October, 806 AD
Gisela looked at her brother on his stationary horse quizzically. “Are you serious?” She asked.
“Yes, I am very serious. I just want a woman’s perspective and you are the only woman I know that would give me an honest answer.” Charlemagne replied.
“Oh,” Gisela responded, smiling and looking again at her brother. “Yeah, you look a bit chubby, I’m not sure I would say you look fat. Mom might say you look fat.”
Gisela was visiting upon the request of her brother. He was preparing his empire for his eventual death by announcing his last testament as to his son’s kingdoms. After dinner, he and Gisela decided to take a horse ride on the very trails they had shared as children.
“I had asked you to be honest, but bringing Mother into the judgment is beyond honest, you are now doing a brutally honest assessment,” Charlemagne complained.
“Well, you do have Father’s shape, only a lot taller,” Gisela mentioned after laughing.
“That, that really helps,” Charlemagne responded, urging his horse to start walking again.
Gisela started after her brother and soon was next to him, riding at the same speed. “I didn’t realize that at your age, you were so vain. We are at that age you know. You are what, ten years older than Father when he died? And I’m approaching his age.”
“I am not vain, I’m just worried about my health. Of course, I realize that I am ‘of that age’. But time is such a thief. One moment in your life you think you are going to live forever, and then in the next, you start to wonder why you are still alive. And it happens so quickly. I can remember when I would often overhear comments concerning how handsome I was. Now people disingenuously compliment me on looking ‘Kingly.’” Charlemagne stated.
“My, aren’t we sensitive today. Do you remember that trail?” She said, pointing to her left.
“Yeah, it goes to the top of the hill, it used to have a view of the town and the river. Do you want to take it?” Charlemagne asked.
“Yeah, let’s,” Gisela replied, urging her horse to the trail. “Well, I think you are missing the point of life. It’s what you do in between those years that is important. Certainly, you must feel pride in that and, my God, look at how balanced your children are.”
“Yes, the children are well balanced. You know better than I about Rotrude, it’s so good to see her here again. Bertha’s spoiled but is a wonderful mother, Gisela is almost as smart as Rotrude. And the boys have all grown to be solid leaders. Even the children of my concubines are doing well.”
“Oh yes, I had forgotten that I had heard a rumor that you are having another child by your latest concubine, which one is this, number five? Is this one’s name Regina?” Gisela asked.
“Ethelind is her name, ‘Miss I’m Counting’, thank you. I’m still close to Regina though, and our two sons.” Charlemagne responded with a laugh.
“Just want to make sure that your fear of losing your figure isn’t inhibiting your extracurricular activities.” Gisela retorted. “So what are you doing in your Testament for your sons?”
“Charles is to get Austrasia, Neustria, and Saxony. Pepin gets Italy, Bavaria, and Swabia. Louis gets Aquitaine, Spanish March, and Provence.” Charlemagne rattled off.
“So Charles gets the largest share, but not by much, Pepin share is comparable. Louis gets the least. Is that because of their order of birth or are you worried about Louis?” Gisela asked.
“Probably a little of both. Louis doesn’t have the same military skills as his brothers, part of which is because he is younger, and part is his disposition. Charles and Pepin are always sparing, and it shows when they are leading on the battlefield or on a siege. Louis prefers to go to church in the same situation.” Charlemagne assessed.
“Do you think he will be like Uncle Carloman and end up in a monastery?” Gisela asked.as they rounded another corner with their horses climbing the hill.
“We have to leave that in God’s hands. I know I drove Mother crazy when I kept pressing Father on his deathbed that my brother wasn’t fit to become a king. They favored me but trusted in God to find the correct path, which He did. Certainly, I think Louis might decide that his life should be dedicated to our Lord in a monastery, but I can’t be the one who puts him there.” Charlemagne responded.
“Is Pepin still your favorite?” Gisela asked.
“Certainly I love them all, but Pepin has that spark. That lack of respect which borders on the offensive yet incorporates a love. I can’t define it well, but I know he has it and people of all ages see it in him. He could be better than I. And his illegitimate son, Bernhard, is exactly like him. Charles has a good share of that spark too.” Charlemagne relayed.
“Pepin has handled Italy well and he certainly brought more riches into our country than anyone. With the help of Hildegard’s two brothers.” Gisela responded as they neared the top of the hill.
“And that’s a good example, he got along with both Gerold and Eric exceptionally well for being younger than they were. They made a tremendous team.” Charlemagne agreed.
“Will he be the one responsible for Rome and Constantinople?” Gisela asked.
“Yes, although I am sure all three will have their own relationships with whoever is the Pope. Given his territory, he will also have the most interface with Constantinople.” Charlemagne answered.
“I understand from Einhard that you are optimistic that the rebellion in Saxony a year or so ago, will be the last, after over thirty years,” Gisela asked.
“I hesitate to even call it a rebellion, compared to some of the battles we have had there over the years. We encountered some of their troops as we approached their fortress and we didn’t have any casualties, we just overpowered them. They retreated to their fortress which we could have stormed, it was so poorly built, but instead, we sieged it. After a week they wanted to talk.” Charlemagne summarized.
“And I understand your settlement with them was a bit different.” Gisela pointed out.
“Damn Einhard, where is his allegiance?” Charlemagne joked. “We included all the most important parts of the past agreements, conversion to Christianity, union with the Frankish Kingdom and pledges to never practice of pagan worship.”
“And was anything left out from the past agreements?” Gisela asked knowingly.
“There may have been, but at my age, my memory is getting a bit foggy,” Charlemagne answered smiling.
“What about the penalty of death if there wasn’t a conversion to Christianity?” Gisela asked
“Damn, you are right, I knew I had forgotten something in that agreement!” Charlemagne proclaimed sarcastically.
“So the Pope finally convinced you that forcing people’s faith against their will is not real faith?” Gisela asked as they crested the hill.
“It was actually Alcuin who ultimately convinced me. He was insistent that I listen to his arguments, and he was correct. Of course, he almost always was.” Charlemagne answered
“I truly miss him. By the way, what is going on with Emperor Nikephoros, he seems crazier than Irene?” Gisela asked
“He may be. He lost a huge battle against Harun’s Saracens and is now paying tribute at more than the amount Irene paid. He is struggling to pay his army again after raising taxes on his populous, which are sick of him. He has broken his treaty with us and he is now starting to attract the attention of Krum, the Khan of Bulgaria, directly to his north, who sees his weakness as an opportunity. I think he may have a death wish.” Charlemagne summarized.
By now the pair had stopped their horses and were overlooking Aachen. “It is a lot larger than the last time we were here,” Gisela stated.
“Yes, remember the church was so small, now it is huge. I didn’t realize how big our castle was. And look at all the houses around the city center, it’s like it is a different town!” Charlemagne exclaimed.