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.)