Christmas at Aachen 792


       This seems a great time to share a Christmas scene that didn’t make it into print.  The following would have been inserted between pages 168 and 169 of Agnes.

After the Christmas feast Head Cook appeared exhausted and preparation for New Year’s still lay ahead. Agnes and Emmett talked her into going to the cottage as the evening meal was being cleared.  “We can handle hot cider and breakfast,” Agnes insisted. 

            That evening Karolus invited his Saxon guests to swim in the warm pool that drew him northward each winter.  The Queen and the other women gathered in the Great Hall, chatting about the entertainment, the food and vespers, and waited to share cider with the men when they returned.   Finally, her strength waning, the Queen sent a runner to ask Karolus his plans and to beg permission to return to her room.

            The runner returned with apologies to the Her Highness and a request that hot cider be sent to the pool.  Fastrada nodded tiredly and, taking her two young daughters, left the hall.  Imma oversaw the kitchen workers ladling cider from the huge iron vat to pitchers, and Agnes and Linza were to find servers; women were not allowed near the pool, even when it was not filled with naked Saxons.

            Fortunately, men who had not been invited to swim were now waiting in the Great Hall and eager to carry jugs of the hot cider.  Agnes still sent a man to the stables to get Deter.  He was a good observer and would tell Head Cook or Imma what he saw.  Although Karolus often soaked in the warm waters, he seldom called for servers to attend him there. 

            A fine snow was falling by the time six men returned for more cider.  Laughing and jostling, they looped a stout limb through the iron rings of the simmering tub and carried the whole thing away.  Imma and Agnes looked at one another, shrugged, and retired.  A messenger would wake them if Karolus needed anything more. 

            Next morning Deter could not spill his account fast enough to satisfy those in the kitchen.   The Saxon guests had made a contest of warming in the pool, then standing on the path until ice crystallized in their hair and eye brows before jumping back into the waters.  Karolus, even though past fifty years, had endured the cold as well as any chief.  Most of the time, however, he had been in the pool conversing with one or another of the Saxon chiefs.


But What REALLY Happened?



Charlemagne presents Louis at court (from

               John Winston’s biography of Charlemagne says the King sent his son Louis away early in the campaign against the Avars.   That’s the kind of statement that gets a writers’ imagination going.

               Why was Louis sent to Regensburg?  Winston cites it as evidence the 14-year-old was little suited to warfare.  Still, it’s doubtful Charles just said to the King of Acquitaine, “Son, you’re useless here.  Wait for us at Regensburg.” 

               And we can be pretty certain Prince Louis didn’t disgrace his father by crying.  Charlemagne was said to have “the gift of tears.”   He cried on many occasions—after a battle or at a death in the family, even after a stillborn birth, and was regarded favorably for it.     

               Maybe Louis was hurt or ill?  Could he have been well enough to travel west weeks by horseback but too ill to precede eastward?  Maybe Louis vomited at the sight of blood and Charles wanted him gone before everyone learned he wasn’t really ill?  His efforts in later battles would be all the more laudable. 

               Maybe Louis argued tactics with his father?   Maybe a defiant Louis threw a tankard of ale at his father, and Charles knocked him down and choked him until five men pulled him off and one of his brothers said, “Run, now.  We can’t hold him long.”

               Now, that would be a scene fit for a movie.  Yet, chronicles don’t mention it.  They do tell us that four years later Charles called Louis cheap and Louis told him of his financial situation in Acquitaine.   You’d think accounts would give some hint if there’d been an earlier—and more vehement—argument. 

               So maybe it was a quiet contest of wills?  When Charles would say go left, Louis would go right?  And Charles finally made up an excuse to send him away?  And Louis was never sure if he or his father had won?    

               I would like to write of Louis one day.  As the only son who outlived his father, he inherited the entire kingdom. Much too soon, he divided it among his three squabbling sons and retired to a monastery.  What was the man thinking?

               If I ever understand enough to undertake that book, when I write of the trip to the Avars, I will have Charles receive word that his wife Fastrada is ill and he fears she will miscarry their child.  The distraught King will yearn to go to her but know that he has waged the wealth of his entire realm on this invasion.  While the others insist that Fastrada will understand and that Princess Hrotrud can look after matters, Louis will say, “Send me, Father.  Let me assure Fastrada of the depth of your concern and see she has the best care possible.” 

               And maybe Pepin will throw a flagon of ale at Louis and laughingly accuse his brother of cowardice and avoiding battle?  That would give us some action—and explain some of the later hostility between Louis’s camps and Pepin’s.

               Historical non-fiction focuses on what is known.  Historical fiction must add details and reasons.  Both, however, can point out differing views and interpretations.             

               (And, yes, in Agnes Louis is there after the battle at the ring.  I try, but sometimes I can only  apologize.)