had never received such forceful orders from the Duchess before.

After the wagon had turned around for the trip back to the castle Lambert assisted Gerberga into the wagon for the continuation of gift giving. "You handled that quite well, but I hope we don't run into any more families with illness. You'll have the castle overcrowded with ailing peasants."

"It's a miracle that more families aren't ill. Several of the huts we've gone to have walls that the wind blows through just like the walls on that one. We will have to get the builders busy fixing walls and roofs of these huts and also see that adequate fuel is available to heat and to cook. Do you remember which huts were in need of repairs or had too small a supply of fuel?"

"Of course I know which huts are in need of repair or in need of more firewood, but it's up to the head of each family to see to repair and fuel."

"And if they are ill or lazy should their families sicken and even die because of it? We'll have to see that repairs are done this year and have the priest give some firm sermons on the responsibilities of neighbors to help in looking after each other in the future."

Lambert smiled. "I can see it now, 'The shrine of Saint Gerberga' with a plaque saying 'Saint of the ill and lazy'."

"Oh stop it" laughed Gerberga. "If they aren't well they can't plant crops and we will receive no taxes.

"You're right. I'll see to the problem as soon as we return to the castle."

The rest of the day went without further incident and on their arrival back at the castle Gerberga insisted on seeing the family that was brought there for treatment. They were in the kitchen. The children had grease on their hands and faces from the food that they had been eating. The mother was sitting with her head covered over a steaming pan of aromatic herbs. She lifted her head and looked at Gerberga. "You're a real Saint, My Lady. God bless you."

Lambert's remark about Sainthood flashed into her mind and she paled at the thought. Nannette read her thoughts and left the kitchen in gales of laughter.

 

Gerberga found that the time passed quickly after a few changes were made in the running of the affairs of the castle. By the end of February she was really the mistress of the castle, running the household efficiently and smoothly. In the beginning Lambert had wanted to have everything done for her, but this made the days long and boring. He had taken her for rides around the countdom to see the life of the people so that she might better understand their plight. But these outings only filled a few of the long hours. Lady Sarah saw her frustrations and brought the matter to the Duke's attention, much to the dismay of Sir Gui. One day after the evening meal Gerberga left the table to sit by the fire before the rest of the group had finished eating. Sarah turned and inquired of the Duke "Have you noticed how the Duchess has changed since Christmas?"

"How do you mean?" questioned Lambert.

"She's nervous and quiet most of the time. On one occasion I heard her argue with Nannette over the most trivial of matters."

"Well yes, but I've tried to keep cheered every chance I get. What are you getting at?"

"She's bored with so little to do. Why don't you allow her to handle the household? It would give her something to keep her busy."

"But she doesn't know how to run the affairs of the household." replied Lambert.

"She could learn if you let her. Your mother knew nothing about managing the household at Hornu when she and your father married, but now she's the most efficient Countess in all Loraine."

"You know, I think you are right. I'm going to ask her if she would like to, right now." he stated as he rose to cross the hall to the fireside where Gerberga sat on a stool gazing into the flames with a far away look in her eyes.

She looked into his eyes when he came to her side and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Sarah has just suggested that you might like to try your hand at running the household."

"May I? I'm sure that I could. I watched Mother handle matters at Valenciennes."

Lambert smiled happily. "Then it's settled. I'll have Sarah inform everyone that you are in complete charge. That will make certain that your instructions are not questioned."

Gerberga leaped to her feet and put her arms around him. "I'll be a good 'Duchess of the Castle'. You'll see." Placing a warm kiss on his lips.

He gently pushed her away, glancing toward Gui and Sarah watching them.

"Later you'll not stop my thanks when we are alone." she whispered as she gave him a knowing smile.

A glow spread through his body as he caught her meaning. He was sure that Gui and Sarah could see his face flush with thoughts of later.

March was here and though she was content and happy with her lot she was having problems. She was sick every morning and at times throughout the day. She couldn't bear the sight of food and much less the smell of it. She thought she should go to Lady Sarah for advice about herbs that might cure her ills, but kept putting it off. One morning she was too ill to leave her chamber and asked Nannette to make excuses for her. Lady Sarah came to her chamber as she was wiping her face with a damp cloth after being more ill than ever before.

"Nannette says you aren't well?"

"I'll be much better in a little while. I just feel sick the first part of the day. Before mid-day I'm better."

Nannette heard Sarah questioning Gerberga through the open door as she approached the chamber. Sarah heard her at the door, She leaned toward her and whispered, "I think she's going to have a baby!" then turning to Gerberga, "Your condition is very serious I'm afraid. Perhaps Nannette should go fetch the Duke and the priest."

Gerberga's face fell. Sarah hadn't told her what her illness was. "What's wrong with me?" she pleaded "Tell me."

"Don't tease her." scolded Nannette.

Gerberga turned to Nannette in desperation. "What is wrong with me?"

"Nothing bad, you're going to have a baby. That's all."

Dumbfounded, Gerberga stared first at Nannette and then at Sarah. "A baby? I'm going to have a baby? and then with bliss "I'm going to have a baby!" Hugging first Sarah, then Nannette, she dashed toward the hallway shouting "Lambert!, Lambert! again and again as she went down the stairs.

Lambert was in the Great Hall and heard her long before she reached the bottom of the stairs. He dashed toward the door leading to the landing, bowling over two knights and their pages in his rush. Divers dreadful thoughts of things that could cause her panic raced through his mind. Half way across the landing she met him and leaped into his arms shrieking in his ear, "We're going to have a baby. Isn't it wonderful? We're going to have a baby."

She landed in his arms with such force that they both ended up on the floor in the dry rushes. Untangling himself he sat up and looked down into her laughing eyes. "A baby? Really? You?"

"No! We! You and I! We are going to have one!" she laughed.

He gathered her and hugged her with all his might for just a moment before the thought that he was squeezing a baby struck him. As he loosened his hug so quickly, she knew what he had thought. "Hugs won't hurt him." she murmured as she returned to his arms.

The Ides of March was now past and it was the time of planting. Gerberga had helped Sarah and Nannette prepare the beds in the flower and herb gardens during the past two weeks, because Sarah had said the exercise would help her to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. For the past fortnight they had been planting seeds and digging up and transplanting those herbs and flowers that grew from old roots. March was almost gone and the beds had to be finished before the warm April rains came to give growth to the plantings.

There was a rustling sound in the air above the garden. They all looked up to see the cause and saw a group of very large birds. The birds looked like long sticks with a large bulge and wings in the middle.

"What on earth are those? inquired Gerberga.

"Storks" chimed Nannette and Sarah in unison.

"They have to fly to the south every fall and then return here to nest each spring. They eat the frogs that would over run the land if it weren't for them." continued Sarah.

"I've seen them before but they must have been flying very high. I didn't know they were so big." said Gerberga in wonderment.

The storks circled and began to land in pairs on the watch towers of the castle. The castle gardener had come out of the root shed to watch and now was jumping up and down shouting with glee "This'll be a lucky year. This'll be a lucky year."

Gerberga looked at Sarah "Has he gone crazy?"

Sarah shook her head "It brings good luck if a pair chooses to nest on your roof in Brabant. With so many pairs nesting on the castle towers, we should have a very lucky year in deed."

"Maybe it means you'll have twins or even more." smiled Nannette.

"Heaven forbid." moaned Gerberga. I don't know anything about caring for babies. It will be hard enough with only one. Anyway, how could a mother feed more than two?" She continued watching the pair of storks on the nearest tower. They seemed to be dancing. "Will the guards have to chase them away if a tower watch is called for?"

"Not likely." Nannette answered. "That would bring them bad luck and no knight would wish that. They would be quieter than the castle cat to avoid disturbing the storks."

One of the storks that Gerberga was watching leaped into the air and circled once before flying off toward the marsh. Nannette commented "He's probably gone to get sticks for the nest." She was right. A very short time later he returned with a stick in his beak that made him look like a giant 'T' in flight. He landed awkwardly and dropped the stick before his mate. There was another little dance and he was off again, circled once before leaving.

"Back to the planting or we'll have no flowers this spring." Sarah said to both of them. "You can watch storks anytime, but now is the time for planting."

Gerberga began to dig in the soft soil, but her mind was still on the storks. "How big is the nest that they will build?" she asked.

Sarah laughed. "You've seen a robin's nest up close, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Then remember the size of the twigs it was made with. That stick that was brought by the stork was his twig. His nest wouldn't fit into the average chamber in the castle.

"That big?" asked Gerberga in amazement. She looked back at the tower and saw that another pair of storks was with the female. The male of the first pair was just returning with another stick. Seeing the new pair he dropped the stick and dived toward the tower making a horrible screeching sound. The new pair leaped into the air to avoid his enraged attack but he chased the male through the air. Both were diving in the direction of the entrance to the keep. Gerberga followed their flight with her eyes and saw Lambert coming out the door. He looked up at the noisy pair and then threw himself to the cobbles to avoid being struck by either of the storks.

Gerberga laughed and shouted "Man the walls. The Duke is being attacked."

Lambert rose to his feet brushing bits of trash from his clothing. "That wasn't funny. Those creatures have sharp beaks and the weight of a stone."

"I know but you should have seen the look on your face." she said as she continued to laugh.

She could see that he was in no mood for joking, so she sobered and walked to meet him. "Is something wrong? You're in a sour mood."

"We need to talk. Come to the other end of the garden."

Something had to be very wrong. The only time she had seen him like this was at the capture of the knights of Hugh Capet. She hurried with him to a point out of earshot of Sarah and Nannette before asking "What ever is the matter?"

"A messenger has just arrived from Hornu; your mother is there and is in great distress. Perhaps I shouldn't be so worried, but I am. Your father left Valenciennes several days ago to visit Bishop Arnulf of Rheims. They plan to go together to Laon and talk to Bishop Assilin. Assilin has indicated that he is interested in removing the crown from Hugh Capet's head."

"That's not bad news. That's good news. Father could then claim the crown for himself."

Assilin is Hugh's man all the way. He'd never turn on Hugh. I don't know how your father could have been so gullible."

"But Father is going to see Arnolf and Arnolf must believe that Assilin wants to get the crown for Father."

"Arnolf may be devout enough to be a bishop, but he's not the brightest bishop. Assilin has deceived him. I am as sure of it as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow."

"You think that Father is in real danger?"

"He's being led to his doom like a sheep to the slaughter and it's too late for me to stop him. If only my father had dispatched his knights at full gallop, taken your father by force and brought him back, and then received the axe or the dungeon for his trouble your father would have been safe, but the most angry Duke in the world."

"He could have gone with his knights and perhaps talked Father into returning."

"You know better. Your father is obsessed with the idea of being King. No one could get him to return of his own volition. We can only hope that he will think clearly before he reaches Laon."

"No. I can't imagine that happening. Poor dear Father." and she collapsed against Lambert, her body racked with sobs.

All he could do was hold her tightly.

 

 That night was spent in the Great Hall by the fire with Sarah, Gui and Nannette trying to come to some solution to the dilemma. The situation was hopeless. There was no way to alter the inevitable capture of Charles. The only question was what to do once he was in the hands of Hugh Capet. Lambert remembered the rash pledges of the other nobles to siege Paris with perhaps the help of the Normans, but he knew that a siege would only result in the certain death of Charles. With Charles dead there would be little reason to continue a siege. Only one decision was made. Gerberga insisted that she must join her mother at Hornu Castle; and that was that. Arguments that she should not travel while she was expecting the baby did not shake her resolve. Lambert finally agreed to allow her to come with him. He knew that he had to discuss the situation with his father. Perhaps his father would have some ideas that he had failed to think of.

Lambert sent for Sir Arnold to make preparation for the journey. Sir Arnold had made arrangements so many times that he knew everything would be ready for them to leave in the shortest period of time possible.

He turned to Sarah "Take care of the household while we are away so that everything will be running smoothly on our return." Then to Gui "I hate to take you away from Sarah, but I may need you to prepare and command troops in case force is needed to assure the release of Duke Charles."

Gui nodded assent.

The sun was well above the horizon before Lambert assisted Gerberga into the wagon for the two day journey to Hornu. She looked at the storks on the gate towers and sighed "So much for the year of good luck you're suppose to bring, but maybe Father's release and a chance to see a beautiful grandson. Maybe even Assilin is telling the truth and has turned against Hugh Capet so that Father can be King of France." With this thought she snuggled down into the pile of furs in the wagon and drifted off to sleep as the wagon swayed on its leather straps.

By noon of 'All Fools Day' Mons was in sight. The celebration of spring was in full swing. Only the knights and soldiers of the castle had been told of Duke Charles' journey and what it might bring to pass. Lambert remembered the 'Rites of Spring' as a joyous occasion when he was a boy growing up. Everyone wore bright colors, danced and sang without a care in the world to worry about. This one was decidedly different. Since he was traveling with such a large accompaniment of foot soldiers, he knew that the attention of the townspeople would be drawn away from their merrymaking. The watches on the towers had passed word of their coming. A large throng boiled through the city gates to see their passing.

"Shall I dismiss some of the soldiers and knights to join in the celebrations?" inquired Gui. "They can come to Hornu later tonight and bed down in the courtyard."

"That sounds like a good idea. The weather is fair enough for bedroll sleeping and you can have food and drink waiting for them as they trickle in for sleep." answered Lambert.

Gui turned and rode back along the column. Lambert knew that he had told the soldiers of their largess in the form of a question; since their response was a repeated echo of yeas as he got further down the column.

When Lambert reached the mass of citizens he was glad to see that the Bishop was not among them. He would be able to wave his greeting and continue on to Hornu without stopping. The troops were dismissed and with shouts of joy they ran toward the city gates. Only thirty or so had chosen to continue on with the wagon. He noted that they were the older knights and soldiers that preferred rest rather than revelry.

He had Gui dispatch a fast rider on a fresh horse to tell his father that they would arrive at the castle shortly.

Mid afternoon brought Hornu into sight. A familiar figure on horseback was approaching them. Lambert reigned in toward the wagon and spoke. "Father is coming out to meet us. He must have been tired of waiting for our arrival. I'll ride on ahead to greet him."

Gerberga nodded assent and he spurred his horse into a gallop. A minute or so later his father stopped in the shade of an ancient oak and waited for Lambert to reach him. They both slid from their horses backs and embraced. The Count looked drawn and older. He placed his hands on his son's shoulders and alluded "Fate has dealt us a foul blow." and then asked "How is Gerberga bearing up under the stress?"

"She still has hopes of some miraculous turn of events that will return Charles to us without any harm befalling him. She will not accept the inevitable."

"And neither will I;" retorted the Count "we'll just have to think of something that will avert Hugh's ultimate goal to kill Charles and remove the threat to his wearing of the Crown of France."

"What have you done thus far Father?"

"I've notified Reginar and Baldwin to contact the Normans to ask for their support. I haven't done anything directly with Paris, but I have sent several knights that are to pass as merchants and travelers to Laon. They will make contacts with those close to Bishop Assilin and report back anything that occurs. We can act after we know exactly what happens to Charles. Until Charles is captured we can do little else. Since you did not bring a military force with you it will take much time to organize for an assault on Laon even if we feel that is necessary."

"But I did! Sir Gui is with over a thousand knights and foot soldiers enjoying the 'Spring Festival' in Mons… I wanted to be prepared if you felt a show of force was needed. Thrice that number can be on their way from Lovayne with a notice from me."

"Well Hugh's eyes and ears in Lorraine will surely report a large troop movement to Paris by the fastest messenger possible. Your uncle, Reginar is enlisting every able-bodied man in Hainault. Every man is told he must be ready to assemble as soon as he sees the smoke signal fires. With that news plus your force reported to Hugh; he should give extra thought to our revenge before he decides that the death of Charles is what he really wants."

The wagon with Gerberga drew near and the two men stopped their talking. Count Lambert smiled and asked "How's that grandson of mine doing? When's the birth to be? Your mother said the date expected wasn't in the message that you sent to her."

"Sarah says that he will be born around the end of August, but he seems to be growing very fast."

They reached the castle a short time later and Bonne met her daughter in the entrance hall. They did not speak. They embraced each other and began to cry. No words could express the pain they both felt.

Still holding each other, they followed the Count and Duke into the great hall. A young kitchen maid bade them come into the alcove at the rear of the hall where steaming cups awaited them. Hagano smelled the vapor of chamomile as they neared. She wrinkled her nose and spoke to the kitchen maid, "Please go back into the kitchen and bring the cinnamon to flavor this tea. I've had so much of it lately that the smell makes me feel quite ill."

"Bring broth or fresh milk for me." Gerberga called after her as she was leaving. Then turning to her mother she commented, "Sarah won't allow me to drink any herbal teas in my condition, she says they may hurt the baby. Sarah says if something effects 'big you' a little, it will effect 'little it' a lot more."

"What makes you think that?" asked Bonne. "I've heard the saying but not an explanation."

"Well, the example she gave me was molded hays effect on the sheep. It won't bother the Rams very much, but the ewes will abort their lambs if they eat it."

The Count was nodding his head in agreement. "She's right about the sheep. Our shepherds watch the hay like a hawk in late winter. Their bodies aren't all that different from ours and the Bishop refers to us as his flock."

"Whatever the reason, I'm not putting this baby of mine at risk." stated Gerberga.

The kitchen maid returned with the jar of cinnamon and a large mug of goat's milk that was still warm from the milking. "Cook keeps a nanny in the kitchen pen to get milk for the cooking, so this milk is as fresh as one can get." she said. "Cook warns that it may make the baby as stubborn as an old goat like his father." she added with a giggle.

"Esther! Scolded the Countess, "You must not repeat the things cook has said. She speaks far too candidly."

"Never mind. She speaks the truth as she sees it and she remembers just how stubborn I was as a boy." the Duke stated.

"As if you've changed." Count Lambert retorted.

"True, true." laughed Gerberga.

Count Lambert held up his hand to silence the conversation. We've more serious matters to discuss and I feel that the sooner we decide on what actions must be taken or avoided the better. As I told Lambert, I've sent a number of knights to Laon to pose as merchants and report anything that they see or hear by messenger. However I didn't tell him that Sol and Lambert's friend Henry also went. Sol has traded directly with Assilin, selling him Holy Artifacts, candle holders and other such objects. He carries an ancient scroll, which belongs to our Bishop. It is reputably written by Saint Mark and will assure an audience with Assilin. Once inside they will see exactly what is transpiring. They would have arrived there about four or five days ago. I was hopeful that a message would come from them before you got here."

"Isn't there any hope for Father?" pleaded Gerberga.

"None that I can see. We can only hope that he gets a warning of some sort that gives him time to escape capture, but that is asking for a miracle."

There was some sort of commotion in the reception hall and all eyes turned to the door in time to see Henry stagger and stumble through the door. Both Lamberts leaped to their feet and rushed to support him. His skin was sallow and cold sweat beaded his brow. "They've got him My Lord and Arnulf as well." Henry muttered through gritted teeth as though he was in great pain. "I saw a company of Hugh Capet's knights take them out of Laon."

"What ails you?" asked Duke Lambert as he shifted his supporting arm from Henry's back to get a thorough look at him. His hand slid through a thick sticky area of his back and he knew without looking that Henry was badly wounded. "He's wounded in his back." he snapped. "Help me get his cloak and shirt off to have a look."

As they removed his shirt a foul odor of decayed flesh was apparent. A broken arrow shaft protruded from the wound just below his left shoulder blade. The putrid flesh around it was green and swollen. The Count guided him to a pallet that Nannette had brought. "We'll have you as right as rain in no time." he assured Henry as he looked sadly toward his son and shook his head to the contrary... Both knew that his wound was mortal. "Get herbs for his pain and fever." ordered the Count. Bring water and fresh linen. Bring brandy wine for him to drink."

The ladies all rushed out to do his bidding and Duke Lambert cradled Henry as he questioned him further. How did this happen?"

"One of Hugh's knights saw me run for my horse when I saw the Duke and the Bishop bound to their horses in the midst of the company. He must have known me from a visit to Mons or else guessed my purpose. At any rate he shouted an alarm; Guards at the gate sent a shower of arrows in my direction. One got me and at least three hit my horse. I rode him until he fell and then stopped a traveler and took his horse at sword point. That's his horse in the courtyard."

Nannette returned with a bowl of hot water followed by the Countess with herbs and honey in a mug, Nannette began to clean the wound as Henry sipped the herbal brew. The surgeon arrived with knife and tongs to extract the arrowhead, but the Count bade him wait a minute until Henry had enough herbs and brandy wine to stand the pain. Henry had completed his mission with the last of his strength and was sinking fast. His pain filled eyes looked into the eyes of his life-long friend and he sobbed "I will not live to see your son will I? Will he be named Lambert also?"

"He will be named 'Henry' in memory of you dear friend." 

 

 

The early morning of the twenty-sixth day after Duke Charles was taken prisoner, Lambert was awakened by the sounds of angry shouts in the courtyard. He looked toward the window and saw dim stars in the still midnight sky. The shouting was mixed with sounds of horses hoofs on the cobble stones. Rushing to the window to see what was happening below he stumbled over the night pot and swore as its contents spilled over his foot. Gerberga stirred and sleepily asked "What's going on?"

Lambert reached the window and gazed down. In the flickering orange flare of torches half clad soldiers with swords in their hands surrounded a company of at least twenty knights in full armor. Some of his soldiers pulled at the horses bridles while others were attempted to pull the knights from the backs of the huge war horses. The mounted knights struggled to stay mounted, pushing the soldiers attempting to dismount them away with their feet, but none had drawn a weapon in defense. "We've got unwelcome guests." said Lambert with an angry tone in his voice. He felt around for his cloak and threw it around his shoulders as he headed for the chamber door. "Get dressed but don't come outside." he shouted back to Gerberga as he took the stairs two at a time in the dark stairwell.

He continued into the courtyard. The throng of shouting men had swollen in number in the brief period it had taken to reach the courtyard. Several of the knights had been unhorsed from the snorting, prancing, wild eyed war chargers. All were strangers and their protests were shouted in a dialect of southern France.

"Cease! Cease! Cease!" bellowed Lambert as he shoved the men to the left and right barreling his way through the mob to the knights in the center of the throng. His own soldiers knew his voice and immediately began holding back the men of Hornu and Valenciennes as they shouted "The Duke orders a stop!"

Lambert reached the leader of the knights and looked up as he ordered "I am Lambert Duke of Brabant. Dismount and state your mission."

The man was somewhat fat and had the countenance of one of a high station. He slowly dismounted with the help of one of his knights that had been unhorsed by the throng. "I am the Count of Orleans with a message from King Hugh and also a message from your Duke Charles which King Hugh has kindly agreed that I might deliver."

"Have your men disarmed and they will be shown the way to the stables to have their horses cared for." He turned to Sir Gui who now stood fully clothed beside him. "See that these men are courteously treated and report to me in the Great Hall."

Sir Gui nodded and charged several of his men with the duty of gathering the swords and daggers.

The knights grumbled as they removed their sword belts and handed them over to the nearest Brabant soldier in the crowd. Sir Gui motioned them to follow him as he led the way to the waiting grooms at the stable doors.

"Follow me." Lambert ordered the Count of Orleans as he made his way through the men toward the door to the keep.

When they reached the Great Hall Gerberga was waiting with his mother and Duchess Bonne. All were fully clothed. "See to the needs of this Count" he ordered "while I attire.

Lambert's clothing had been placed out on the previous night for his wear on rising, but he wanted to dress in a manner that would be better suited for dealing with Hugh's emissary. His mother had always insisted that clothes make the man and he had found on many occasions that the way he dressed did demand more respect. For this occasion his choice was a pair of smooth leather breeches in a deep brown and a hauberk with the upper portion of the chest and shoulders gathered in alternate plaits forming diamond shapes that made his broad shoulders seem even broader. Around his neck he hung a heavy gold chain from which hung a pendant depicting the 'Lion of Brabant' formed by glittering rubies. Around his waist he hung the sword that was given on the occasion of his wedding by Duke Baldwin. Satisfied with his choices he descended the stairs to the Great Hall.

Gerberga rushed across the hall to meet him. "Speak to him. He refuses to tell us anything. Get him to tell us of Father. I think they've murdered him. Make him talk."

"He'll talk to me now. Calm yourself. They wouldn't have dared come here if they had killed your father." Lambert said raising his hand to silence her. He stopped in front of the Count of Orleans and stood akimbo looking down on the pudgy figure of a man.

The Count started to rise from the stool on which he was seated and Lambert put his hand on his shoulder and shoved him back down. "Speak!" he ordered.

The Count cleared his throat and looked up into the stormy face of the Duke standing over him. "I bring you greetings from His Majesty Hugh Capet King of France, ruler of the Provinces of ---"

"Get on with it. What's the message?" snapped Lambert.

Shocked by being spoken to in such a manner, the Count wondered if Hugh was correct when he promised that the Duke of Brabant would not dare to harm him in any way. "Th-the King said to tell you that Duke Charles will not be harmed. That he has ordered that Duke Charles be treated as a guest in my castle."

"Will he be released if he promises not to try to take his rightful crown?"

"He is to remain in my custody until his death."

"Hugh must know that this act is not acceptable Hugh may think he's protecting his crown, but he may loose his head for his effort." growled Lambert. "You said you also had a message from Duke Charles. Where is it?"

"It is for the Duchess of Lorraine, not for you." answered the Count reaching inside his cloak and withdrawing a parchment.

Lambert took it and passed it to Duchess Bonne without taking his eyes from the eyes of the Count. "Please read it aloud My Lady." he requested; and then to the Count he quipped "Do you know what it says?"

"Well yes, he wants his Duchess to join him along with the rest of the family. I'm to provide safe passage to my castle and provide every need for the rest of Duke Charles' life. King Hugh makes this offer out of the generosity of his heart and hopes all of you will accept."

"I always thought the man was insane. Now I'm certain that he is."

Bonne had read the letter silently and now sobbing, she pleaded "I must go to him. He needs me."

"It's another of Hugh's tricks. He wants to get his hands on all of us to end all claims to the throne." stated Lambert.

"You must not try to stop me. I'll go and take my little girl and Otto as well, if he will come. Charles will never survive captivity without us. You just have to be wrong about Hugh wanting us all dead.  We pose no threat to him."

Lambert turned to his mother and father. "What do you think?"

Count Lambert looked chest-fallen. "It's not our place to say what the Duchess does or doesn't do. If she wishes to go we can't stand in her way. I would want your mother with me if I was in Charles' shoes and felt that she would not be in danger for being there."

Resigned, Lambert turned to Sir Gui and ordered "Prepare wagons and a company of knights for the journey."

"No knights My Lord Duke, they will be safe in my care. King Hugh has ordered it so."

"Dam Hugh's orders. I don't trust the man."

"Then if you refuse King Hugh's offer under his conditions, I will return to France without Duke Charles' family and that will be the end of it. It's your decision to make as I have my orders."

"Very well." fumed Lambert. Hugh holds the Duke's life and welfare in his hands and the Duchess insists on going." Then turning again to Sir Gui "Prepare wagons and have the servants load them."

Gerberga had remained silent during these exchanges but now spoke to her mother. "Do you want me to go with you? I don't want to go the rest of my life without seeing Father."

Bonne looked at her daughter and saw the pain in her eyes. Gerberga had always been Charles' favorite and she knew that this love was reciprocated. She took her in her arms and spoke softly into her ear "No. You know that you can't travel so great a distance in your condition. Maybe you can come later after the baby is born and old enough to travel. I'll send word often about us."

Count Otto moved to his mother's side "I will see that Mother is treated well and I shall insist on trusted messengers to go with us that will be allowed to return with letters written to keep everyone here informed. If a messenger does not arrive safely every full moon an envoy can be dispatched to ascertain the reason. You Lamberts will know what steps to take if this system doesn't work out." He glanced toward the Count of Orleans who nodded consent.

The Count of Orleans' company departed Hornu before mid-day accompanied by Count Otto and the Duchess. They would go first to Valenciennes to get Ermengarde, her maid and her tutor and proceed to Orleans the following day. Count Lambert was glad to see the last of the French knights ride out of the gate. Some of his men resented their presents so much that he feared an incident that would cause a most dire consequence.

He motioned his son to follow him into the garden where they could speak in privacy. When the reached the grotto he spoke. "A delegation must be sent to Paris to demand the release of Charles. We must ascertain what, if any, ransom Hugh would require for the release of Charles. I'm sure now that any attack on Paris would result in the deaths of Charles' entire family and we can not risk that."

"Perhaps someone from Baldwin's court would have a better chance of seeing Hugh than someone from here. Maybe even Baldwin would be willing to go there for us."

"It seems to be the best course to follow. I know that if I was close enough to Hugh to speak to him I would run him through with my sword without a thought of the consequence. What he has done is unspeakable. Death would be too good for him."

"Very well. Should you, I or both of us go to Flanders?"

"One of us has to stay here. Something may transpire that would require an immediate decision. I'll go up alone. You have the more level head if an action on our part is needed."

"If you ride out early tomorrow, you should reach Ghent in two days. If your arrival there is going to be after sundown, I think you should stop in route and arrive early the next day."

"I should arrive there before mid-day the day after tomorrow. I'll be able to obtain fresh mounts along the way."

"Then let's tell your mother and Gerberga what's decided."

They walked back to the keep in silence; both were deep in troubled thought.

The following morning Lambert departed with over a hundred of his knights. The rest of the knights and foot soldiers were to return to Lovayne with Sir Gui. His mother and his wife had ganged up on him, insisting that he travel with maximum protection just in case Hugh had managed to get another force inside Brabant without their knowledge. He might have planned something else in case Bonne and Otto had refused to join Charles in Orleans. If it was his purpose to get every member of Charles' family into his hands there might be a much larger force in the area. Lambert bowed to their concern, but secretly planned to send all but six of his knights back to Lovayne if no contact was made before he reached the highroad junction between Zennik and Mons. He could travel much faster with a small force. Seven fresh mounts could be obtained but never a hundred.

When he approached the highroad he gave instructions to his captain and six of his were chosen to continue the journey to Ghent. One of them was ordered to ride hard to the way-station and have seven of their fastest horses prepared for riding. The horses they were on would continue with them without their saddles and they would be able to change back and forth in route. Lambert intended to arrive early the following day and that required fast riding. Two mounts each would help accomplish such speed. On arrival the saddles were switched and Lambert mounted his fresh steed. His horse Thunder whinnied in jealousy but followed prancing when Lambert gathered his reins. The seven were off at a gallop on the high road to Ghent.

At nightfall they stopped at Drongen, only a few miles south of Ghent to spend the night. The village chief insisted that his people be allowed to offer food, wine and entertainment to 'The Great Duke of Brabant'. Lambert gave in to his request but insisted that his company would sleep under the stars on such a beautiful night. He could not bring himself to share the house of the chief with his children, dogs and goats. He dispatched a knight to ride ahead to inform Baldwin that he would arrive the following morning. The evening was pleasant, but Lambert's mind kept returning to the great problem at hand. "What can Baldwin say to Hugh that will get him to release Charles? I certainly want him released, but Baldwin must not humble himself in any way before the bastard. Hugh would have to respond to reason and logic. Baldwin can speak diplomatically but firmly. He can promise the moon, if need be, but he must get Charles out of Hugh's hands quickly."

Lambert's thoughts raced round and round inside his head throughout the meal and through the village musician's ballads. His mind continued to whirl later accompanied by the sounds of deep breathing and the snores of his knights. Finally he fell into a troubled sleep.

At sunrise the refreshed group headed out again toward Ghent. More than a mile from the city they saw three riders approaching. Lambert recognized the banner of the Duke of Flanders and dug his heals into Thunder's flanks and applied pressure with his knees. Thunder surged ahead at a charging gait, leaving the others in his wake. None of the horses could keep the pace. He saw that Baldwin had increased his speed to a fast gallop.

As they met both swung a leg over their saddle and landed on the ground at a run and embraced. "You need not have come out to meet me Cousin I'm glad you did though."

"I stayed up the longest time last night thinking of what I have to say to Hugh after your good knight, Sir Jean, told me of your mission to see me, and I have it down on parchment for your approval. The morning was cool and crisp, so I've brought my grand speech for you to read as we ride to Ghent together."

Lambert's knights caught up and the two nobles remounted and rode at the head of the group. "Here is my contribution." offered Baldwin, handing Lambert a parchment.

Lambert unrolled it and began to read, "Your Highness, I come to you as an emissary of His Royal Majesty Lambert I Duke of Brabant and the Counts of the Dukedom of Lorraine, to request the release of His Royal Highness Charles I Duke of Lorraine. These nobles are greatly distressed because of the treacherous capture and imprisonment of their Duke. They wish his immediate release. News of this situation must have already reached the Pope in Rome and his reaction to such an unchristian act will surely bring down his displeasure upon you. I beseech you to release the Duke in the names of all the Saints."

Lambert stopped reading and turned to Baldwin "I never knew you had such a golden tongue Kinsman. I haven't finished reading your words, but already I must admit that the eloquence of these words should have a profound effect on Hugh. I could never add any other words that would have half the impact."

Baldwin smiled and said "I can't take all the credit. The Bishop was visiting last evening and he is the master of speech making. I told him what I wanted to say and he gave me the words to say it. The man could incite a riot in a monastic order."

"Let's hope these words can sway Hugh Capet. Did Sir Jean tell you that Duchess Bonne left to join Charles in Orleans, along with Otto and Ermengarde?"

"Yes. This compounds our problem. I want to leave for Paris as soon as possible. Eleanor wants to travel with me, but I gave her a firm 'No' and she gave up the idea."

Lambert returned his eyes to the document and continued his reading. After he finished he handed it back to Baldwin. "That should do it if it's possible. If Hugh fails to listen to reason, try the offer of ransom."

"If words fail, I don't think any amount of ransom will have any effect on Hugh, but I will make an offer."

After they reached Baldwin's castle, Lambert tried to stay out of the way as preparations were made for Baldwin's departure. By noon all was in readiness. Lambert and his knights rode out of the castle gates with Baldwin and over a hundred of the knights of Flanders. Eleanora felt the same way about travel with protection as Gerberga and his mother. They would go southwards to Valenciennes and at that point Lambert would leave them to return to Hornu. 

A fortnight passed before the outpost sent word to Count Lambert that Baldwin's company had been sighted. He and his son mounted two of the horses that were saddled and rode out to meet them. As they approached, Count Lambert studied Baldwin's face and knew that the mission had resulted in failure before a word was spoken. The only thing left to talk about would be the details of his audience and future actions to be taken.

After they reached the great hall, where the Countess and Duchess awaited them, Count Lambert announced the failure of the mission. He expected a flood of tears from Gerberga and got a very angrily snapped question. "Why does he insist on holding Father?"

Baldwin hesitated before answering, trying to find a simple reasonable answer. "Hugh has as intense fear of loosing the crown as Charles has desire to obtain it. He knows well that Charles will never give up, so he will continue to hold him until there can be no more threat from Charles. That will only come about at Charles' death." Gerberga started to phrase another question but was cut off by a question from her husband. "Doesn't he care about the reaction that the church will have? The Pope will not let this act of Hugh's pass without a strong reproach."

Baldwin laughed. His Holiness has already excommunicated Hugh's Archbishop Gilbert, the Bishops responsible for his election and Hugh believes that he himself was included in the Pontiff's decree. He has no further fear of Rome. His only fear is that the rightful heir, Charles, will attain the throne."

"The there is no hope at all that we can obtain Father's release?"

"My heart goes out to you, but I can not bring myself to give you what I believe would be false hope. He will never be allowed to return."

After a day of rest Baldwin left to return to Ghent. All plans for a spring fair to include a visit by Lambert and Gerberga had been dissolved. He left them with the promise that he and Eleanora would come to Lovayne to see them after the birth of the child.

The end of May near the night of the full moon a messenger arrived bringing the long awaited letter from Duchess Bonne and Duke Charles. They were as well as could be expected under the circumstances. Both were homesick and said that they looked forward to seeing the new baby in early fall. Gerberga kept the letter under her pillow and read it each night before going to sleep.

"You will wear it out before the next arrives." Lambert told her.

"The end of June I'll have a new one. I venture that the letter I wrote to them will be read even more often than this one."

The beginning of the third week of June a messenger returned with another letter. Lambert opened it with foreboding. It wasn't time for the next letter to arrive. The first line "I regret to tell you that Charles is dead." was such a shock that he dropped to the cobbles in the courtyard. Sir Gui was near at hand and forgot his status completely. He shouted "Lambert!" the way he had addressed him as a boy and rushed to his side. Gerberga had been in the reception hall and bolted through the door. Seeing Lambert seated on the cobbles, she screamed and literally flew to him. He handed the letter to her without a word. She started to read and her throat uttered a sound that was a mixture of confusion, sorrow and heart rendering pain combined. She fell to Lambert's shoulder "Tell me it's not true. Tell me it's a cruel joke." she pleaded.

Count Lambert came out of the keep and took the letter from Gerberga's limp hand. He stood and read it quickly. After reading he dropped the hand that held the letter to his side. Gerberga took it back and looked at it. "What does it say?" she asked. "My eyes can not see the writing through the tears."

"Your mother thinks that they poisoned him. He was well until he ate his evening meal and then sickened and died."

"When?"

"The evening of the fifteenth day of this month. They are returning with his body. We need to contact the Bishop and make arrangements"

 

 

Summers were seldom hot, but this year it seemed especially hot to Gerberga. The coming child made her feel as beg as the castle's prize hog. There seemed to be no way that she could get any rest. She couldn't get comfortable, no matter what she tried. She felt awkward and ugly even though Lambert insisted that she glowed and that he had never seen her more beautiful. Lambert could see just how miserable she was and spent a lot more time with her. Often she wished that he would just go away and not quite so attentive, but when he was away she knew that this wasn't what she wanted at all. Nannette took her for walks in the garden. Sarah took her for walks in the garden. Lambert took her for walks in the garden. She felt that she knew every petal, leaf and pebble that existed there and still was asked "Would you like for me to go for a walk in the garden with you?" She had learned that an answer of "No." no matter what reason she gave would not dissuade them. Maybe today she would pretend that she had sprained her ankle. "No that would be worse; they would insist that she remain seated all day. I'll just have to have the baby and that will put and end to all the misery." Lambert had already sent word to Valenciennes saying that Sarah advised that the baby was in position for birth and would be born within the next fortnight. Gerberga's mother wanted to come and be with her daughter at the time of the birth.

"Uff." exclaimed Gerberga as the baby gave her another sharp kick just below her ribs. "Will you stop that?" she pleaded as she pressed her hand over the one single area that had been kicked repeatedly day and night. Lambert liked to hold his hand over the spot that the baby kicked and insisted that the power of the kick was because the baby was a strong boy. She felt the same but secretly hoped that they both were wrong. She would love to have a little girl to dress in beautiful gowns, furs and jewels. She could teach her to sew, to make fancy lace and to make intricate tapestry pictures. If it was a boy, Lambert would take over his education completely and all that she could do would be look on with pride as he mastered each manly art. "What ever will be, will be." she mused aloud as she got to her feet to go down to the Great Hall.

As she entered Lambert pushed the pile of skins and parchments, concerning reports on matters of Brabant, to the far side of the table that he was working on. He smiled at her and stood up. "Would you like to take a turn around the garden with me? It' a beautiful morning."

She almost looked heavenwards but stopped herself. She smiled at him as cheerfully as she could and asserted "If you are sure that you have the time."

He was right about it being a beautiful day and his arm around her waist made her feel much better about everything. They walked to the grotto and he eased her down onto the bench and sat beside her. They had walked without speaking. She looked into his suntanned face and smiled as she thought "He is able to express his love without saying a word. Then aloud she said "I love you so very much. I really do hope that I give you a son."

"Us a son." he whispered in rebuke. "Have you been thinking about all the pleasures a little girl could bring?"

She hung her head in what he called I've been naughty look' and entreated "I watched Mother with Otto and with Ermengarde. She enjoyed Ermengarde but hardly saw Otto."

"Your father thought he was rearing a son that would be a future King of France. My father thought he was rearing a son that would lead men in battle against the Northmen. Neither believed that their son required a fully rounded education. It seems that both were wrong. I want sons that will be able to meet any challenge that the future may bring. Your hand in helping our sons in the genteel aspects of life will be just as important as weaponry and require as much, if not more time."

"Oh fighter of Northmen how is it that you always know just what to say to make me feel better if you only learned the art of war?"

"Mother and Sarah taught me a lot. Don't you remember how you told tales on Henry and me that got us into big trouble?"

"Tales?" she laughed I never spoke an untruth."

"But you certainly knew how to stretch the truth didn't you?"

"Maybe a little." she giggled and hugged his arm.

Out of the corner of her eye Gerberga saw a movement of something at the far end of the garden. She turned and stared, for the person there was a stranger to her. Whoever it was wore a black robe. At first glance she thought it was one of the monks from the priory in Mons, but quickly changed her mind. The stranger walked toward them with a jerky pace, aided by the use of a knotty staff.

Lambert looked to see what had caught her attention and rose to his feet when he realized that this wasn't a resident of the castle. On closer examination he saw that it was an old woman that he had never seen before.

"Who is she?" whispered Gerberga.

"Heaven only knows." answered Lambert. "The question is how did she get inside the gate without being announced?" Then he shouted at the black figure of a woman "Who are you? What do you want?

 The crone gave no answer as she labored nearer with grunting breaths. She stopped a few steps away and in a reedy voice questioned "Would you like to know the future my dears?" The question ended in a laugh like a hen's cackle. She squinted her deep set eyes and broken teeth showed between liver colored lips that were set in her wrinkled face.

Gerberga clutched hard on Lambert's arm as she felt a shiver go up her spine. The wizened old crone spoke with the ancient Celtic accent that a Druid priest had spoken on a pilgrimage that brought him to Valenciennes when she was a child.

"No one knows the future." stated Lambert "Only God knows."

"True, true." crooned the hag "Baal whose eye is the giver of life gives me glimpses into the future of those who shape his realm. Care you not what the future holds for you?"

"Don't blaspheme woman." growled Lambert. Gerberga's hand stayed him before he could say more.

"Let's hear what she has to say. Omens do occur." pleaded Gerberga.

"If the Duchess wishes to hear you out then continue." ordered Lambert. "If you distress her, mind you, it will be your last prediction."

The crone pulled herself more erect with her staff and lifted her gaze to the morning sun. She began a Celtic chant in an eerie voice:

Dia dha mo chaim,
Dia dha mo chuairt,
Dia dha mo chainn,
Dia dha mo smuaint!
God be my enfolding,
God be my circle,
God be my words,
God be my thoughts!
A Lambert will pass
A Lambert will rule,
For Henry alas.
 

Lambert and Gerberga listened and watched her, spellbound as she withdrew an elliptically shaped piece of wood from beneath her robe and tossed it into the air. A breeze caught it and it blew over their heads and fell behind them. They both turned to pick it up. Something was inscribed on it, grooved deeply into the wood. As he turned back to the old woman he asked "What does this say?" The old woman was gone. They both looked about for her in wondering silence.

Finally Lambert spoke "Where did she go? She just vanished! She walked too slowly to have done otherwise."

"Let's go back inside. I feel cold" shivered Gerberga.

Lambert put his arm around her shoulders and they walked slowly back toward the keep. He looked at the piece of wood that he held in his hand and rubbed the grooved inscription with his thumb. "I think I'll have the priest burn this thing. It must be evil."

"No! You must not. I felt no evil in her, only a calm that was almost holy. Perhaps she is good and just calls God by a different name. Give it to me and when the Bishop comes to baptize Henry I'll speak to him about it. Maybe he'll be able to read the strange writing on it."

Lambert passed the ellipse to her and she looked wonderingly at the inscription "I've seen writing like this before, but I can't remember where. The Bishop may know the Celtic tongue as he traveled far in his lifetime." 

As they reached the door of the keep a runner dashed up from the gatehouse. "A large party of horse and carts is coming toward the castle My Lord."

"It must be Mother. She didn't waste time getting here."

Lambert acknowledged the messenger and guided Gerberga into the keep. Gui and Sarah were in the Great Hall. He informed them of the arrival of guests and asked Sarah to remain with Gerberga while he and Gui went to meet them.

They took two of the saddled horses outside the keep and swiftly rode out the gate. They recognized the banners of Mons and Lorraine as well as Valenciennes, so Lambert knew that his father and mother had come with the Duchess as expected.

Gerberga was still telling Sarah about the strange occurrence in the garden when the wagons pulled up outside. She had just handed Sarah the ellipse to examine and had left her to puzzle over it as she dashed to the door to meet her mother.

"Mother, you did make it here before the baby was born."

Bonne took her into her arms. "My baby is going to have a baby of her own. Are there any problems? Are you eating right and drinking your milk? Have you decided on a name? If it's a boy I'm sure you'll name him Lambert wont you?"

"There aren't any problems. I'm eating well and drinking milk and if it's a boy his name is Henry."

"The promise to Lambert's dear friend was made during a moment of grief. If Henry was able, he'd tell you that he understood a change of mind."

"Lambert and I both want a first son named Henry. Even the old hag forecast his birth."

"Old hag? What old hag?"

Gerberga handed her the ellipse and explained the mysterious event in the garden.

Bonne listened in silence. She had heard of people who had visions and those that were told the future by fortune tellers, but this was different. Strange. Very strange.

Lambert was telling his father about the old woman and called across the room "Can Father see that piece of wood?"

Bonne walked over with it and stood while the Count studied the inscription. She heard a cry of pain from Gerberga and turned to see her bent over with both hands on her enormous belly. The rushes around her feet were soaked with water. "She's started." Bonne cried and before the second word was uttered Lambert had bounded across to Gerberga and swept her up in his arms. As he headed for the stairs to the bedchamber he called "Sarah quickly!"

Lambert and his father were instructed to wait in the Great Hall until the baby was born. It seemed an eternity before Bonne appeared in the doorway. "You two can go up now and see Henry." she sang with a broad smile on her face.

 

   

Sweat dripped off Count Lambert's brows and made his eyes sting. He reached up and broke a branch from a broad leafed tree as he rode beneath it, tucking the stem under the leather band of his helmet. The leaves would offer some shade and keep the metal a bit cooler. He wanted to pull the helmet off, but since he insisted that the knights wear theirs at all times to be prepared for instant battle he thought it only right that an example be maintained. The froth of sweat on the horse's flanks was causing the saddle blanket to slip from side to side. Soon he must order a halt to allow the knights to give their mounts a rub and a chance to cool down before turning their blankets for another hour's patrol. A copse of ancient oaks was only a short distance away. He had chosen them as a rest area on previous patrols. He turned and informed Regi of his decision to use them again.

These patrols of the western border had to be continued, both north and south. The patrol conducted by the knights of Namur should be met no later than tomorrow, perhaps later this day. Young Albert of Namur would be leading. His method of keeping his knights in close order did not meet with Lambert's approval, but then his patrol was only a third the size of the Hainault group of six hundred that maintained a length of at least two leagues. Albert wanted a concentration of strength, where Lambert wanted a greater chance of spotting any French forces sent by Capet to test the boundary that had never been set by agreement with the King of France that had preceded him. If a French force was spotted to the west the order for a flanking charge was given. Almost without exception the French force would turn tail and flee. When this occurred he did not give chase and called for a continuance of normal patrol. When the French force was to the east, he continued the patrol until he was half a league beyond their location. He then issued the order for the flanking attack. There was no chance of escape for the French; their only hope was to force an opening in his line of charging knights and flea back to France. Capet's knights knew that no prisoners would be taken. Any that surrendered would be dispatched back to Capet with the thumb of their sword hand missing, never able to hold a sword again.

He could see the large area of ancient oak ahead and had the banner bearer signal preparation for a halt as he brought his horse to amble. He liked to watch the relay of his order by the pennants of captains back along the column as far as the eyes could see. The column would now close to less then a league in length as the rear increased their gait. When he reached the largest of the trees, he dismounted and handed the horse over to his aid to be cooled and taken to the stream on the southern side of the wooded area for a drink. Sitting by the trunk of the great tree, he leaned his head back and looked up into the gnarled branches. A faint breeze rustled the leaves. He felt more relaxed by the sound and his thoughts drifted to Hornu and his grandchildren's last visit. Henry was now a young man of twelve; the apple of his father's eye, strong for his age and as smart as a whip. Lambert smiled as he remembered how Henry spurned the attentions of his sister, Maude, because he considered himself too old for children's games. She pouted when he would tell her to go play with her brother. She quickly got out of her sulky mood when little Lambert clowned about to get her attention. He worshipped his big sister and loved pushing the swing for her that hung from the tree in the castle garden. His youngest grandson, Baldwin, was a problem though. He wanted to join in the game and would run forward with the swing. His little arms weren't strong enough to push so he ran forward with the swing when Lambert pushed it but wasn't fast enough in getting out of the way as the swing returned. He would get bowled over by Maude's rump. As a result he would cry and run back inside the castle to get sympathy from his grandmother or mother. But now he had learned to laugh and roll out of the way.

Gerberga was now with child again and said that she would name him after his cousin, Regi, if it was a boy and after her mother, Bonne, if it was a girl.

His nose tickled and he brushed it with his hand knocking a small tree spider away that had chosen his nose as an anchor for its web. He realized that it was time to continue patrol and as he started to rise to his feet a sudden pain racked his chest and he dizzily sank back to the ground. A soft darkness engulfed him. He felt the presents of someone looking down at him. He could make out a black robed figure and listened to a reedy chant.

Dia dha mo chaim,
Dia dha mo chuairt,
Dia dha mo chainn,
Dia dha mo smuaint!
God be my enfolding,
God be my circle,
God be my words,
God be my thoughts!
A Lambert will pass,
A Lambert will rule.
Your name will be honored
As long as time will last.

A wooden ellipse fluttered down on his chest and she vanished before his eyes.

Regi came over to his uncle's side and at first thought he was sleeping, then realization dawned. He sank to his knees and buried his face in the folds of his uncle's cape silently screaming "No. No. No.

The End

Map of the area

 

This ancient form of writing appears on stones and has been carbon dates as early as 3,000BC It is found
on stones in Great Britain, Ireland, France. Spain, North Africa, North, Central and South America.
The Vowels, do not appear until around 1,000BC.

Lions of Brabant - References
 

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