Their small party met a distant cousin who was traveling through Lower Normandy. He took them into an inn, bought them meals and kept her father downstairs while Mabel waited in the room he paid for. When Talvas returned, it was with a pouch of coins and a tale to share. She could tell by the shadows under his eyebrows that it wasn’t entirely a happy one.
“You know that Martel is now the emperor’s father-in-law,” he began.
Heinrich had married Martel’s step-daughter years ago. Everyone knew Heinrich would likely be Holy Roman Emperor one day, so this was no surprise.
“I see the look on your face, girl. Yes, everyone knew it would happen, including Martel. But what does it mean for the game now that it’s a fact?”
Her mind didn’t quite work like her father’s. But she thought of the recent developments involving Martel and the marriage of Hugh and Bertha. She looked out the window at three boys noisily playing in the stable yard. They seemed to be trying to hit each other with rope.
“Well, Martel hates Blois and he wants to have Maine. But now Blois and Maine are united with the marriage of Bertha and Hugh, and so I would guess that now Martel has invaded Maine or Blois. Or both.”
Pride smiled in her father’s eyes for a moment before anger replaced it. “He tried to take Le Mans.” The capital of Maine, and the seat of Bishop Gervais, who offended Martel with his machinations. “Which was a stupid move. Maine is the buffer for Normandy, which wouldn’t sit idly while Martel pushes closer to its border. But when Martel came back from the coronation in Rome and discovered what Gervais had done, he was enraged, and rage makes men stupid.”
“He tried but failed?”
“Le Mans is too powerful a fortification to capture in a rage, and he would need it to keep Maine. Normandy doesn’t want him on the border, and—as weak as Blois is—he also wouldn’t sit by and let it happen. They both would have arrived before the castle fell.”
Her father didn’t continue. Obviously, there was more to the story, but Talvas wanted her to figure out what the next part was. The play in the yard had changed. One of the boys had been hurt and was trying not to cry while another was teasing him. The teasing went too far and the boy’s tears turned to violence.
As she watched the struggle, she wondered. What would I do against a more powerful opponent? Look for the weakness. She could no longer tell which boy had been crying. They looked too much alike. The third boy wasn’t really taking a side. He seemed to aid whichever one was weaker so the fight could go on. How long would the other two allow him to continue before they turned on him?
She knew who Martel would blame. The one who made it happen, who sits in the middle of it all and now has weakened himself. Bishop Gervais gave up guardianship of Count Hugh when he declared the boy was now a man who could marry the hereditary enemy of Martel. “Has he done something to your cousin, Gervais?”
“Ah, very good.” Satisfaction colored his words, but he was not pleased. “When he couldn’t take the bigger prize, which was what he really wanted, he went after one that was easier to get.”
Martel attacked Chateau-du-Loir and took Gervais prisoner. How familiar that sounded! When Mabel’s father had failed to take Montaigu, he hunted down its lord, de Mayenne, instead. With that hostage, he convinced Fitz Giroie to destroy the castle for him.
“What he hopes to accomplish by keeping Gervais, no one knows. He’s Bishop of Le Mans, but Count Hugh is its lord. And Gervais is the king’s bishop! It was revenge, pure and simple, and that I understand. But what can Martel’s longer game be, especially if he makes an enemy of the king? Does he think that being father-in-law to an emperor makes him better than a king? I see no sense in it.”
The boys were no longer in the yard. Mabel had missed seeing how violence, manipulation and humiliation had played out, but it had probably ended with a groom chasing the annoying brats away.