Excerpt from Queen of the Darkest Hour

“We have surely pacified the Saxons after this last war,” Karl said, drawing Fastrada from her thoughts. “We’ve taken much booty and hostages.”

“I wish it were so,” Fastrada said, drying her hands with the cloth the servant handed her, “but nothing has pacified them yet. Not slaughter. Not oaths.”

“You think they will rebel again?” Charles asked.

That’s why you want me as a wife. “As long as Widukind rules them, yes.”

“What would a woman know?” Pepin said.

Fastrada glowered.

Before she could respond, Charles cut in. “Pepin! Show respect. Lady Fastrada will soon be your queen and your mother. A woman who lives on the frontier with the Saxons knows plenty.”

For a moment, Fastrada was too astounded to speak. Charles was defending her.

“A woman has not been on the battlefield,” Pepin retorted, washing his hands vigorously.

“And you, Lord Pepin, have not been inside a fortress while Saxons tried to smash the walls with their catapults. I have,” Fastrada said. She did not raise her voice, but it carried an undercurrent of fury. The high table became quiet. “I was seven winters old when the Saxons attacked Büraburg. I will never forget the sound of crashing stones or the smell of smoke from the crops they burned. Do you know what it’s like to see an entire village starve in winter and stuff themselves with leaves and dead grass?”

Pepin scowled. Her father stared at her. Fastrada gave him a slight nod. She would not speak of his rage at the war in Lombardy leaving Büraburg vulnerable or her nightmares, but she would press her point. “In Hesse, we hate the Saxons more than you ever could. I have listened to every word from my father’s spies, every merchant’s tale, every warrior’s story. And I tell you: Widukind has rallied the Saxons as no one else has. If he tells them to fight, they will fight without question.”