M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 3 of 3

By the first of April, Cologne, Tournai and Trier were sacked as expected and Cambrai and Metz were in flames, ruined by the two fists of Attila.  The Huns were headed for the edge of Frankish territory and would soon enter Roman Gaul.  There, Festuscato expected at least Amiens and Reims would fall.  After that, he thought Attila and his fist might head for Troyes while the northern fist under his eldest son, Ellak, who commanded his fist under the seasoned hand of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, headed for Paris.  When he originally thought this through, he imagined the Huns might reunite their armies at Paris, but Orleans would do around May or June, and from there they could face the Visigoths, either to invade Visigoth land or negotiate a Roman style treaty of non-aggression.  Now, Festuscato wondered if they would even get that far.

It seemed a long way, when late in the afternoon, Chlodebaud, King of the Ripuarian Franks, came into the command tent spitting mad about something. He usually stayed mad about something, and he regularly reminded them how Attila’s son, Dengizic, brought his Huns across the Rhine last fall and despoiled all the land around Nijmegen.  His men were the worst about being patient.  Of course, Festuscato, Bran, Heinz and Gregor had the good sense not to tell Chlodebaud why the Huns did what they did.

Merovech’s brother Adalbert, Duke of Moselle, looked up at his brother Chlodebaud, but said nothing.  He generally kept quiet and went along with whatever the others decided, but his men were good fighters, and proved it in the few little skirmishes they had thus far had with Ardaric’s rear guard.  Merovech himself sat with Gregor and Dibs, sipping ale and laughing.  Etheldrood, alias Egbert the Saxon sat there too, looking sour, but he responded.

“I understand your frustration.  My men are not used to waiting.  We see the enemy and we want to attack.”

Chlodebaud spit again.  “I heard when the Hun came in the front door, you Saxons with the Jutes and Angles snuck out the back door and ran away to Britain.”

Etheldrood looked angry for a second before he softened and admitted, “Yes, some have done that,”

Heinz, chief of his village, thought to add a word.   He often sat beside King Etheldrood and kept the man under control, as Lord Gregor instructed.  “But in this case, if we were to jump to the attack, the whole Hun army would turn on us, and we do not have the strength yet to stand up to them.  Once we get to Paris, that will be another story.”

Chlodebaud and Etheldrood both gave Heinz the same unhappy look, even as Marcellus came to the door.  Marcellus had arrived from Britain in March.  He brought a hundred Amoricans, all dressed in dragon tunics, who after twelve years defending the Pendragon, and now with Constantine gone and Constans taking over, decided they wanted to go home.

“Lack of patience can get you killed,” Dibs spoke up.

“There will be plenty of time for action,” Gregor said.  “But you must learn to relax when you can.  Not to stop being vigilant, mind you, but relax, like my friend Merovech is learning.”  Merovech looked a moment at his drink and nodded.

“Lord Festuscato will pounce like a great cat in the wilderness, but not before we are ready and only when we have the greatest chance for success,” Marcellus spoke up.  “I have seen him play this game with the Huns before, and in the end, he kicked them right off his island.”

Chlodebaud took a seat and looked at Etheldrood.  They would be good and wait.

At that same time, Festuscato, Bran, Luckless, Ironwood, Lord Birch, the fairy lord from the Atlantique province, Strongarm, a local elf lord, and the ever quiet four elf horsemen that Festuscato called his four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were questioning three captured Hun scouts.  The Huns were down on their knees, but not tied.

“So Ellak the coward and Ardaric the senile old man ran away,” Festuscato tested them.  One young Hun started to stand to give answer to the insult, but Bran’s hand on his shoulder quickly dissuaded him.  The other two old warriors hardly flinched, and one spoke in a calm voice.

“We escaped your trap where you would have crushed us against the Romans in Paris.  Now Lord Ellak and the great king Ardaric are lost in the wilderness and you have only guesses.  For all you know, they may be circling around behind you.  And we will not tell you where they have gone.  We are prepared to die.”

Festuscato let out a little chuckle.  “Ironwood,” he said.

“They are headed toward Orleans.  They will meet Attila along the way which will put all sixty-thousand together for the assault.”

“Lord Birch.”

“Yes, Lord.  The Alans around Orleans are prepared to fight, but King Sangiban appears to be undecided.  Attila has offered to leave him the city if he opens the gates, but King Budic of Amorica will get there first and he and his men may put some backbone into the old king.”

“You see?” Festuscato spoke frankly.  “I need no information.  That is not why you were captured, alive.  I have spared you because I want you to take a message to Attila.  Tell him, if he takes his army and goes back across the Rhine, I will spare his life a second time, and give him this ring as a sign.”  Festuscato took a gaudy, diamond studded ring from his finger and gave it to the old Hun who spoke.  “Fail to give the message and I will know it and nowhere on earth will be safe for you to hide.  But if you give him the message, be warned.  The last man I sent to Attila with a message lost his head.”

“What last man?” the young one asked in a snarky, unbelieving voice.

“Megla,” Festuscato said, and clearly all three Huns had heard the story.

“You are the dragon?” the old Hun asked.

“I am, so please give him my message and my ring.”  Festuscato and Bran stepped back.  “You are free to go.”  Festuscato waved and three elves brought up the Huns horses.  The Huns stepped warily to the horses and mounted.  The older scout who said and did nothing during the interview, turned on Festuscato the moment he got hold of his spear. Festuscato did not flinch as the man became a pincushion of elf arrows.  The horse bolted but settled down after a few yards and the dead body slid out of the saddle.

“Such a shame,” Festuscato said, as the other two Huns rode off without looking back.

************************

MONDAY

General Aetius has come up from Rome and is trying to raise the men and keep the Burgundians and Visigoths pointed in the right direction.  The Alans in Orleans may be pressed for a time.  Everyone hopes King Budic can arrive in time to help.  Bran the Brit calls it a daft plan, but if the men arrive it just might work.  Gaul is in the Balance.  Until Monday:

*

 

 

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 2 of 3

“Put a finger up,” Festuscato said.

“What?  I don’t see how—”

“No, I mean right now, put a finger up.”  Merovech did and Festuscato explained.  “That finger represents you, the Salian Franks, a strong people, but alone.”  Festuscato raised his hands and started with his left thumb.  “Now on this side we have Attila and about fifteen thousand Huns, and he has with him at least another fifteen thousand others.”  With each name he turned down a finger until he made a fist.  “Ostrogoths under Valamir, Bavarians, Suebi, Avars.”  He turned to his right hand and started with his thumb again.  “Here, we have the sons of Attila with another fifteen thousand Huns, and with them we have Ardaric and his Gepids, Goths, Thuringians, and your brother Cariaric and his Hessians.  Tell me how a finger alone is going to stand against two big fists.”

Merovech put his finger down and looked awkward for a moment.  “I understand.”

Festuscato continued.  “Why do you think the Huns hold sway over such a large empire?  It is because all of the various German and other tribes try to stand up, one finger against the fist.  I don’t know why.  Stupidity or pride, I guess.  They are often the same thing.  I spent the last nine or so years listening to great tales of courage and valor, but in the end, the people bow to the Huns and pay tribute.  But I was thinking if a few of those German tribes joined together to make their own fist—”

Merovech interrupted.  “I see, Chlodebaud and Adelbert.  We join forces.  Salian, Ripuarian and Mosen Franks together, like our father Clodio tried to do.”  Festuscato simply nodded while Merovech thought it through.  Childeric had come over to listen, Heather resting comfortably on his shoulder.  He put his elbows on the table and looked back and forth between Festuscato and his father.  “But that is only three fingers.  We still cannot come near to matching even one fist.  If each fist is thirty thousand as you say, and I do not doubt it, we can raise maybe ten thousand.  Not much more.”

“That is why we get the Saxons to join us,” Festuscato said.

“Saxons?”  Merovech almost objected.  The Franks and Saxons were not good neighbors, and the prejudice could be heard in Merovech’s voice, even if he only said the one word.

“Who do you think you have been drinking with at Felix’s tavern these past few months?”  Festuscato asked, knowing full well that Merovech went by the tavern any number of times. 

“Why?  Only that one-eyed loudmouth of a Saxon.  He is a rude, crude braggart and displays everything that so many don’t like about the breed.”

“Granted,” Festuscato nodded.  “But he is not a bad man.”

“No,” Merovech admitted.  “He is not a bad man.”

Festuscato nodded again.  “He is also the king of the Saxons, or father of the king, anyway.”

“What?”  Merovech bounded out of his seat with enough force to knock his chair to the floor.

Festuscato finished nodding.  “Gregor will keep his son in line and pointed at the enemy. or he will kick Egbert’s butt.”

“Etheldrood,” Childeric said.

“Yes, thank you,” Festuscato smiled for Childeric and Heather.  “Etheldrood will bring about four thousand men or more, ready for battle, men who have come to despise the Huns.  Indeed, it will probably be difficult to hold them back and stick to the battle plan.”

Merovech picked up his seat.  “So, if my brothers and I can raise about ten thousand between us, that still leaves us short.  Even with the Saxons, we will have only half of one fist.”  Merovech shook his head again as he shook his finger at Festuscato.  “But somehow I feel you have an answer.  Son,” he spoke to Childeric.  “This one is sly.  Maybe you can learn from him.”

“Yes, father.  I have been paying attention,” Childeric responded.

“Liege,” Festuscato said.  “The hills around give good cover, and the town is not a capital or of the size to be tempting to the Huns, plus it is about in the middle for you and your brothers.  Cologne will have to be abandoned, and Tournai, and probably Trier as well.  Let the men come to Liege ready to fight and let the women and children seek refuge in the country.  Leave enough treasure and food in the cities like an offering, so the Huns are not tempted to scour the countryside.  That would lead to too many unnecessary deaths.  So, leave enough food and treasure to make it worth their while and they will move on.  Remember, buildings can always be rebuilt.”

Merovech shook his head again.  “What you ask will be hard, but I see we will not be nearly ready to meet them in time to defend even one city.  And I see if we try to defend our own cities, we will not have the force on our own to stop them.”

“Or even slow them down,” Festuscato agreed.  “So, we gather around Liege, and when the Huns pass out of Salian territory, we will follow them carefully.  We might pick off their stragglers, but we must stay prepared to back away if they turn.  They will know we are behind them.”

“But wait.  You haven’t answered about the fist.  With my brothers and the Saxons, we have only four fingers.  Where is our thumb to complete the fist?”

“Aegidius,” Festuscato said.  “Right now, he has three legions with auxiliaries, about twenty thousand men building earthworks around Paris.  When the Huns arrive at Paris, Ardaric and Attila will be facing a wall.  We may be able to crush them against that wall, though I doubt it.”

“Eh?”

“They will know we are behind them.  It will be April or May, so the weather will lighten up.  They may turn to join up with the other fist and avoid the bad position we will put them in.”

“That would be bad.  If they rejoin their two fists, they will once again badly outnumber us.  How can we hope to counter so many wild dogs?”

“General Aetius,” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I have it on good authority that General Aetius has returned from Italy and raised many men in Provence.  He has a large number of men coming from Burgundy in the spring and is talking to the Visigoths.  Thorismund, the son, has given me his word that he will bring what men he can, and I believe if the son comes to fight, his father Theodoric will not let him get all the glory.”

“Visigoths,” Merovech sounded thoughtful and pulled on his beard.

“And you know the Visigoths do nothing by half measure.  When they come, it will be twenty-thousand or none.”

Merovech began nodding at last.  “But you give me Romans, Burgundians and Visigoths, a great army, but the fist is not complete.”

“I expect them to reach Orleans by the end of May.  There, they can pick up King Sangiban and the Alans, maybe another ten thousand.”  Merovech waved his pinky finger, but Festuscato just smiled.  “King Budic of Amorica will bring his men from the west and meet them at Orleans.  Then we will have Attila between two armies, two fists, so whichever way he turns, he will have an army at his back.”

Merovech smiled at last.  “The plan is good, even if nothing ever goes exactly to plan.  And to think you arranged all this while sitting in my prison cell.  Makes me tremble to think what the dragon will do if I set you free.”

“That reminds me,” Festuscato said and stood.  He stepped to a certain spot and kicked the floor.  They all heard the hollow sound, and a trap door opened a crack.  “Tell Branhilde I’ll meet her in the inn after an hour or so.”

“Very good, Lord.”  The deep, booming voice sounded out before the trap door closed.

“Horeburt,” Festuscato called.

“Yes, Lord.  Majesty.”  Horeburt came to the door and acknowledged both Festuscato and Merovech, his king.

“When I escape, you better go with me so you can say you are still guarding the prisoner and not get into trouble.”

“If it is all the same to you,” Horeburt responded.  “My brother has a place up north on the shore.  I was thinking of taking my family and going for a visit.”  Clearly Horeburt had listened in and thought about the Huns coming to Tournai.

“Wise move,” Festuscato said and turned again to Merovech.  Merovech smiled at the jailer’s good thinking when something sunk into his brain.  He stood suddenly.

“Why am I sitting here?  I have so much to do and only a couple of months to do it.”  He headed for the outside door but returned a thought.  “Jailer, let the rest of the prisoners out before you go.”

“Yes majesty,” Horeburt responded while Festuscato began to collect his things.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 1 of 3

Festuscato stayed in his prison cell for a month, waiting for Merovech to return from Soissons. Gaius came to visit every day.  Childeric came almost every day, often with Gaius.  Luckless took up with a nearby dwarf clan so he was not around much.  Tulip and Waterborn were in love, so also no help whatsoever.  Tulip and Waterborn visited now and then, but their minds were far, far away, in love, and young fairies, meaning less than five hundred years old or so, have a hard time staying focused as it is.  To a human, it might have appeared like a whirlwind romance, but for fairies that was often the way it worked.  The fairy world never made the horrible mess of love and relationships we humans made.

Fortunately, the young male fairies Ironwood and Clover, and the young female fee, Heather, were a great help and company.  They often entertained Childeric when Festuscato and Father Gaius went into confession mode, and Festuscato had a lot to confess.  But Festuscato had to keep one eye open during his confessions because Heather in her big form appeared to be about seventeen, and beautiful, as all fairies are, and he feared it might be too much for Childeric at almost fifteen, hormones raging as they undoubtedly were.

Gregor and Bran settled in at Felix’ place, and Dibs fit himself right in when he and his troop of thirty men, all sporting their dragon tunics, returned from the meeting with Aegidius, the new Magister Millitum of northern Gaul, which is to say, the chief General of the Roman province in the north.  It looked for a while like Merovech, the king of the Salian Franks might settle in Cambrai for the winter, but come mid-November, when the last of the harvest came in, he returned to Tournai with some serious questions for his guest.

“Aegidius says I should keep you locked up and throw away the key,” Merovech said.

“I was not aware that cliché started this far in the past,” Festuscato mumbled before he spoke up.  “But to the point, why?  I am no threat to you.  I am only here to help you.”

“That is what I am afraid of.  We have had our fill of Roman help, all my life.  My father got tired of it and rebelled.  He got killed by Romans, not that many years ago.  So why should I trust you?”

“You don’t have to trust me.  You just have to prepare your men for the Hun hurricane.  Attila has brought his victorious armies up from the border of the eastern empire and is even now preparing to explode on to the western stage. My spies tell me he intends to overrun Gaul, and don’t think he will let the Franks be at his back.  I suspect he will take you down first before he ever meets a single Roman in battle.”

“But what evidence do you have?  Only the word of these dragon flies.”

Festuscato smiled.  “That is very good.  The dragon and the fairies.”

Merovech grinned at his own wit, then he left Festuscato where he was, in jail.

Six weeks later, around the new year, word came that the Huns laid siege around Strasbourg.  Merovech returned to hear what Festuscato had to say, or maybe to gloat.

“The Huns have entered Swabia.  It is a great army, as you said.  My report says ten thousand Huns and ten thousand others, Germans of all sorts, what the Romans call Auxiliary troops, like Bavarians, Goths and others.  But Strasbourg is a quick route to the heart of Gaul.  My men say from there he will surely fall on the Burgundians and pass us by.”

“Surely, he will not,” Festuscato responded.  “I have it from Maywood, King of the fairies along the Rhine, that the Huns have a second army, the main army coming up from the south and headed right for Worms.  Ellak, Attila’s eldest is leading the Huns, some fifteen thousand.  Ardaric the King has ten thousand Gepids and Valamir the Ostrogoth has some ten thousand men as well.  Keep in mind, these are battle tested and hardened troops that have defeated the legions of the east three times in the last several years.  What is more, the Thuringians and your brother Cariaric with his Hessian Franks are waiting just north of Worms, near Mainz.”

“To fight and try to turn back the Huns?”

“No.  To join the Huns, but sixty thousand troops is too much for the land to support, especially in February.  I would guess Attila will divide his forces more evenly into two or three groups, and plan to rejoin them after the spring harvest is in, maybe around Paris.  Exactly which direction they will head after they ruin Mainz is a guess, but they will have to take cities to steal the winter food store along with whatever loot they can pillage.”

“Why would Cariaric despoil Mainz?  It is his own city.”

“My spies tell me the city fathers rejected him and closed their gate to him.  I imagine he wants revenge for the insult.”

Merovech pulled on his beard.  “Yes, that sounds like Cariaric.”

“He is the eldest brother, isn’t he?”

Merovech nodded before he turned toward the door.  “My men say the Hun will turn on the Burgundians.”

“He is not going to leave you Franks like a big knife in his back,” Festuscato protested.

Merovech nodded again.  “But I am listening,” he said, and left Festuscato in jail for another month.  

When Merovech came back for the third time, he brought a chair to sit and face Festuscato, and he looked worried.

“As you predicted.  Mainz has been burned.”  Merovech threw his hands up and spouted his disbelief.  “They surrendered.  They gave no struggle.  They turned over everything they had, and they still were killed and burned.  The Huns are like wild dogs.  How can we fight them?”

“Very carefully,” Festuscato said.  “Go on.”

“Well, it looks like Attila will split his force in two, as you said.  How did you know?”

“Common sense.  Armies have to be fed, even in winter.  Go on,” Festuscato encouraged him.

“Well, it is too soon to say which way they will turn, but I would guess one will head down the Moselle and the other will come here.”  Merovech shook his head.  “What can we do to stand against him?”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 3 of 3

“And how do you know what Attila will do?” Gaius asked the obvious question.

“We just spent the last eight or nine years mostly in the empire of the Hun.  We saw more cowed people than you can count.  Maybe we did not deal much directly with the Huns, but we heard all the stories.”

“Paper,” Felix came to the table, having stepped away for a moment.  He set paper, a jar of ink and several quills on the table.  “My wife keeps the accounts and keeps a supply handy.”

“Luckless,” Festuscato held his hand out to the dwarf.  “Four pieces if you don’t mind.”

Luckless grumbled as he pulled four gold coins out of his vest pocket.  “Not much left, you know.”

Festuscato nodded and handed them to Felix.  “One for the rooms, one for the food, one for the care and feeding of the horses, and one for your wife, for the paper and ink, and maybe you buy her something.”  No doubt, it was more gold than Felix had seen in a long time.

Festuscato took the paper and ink to a separate table, one with the afternoon light, and he spent the afternoon writing letters.  Father Gaius helped some with the more diplomatic parts.  He went to bed tired but woke up early and wrote some more.  Then he sealed the letters and finally coaxed Tulip down from the rafters.

“Yes Lord, I understand, but we are closest here to the coastal fairies and I do not know who they might be,” she said.

Festuscato risked a migraine by reaching his thoughts out to the coast.  He caught a few names and was pleased with what he found.  “Treeborn and Goldenrod,” he called, and with a look at Tulip, he added, “And the son, Waterborn.”

Three fairies appeared on the table.  It was still early enough in the day, so it caused no stir among the patrons. Treeborn looked old and seemed to be having trouble figuring out what just happened, but Goldenrod, his wife figured it out readily enough and turned him to Festuscato.  She curtsied.  Treeborn squinted at him.  Waterborn did nothing since his eyes were occupied with Tulip.  That was fine, because she just stared right back at him.

“Forgive me.  I should have changed first,” Festuscato smiled and went away so Greta could take his place.  “It is good to see you again,” she said.  “But when did you leave the lake of gold on the Dnieper?”  Goldenrod gave another curtsey and this time Treeborn seemed to recognize her.  He gave a slight bow before he answered.

“When the Goths came south and slaughtered so many as they pushed through Dacia, all the way to the Danube.  They built a settlement on the lake, and we went nomad, always moving to the northwest, until at last we found a place along the coast and among the Frisians.”

“Father?”  Waterborn looked over and Tulip offered a curtsey of her own as they took a break from their staring contest.

“I see you have grown,” Greta said with a smile.  In her day, he had hardly been a child of fifty.  Now he had to be near three hundred.  “Are you ready for another adventure and another battle?”

“Yes, Lady.”  Waterborn finally offered a bow.  “But I heard you had passed on.”

“I did.  This is not my life.  It belongs to Lord Festuscato Cassius Agitus, and he has some very important letters to be delivered.  I need a dozen volunteers.  Time is not of the essence, but time is fleeting, might you ask—”

“I know just the crew,” Treeborn shouted.

“Here,” Greta said in the right way, tapped the table, and closer to twenty fairies appeared as Waterborn frowned.

“Father!” Waterborn complained with the word, and Greta caught a glimpse that these were his friends and Treeborn thought of them as lazy lay-abouts. 

“The lady has messages to carry, letters to be exact, and she needs volunteers to carry them.”  Treeborn rubbed his hands together, while Goldenrod had a practical thought.

“Perhaps you should go in teams of two.  You can pair up.”

“Where do you want them sent?”  Treeborn already reached the next step.

“Only if you are willing,” Greta insisted, and she waited until she heard from them all.  Then she prepared to tell them about the letters and about delivering them in private and not being caught, but to give also a verbal message to help underline the letter, but they got interrupted.  A dozen Franks came in with swords drawn.

“Where is the Roman?” one man asked while Greta raised her voice.

“Bran and Gregor, don’t you dare resist.  It is just my escort to my winter quarters, that’s all, so put your weapons back where they belong.”  Fortunately, the Franks paused on seeing the fairy troop, so no one got hurt.  One of the Franks ran back outside.  He looked scared half to death.  But a young man of about fourteen or fifteen years came right up to the table to watch.  Greta looked and guessed.

“Childeric?”  The young man nodded while Greta went right back to instructing the fairies about the letters.  “I’ll be with you in a minute,” Greta said, and she saved Merovech’s letter for last.  “This one is for your father,” she said.  “He must be prepared to evacuate Tournai as soon as the Huns show their ugly faces.”

“The Huns work for the Romans,” Childeric said.  “The Romans killed my grandfather, Clodio when I was twelve.”

“No, dear,” Greta said, and she raised her voice loud enough to be heard by all the Franks who were standing around the inn by then, thinking about getting a tankard of ale.  “The Huns killed your grandfather, and now we have good information that they are going to rebel and start killing Romans.  They want to take over Gaul.  You might not like the Romans, but they are better than having Huns in charge.”

“At the risk of sounding like a Christian,” Gregor spoke up and winked at Father Gaius.  “I say Amen to that.”

Greta turned back to the fairies.  With the last letter gone, Tulip and Waterborn and three of Waterborn’s friends remained.  Treeborn and Goldenrod also remained, and Greta told the elderly couple how glad she was to see them again, and how happy she was that they found a good home, away from all the fighting around Dacia.  “I hope we can keep the fighting away from you this time.  Please, may I borrow Waterborn and his friends for a while?”

“By all means,” Goldenrod said sweetly.

“Please,” Treeborn said, but in a way where it seemed hard to tell if he meant a polite be my guest or please get them out of my hair for a while.

“Now watch this,” Greta said, and Childeric leaned over to watch.  Greta clapped her hands and Treeborn and Goldenrod vanished.  They would reappear back in their home on the Frisian coast.

“How did you do that?”  Childeric looked impressed, and vocal at fourteen.

Greta smiled and placed a gentle hand on the boy’s cheek.  “A secret,” she said in a conspiratorial voice which only intrigued the boy all the more.  She turned once again to the fairies and looked them over.  Waterborn’s remaining friends were two younger boys, Clover and Ironwood, and a girl named Heather who looked so young.  She just recently turned over a hundred-years-old and thus barely qualified as an adult.

“Now Tulip,” she said.  “No more hiding in the rafters.  You need to take your friends and introduce them to the others.  Don’t forget to include Felix and Father Gaius, and Sergeant Dibs when he gets here.  And be good to Luckless.”

“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and with some glee in her voice she grabbed Waterborn’s hand and dragged him over to meet Bran the Sword and Gregor one-eye.

“Now Childeric,” Greta turned and spoke up again to get the attention of the Franks.  “I believe you came to arrest me.”

“No, not you,” Childeric said.  “We were looking for the Roman, a man.”

“But that is me,” Greta said.  She smiled again and went away so Festuscato could return in his comfortable clothes.  Childeric shrieked.  The two Franks who had taken seats to wait, jumped to their feet.  The leader of this squad of men let out a bellow, like a buffalo driven off the cliff.  Festuscato ignored them all and put his hands out.  “I surrender,” he said.

The Franks escorted Festuscato to jail.  It was a pleasant walk since none of the Franks dared touch him, and Gaius came along for company.

“There are enough Christians in town,” Gaius said.  “I say mass every morning, extra early this morning in anticipation of finishing the letters.  Merovech is accommodating, but I feel he just does not want to be on the wrong side of any gods.”

“Good.”  Festuscato was not really listening.  It took until they were almost there before Festuscato opened up and said what was on his mind.  “I think we should have most of the winter for you to hear my confessions.  Trouble is, everything indicates Attila will move in the coming year, but there is no telling how soon he will move.”

“Burn that bridge when you come to it, as you say,” Gaius quipped, and they arrived.

It looked like a jailhouse in the old American west.  They even had an office out front, but through the big door at the back of the office sat a long room full of torture devices on the left and cells on the right where the prisoners could look out on the torture devices and think about it.  The jailer, a man named Horeburt, appeared as big, mean and ugly as one might expect.  Not having the experience of the fairies in the tavern, Horeburt thought nothing of reaching out to roughly grab the prisoner.  The chief Frank himself stayed the man’s hand.

“I don’t recommend you touch this one, at least not before Merovech gets back.”

“I’ll take the cell on the end here,” Festuscato pointed.  He had looked and this one was the cleanest and had a small, barred window through which Tulip could visit.

Horeburt got the key and the Franks stayed long enough to see Festuscato securely locked in.  Gaius left when Festuscato assured him he would be comfortable.  Then Horeburt got a chair.  There were three other men in three other cells, but Horeburt only seemed curious about the Roman.  He set his chair outside the bars that made up the door to the cell and he watched as several fairies fluttered in the window carrying a fine lunch.  They set it on the small table in the cell, and carried on a conversation, which Horeburt recognized as Latin even if his Latin was not good enough to know what they were saying.

The fairies went away while the prisoner ate, but returned soon enough with fresh straw for bedding, several blankets and a first-rate pillow.  Festuscato looked through the bars and told Horeburt he was going to take a nap and would appreciate some privacy.  Horeburt watched as a troll rose up right out of the ground inside the cell.  The troll had another blanket which he draped over the bars to act like a real door and cut off Horeburt’s sight.  Horeburt decided the chief Frank had been right.  He never would have permitted another prisoner to cut himself off so he could not be seen, but in this case, Horeburt decided he did not want to see anymore.  He looked down where his feet touched the ground, slowly stood and put the chair back where it belonged.  He went out to the office room and sat in the big chair there, then he pulled his feet off the floor before he tried for his own nap.

************************

M0NDAY

Festuscato does what he can from jail all winter long, because he expects Attila and his Huns to move in the spring. Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 2 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato, Heinz, Bran and Tulip sat on the edge of a short cliff, looking down on three Hun scouts who were camped in the valley.  They appeared to be taking only minimal precautions against being found.  Either they thought they were in Hun land, or they thought Saxony was well under their thumb, or both.  Yet they were scouts, so they were looking for something.

“They are too close to the village,” Heinz whispered.  “If we take them here and men come to look for them, they will surely find us.”

Festuscato grinned.  Heinz had started learning.  Sadly, not everyone did.

“There are other men down there,” Tulip said, quietly, and pointed, not that anyone could follow her little finger.

“Morons,” Bran used Festuscato’s word.

“Hey.  No.”  Heinz tried to stand and shout, but Festuscato put his hand over the man’s mouth and they waited.  Six Saxons surprised three Huns and the final score was Saxons three, Huns two, though when Greta examined one of the Saxons back in the main camp, she pronounced the score three to three.  The man did not live two days.

“And that was taking them by surprise,” Festuscato said calmly.

“You idiots.”  Heinz did not sound so calm.  “Now when the Huns send out a whole troop to look for them, how will we avoid being found?”

“Morons,” Bran repeated.

“I like that word,” Festuscato said.

“Morons,” Heinz repeated.  “And I don’t even know what it means, but you are it.”

They got the Hun camp cleaned up and brought the bodies in with the horses and all the equipment.  Festuscato had an idea, but he waited until Gregor got back that evening.  Gregor came in smiling, his whole troop intact.  Luckless got down and spoke first.

“Didn’t hardly need to sniff out the boy,” he said.

“We caught them unprepared,” Gregor boasted.  “The terrors of the wilderness, and we caught them flat footed.  Let me tell you, it was fierce.”

A young man stepped up.  “I went to relieve myself at the edge of the camp.  There were only two guards.”

“We snatched him up and ran,” Luckless finished the story.

Gregor stared at the two with his one eye and made an expression like they were no fun.  “But it was fierce running,” he said.

“Okay!  Listen up!  Here’s the plan.”  Festuscato got everyone’s attention, and after two days of fairies and miracles, the Saxons learned to listen, even if he was a Roman.  “Gregor.  You need to leave Egbert in charge here so you can go with us.”

“Etheldrood,” Etheldrood corrected.

“But I like Egbert,” Gregor said with a laugh.

“Etheldrood.  You need to take these people to the new site.  We know the Huns have scouted all in that area, so you should be safe for a time.  You need to get word to all the other people, the ones in hiding and the ones still at home.  Don’t trust anyone with your location but tell them to be ready to turn out when the Huns pull out to go to war.  I’m guessing a year.  Tell them they will also be going to war and joining Roman and other allies to kill the Huns.  Anybody want to kill some Huns?”

“Yea.  Aye.  Aye.”  At least some of the men were ready.

“Heinz.  You know what to do with the bodies.  Are you up for it?”

“I will do my best for my king,” he said.  “Even though it cost me my life.”

“Not me,” Gregor said.  “I’m retired.  I would move to Florida if I knew where that was.  Lord Agitus says it is a warm, sandy beach and has scantily clad women who bring you drinks while you relax in the sun.  Sounds to me like that place, Heaven, that those Christians talk about.”

“Retired?”  Etheldrood got stuck on the word.

“It means you get to be king with all the headaches now and I get to go play and have fun.”  Gregor said more quietly, and Etheldrood thought that was still strange.  “It’s the least you could do for your old man.”

“All right,” Festuscato took back the conversation.  “So Etheldrood, you know what to do.  Make sure they are ready when the call comes.  And Heinz, you have your assignment.”

“And what will you be doing?” Heinz asked.

“Gregor, Bran, Luckless, Tulip and I will be talking to Merovech, King of the Salian Franks about that alliance, and if the Ripuarian Franks want to join with us in going after the Huns,” Festuscato shrugged.

“You are a scoundrel,” Heinz said.

“He doesn’t like to leave things to chance,” Gregor said and poked his son in the chest with a big finger.  “A trait you would do well to learn.”

“Every little bit helps,” Tulip gave it a positive spin.

“He doesn’t start the trouble,” Luckless chimed in.  “But he is good at ending it.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said, and when Bran looked at him, he said, “I’m a cad, not a scoundrel.”  Bran nodded.

###

Two days later, Heinz of the Saxons with four men rode somberly into the Hun camp.  They had three dead Huns on their horses, and the Huns were not pleased to see them.

“What is this?  What is this?”  Dengizic, Attila’s second son came racing out of his tent while the Huns grabbed and threatened the Saxons.

“We found them and thought you might like them back.  A kindness,” Heinz said.  Dengizic took a moment before he waved off the men who were holding the Saxons.  Those men only backed up one step.

“What happened?” Dengizic asked.

“Ripuarian Franks.  They crossed the river in the night and attacked us, looking for easy loot.  I guess they heard we were hiding from the terrible Huns and they figured we took our loot with us.”  Heinz grinned a very Festuscato grin.  “They must have found your men.  They carried off their dead and wounded from the attack so as not to leave evidence, but they had to be the same Franks who attacked us.”

“So, you bring them here with this tale and think we will believe you?”

“With this message.  Not everyone supports Etheldrood.  There are many of us who hate the Romans and are willing to fight, but you need to give us time to convince Etheldrood or remove him.”

Dengizic would have to think about that.  He considered his dead men.  “Thank you for returning our men.  You will have some time, I think.  We will be busy for a time paying the Franks a visit.”

Heinz nodded.  “I am Heinz.  I will see you again,” he said, and he and his men mounted, rode out, and tried hard to keep their horses at a steady pace and not look like they were running away, because, as Festuscato said, the dog will not attack until you turn your back to run.

###

Festuscato rode into the city of Tournai, the capital of the Salian Franks with all eyes watching him.  Luckless the dwarf could be seen as a short man with too much beard.  Gregor the Saxon looked like a Saxon, and while he might have gotten mixed reviews from the people, he was not an uncommon sight.  Bran the Sword, also not an unusual sight, apart from his size.  The Salian Franks had a good trade with Britain.  But Festuscato not only looked like a Roman, he looked like a rich Roman, and whenever such a man showed up it inevitably meant trouble and annoyance for the people.  When Tulip abandoned the horse’s mane to hide in Festuscato’s hair and sit on his shoulder, the people looked twice.

“Here we are.  Home at last,” Festuscato shouted when he came to a tavern and got down from his horse.  “The Dragon Inn.”  Festuscato read the sign and added, “Go out in the street and drag ‘em in.”  No one understood a word since he said that in twenty-first century English, but they joined him on his feet.  “Tie them off and let’s see if the ale is dragon strong.”

“Gotta be better than the last place,” Gregor said, and nodded when Luckless added his note.

“Piss water.”

“About time you got here,” someone spoke from the porch.  Festuscato took a close look before he shouted.

“Felix.  What brings you here?  You are about the last person I expected to see.  Still trading in wool and silk?”

“No, no.  I own this place.”

“Hope the ale is better than the last place,” Gregor said.

“Piss water,” Luckless added.

Bran followed them in but Festuscato turned to his childhood friend.  “So, any word from Father Gaius or Dibs?  I seem to recall telling them I would meet them here.  I suppose I’ve taken longer than planned.”

“About nine years longer,” Felix said, before he amended his statement.  “Make that ten years.  Anyway, a bit more than the three years you said.”  Felix grinned, like he had several jokes prepared, but an interruption came bursting out the door.  Father Gaius grabbed Festuscato in a big hug and Festuscato responded with a serious face and a word.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

“I look forward to hearing all about it,” Gaius said, and he and Felix brought Festuscato into the inn.

“Lord Agitus,” Luckless spoke right up.  “Dibs is apparently with his troop down around Soissons.”

“Where is Tulip?”

Bran pointed up while Gregor spoke.  “Can’t get the little lady to come down from the rafters.”

Festuscato sat and thought about it while Felix brought a mug of ale.  He tried it and protested.  “Felix.  This is good.  I know there is no way you made it, Roman that you are.”

“Murgen’s recipe,” Felix confessed.  “The Brit has his brewery out back, and in case you forgot, most of my neighbors back home were Brits as well.”

“True,” Gaius agreed.

“So, what is the next step?” Gregor sounded impatient, but not complaining.  He may have been uncomfortable being the lone Saxon in the midst of all the Franks.  Then again, Festuscato was not sure that was right because he could not remember ever seeing Gregor uncomfortable.  Festuscato nodded.

“All right,” he said, and thought a second.  “We find Merovech, king of the Salian Franks”

“That’s easy.  He went with Dibs to Soissons to meet with the new Magister Millitum, Aegidius,” Felix said.

“Now wait.  I know that name.”  Festuscato was still thinking.  “Wasn’t Aegidius General Aetius’ aid de camp?”

“He was,” Gaius confirmed.  “But what of it?”

“I have to write some letters.  Too bad Seamus isn’t around.  He always had parchment and ink handy.”

“Letters?”

“Thorismund of the Visigoths, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans down in Orleans.  You remember him from our time there.  Let’s see.  Aetius in Italy, and I guess Aegidius in Soissons or Paris or wherever he ends up.  Then I need to write to Merovech and his brothers, wherever they are.  We need to gather what men we can, and then the hard part will be holding them back until the opportune time.  When Attila is ready, he will strike hard and fast and cities are going to burn, maybe this city.  We need to gather, to be ready to strike when the time is right and not spread ourselves out trying to defend every city.  If we spread out like that, Attila will have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“That will be hard for the Franks,” Gregor said.  “They are not known for patience.  They will defend their crops and homes, and you won’t be able to stop them.”

“They will get themselves killed and not stop the Huns,” Bran decided.

“We will see,” Festuscato said.  “A lot will depend on the Visigoths and Aetius and what they come up with and are willing to risk.  I can see Theodoric sticking to his own border and maybe trying to buy off Attila.  That would be like trying to buy off a lion with a steak.  The steak, once eaten, might just whet the lion’s appetite.”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 1 of 3

Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome

After 416 AD Gaul, Kairos 96

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus, Comes Britannia, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and chief cook and bottle washer, at your service.”  Festuscato bowed low and smiled.  This had to work better than it did for Margueritte.  She got tied and gagged.

“We don’t like Romans in our land,” the big man growled from his horse, and had a dozen men to back him up.  His Latin did not sound bad, but clearly the big man did not understand most of what Festuscato said.

“I don’t blame you.  I don’t like many Romans either, although I would not mind another tussle in bed with Honoria.  That girl knew more like a hundred shades of gray.”

“The emperor’s sister?”  One man asked and looked shocked, but Festuscato figured these Saxons did not know many Romans by name.  Honoria’s name got bandied about lately, and it had something to do with the Huns.

“The very same.  Ah, Bran.”  Bran stepped from the woods into the small clearing where the company camped.  He looked wary and fingered his belt where his big sword waited, but Festuscato remained friendly, and Bran took his cue from that.  Festuscato introduced his big British friend.  “Bran the Sword meet—” He could not finish the sentence and looked to the original speaker for a clue.

“Heinz,” the man said.  “Chief of my village.”

“Heinz,” Festuscato repeated.  “I was just about to invite Heinz and his men to join us.  A hundred pounds of deer meat is more than even Luckless can eat.”

“We might just take the deer,” Heinz said.  “We don’t like Brits either and don’t like strangers hunting on our land.”

“Got any gold?”  One man asked.  “We might not kill you if you have enough gold.”

“No one ever has enough gold,” a voice spoke from the woods before Luckless the dwarf made his appearance.  “I found some spice.”  He added it to the pot and totally ignored the tension in the air.  “Are your friends ever going to get down off their high horses and join us for supper?”

On sight of a real, live dwarf, Heinz and his men looked hesitant.

“Heinz, chief of your village, please, you and your men join us.  I want to ask you about your village, because the last two villages we found were burned and uninhabited.  I hope it wasn’t Romans.  I would hate to have to crucify some over eager centurion.”

Heinz got down slowly but waved to keep his men up.  “You could do that?”

“As a Roman Senator and Imperial Governor, Lord Agitus can do pretty much what he wants,” Bran said.   It was more than he said in days.

“Maybe you could be a ransom.” Heinz started thinking.

“Maybe,” Festuscato nodded.  “But I would rather be friends and find out about the villages.  Maybe I can do something about that, and that might be worth more than ransom.”

“What can you do about the Huns?” Heinz asked.

“We drove them out of Britain,” Bran said.

Festuscato paused and looked Heinz in the eye.  “Threw them right off my island.”

“Your Island?  Britain?”  Men doubted.

Heinz quieted them.  “I heard about Meglas’ humiliation.  I heard Attila cut the man’s head off.”

“My island.”  Festuscato nodded.  “I tied him up like a pig for slaughter and sent him back, but I take no responsibility for what happened after he got back to this shore.”  He took a moment to apply his sauce to the deer.  “Probably poison,” he said to Bran.  Bran touched it with his finger and licked it.

“Tastes okay to me,” he said.

“Me too.  I’m starving,” Luckless said.

“You’re always starving,” Festuscato countered, and then paused while he watched Heinz stick out his finger to try it.  Heinz clearly approved as he turned and yelled at his men to gather around.  The Saxons tied off their horses and came clinking and clanging in their armor and dragged up lumber for chairs.

“Nice horses,” one man said in halting Latin as he examined the company’s horses.

“Danish,” Bran said.

“A gift from Wulfgar of the Danes,” Festuscato added.  “After leaving the Eastern Empire and traveling back through the Germanies, we stopped in Copenhagen again to see how things were going before finally heading west, and he insisted.”

“I heard the Danes are beset by a terrible monster,” one man started, friendly enough, but paused when he looked at the dwarf.  He thought it best not to offend.

“They were,” Luckless said.  “Let me just say, the Danes were grateful.”

“Big monster, too,” Festuscato added.  “So, tell me about the Huns.”

Heinz finally sat and looked hard at his three prisoners, as he imagined them to be.  Then again, he was not sure what to think.  “You are like a dog with a bone,” he said at last.

“I am,” Festuscato agreed.  “Last time I talked to Attila, that was more than fourteen years ago, it sounded like he had big plans.  What is it now, four-forty-nine, four-fifty AD?  I want to know what he is doing in case I have to stop him.”

“How do you propose to stop anything Attila does?” Heinz asked.

“You are not a superstitious man, are you?  Attila is a superstitious man, but you aren’t, are you?”  Heinz shook his head.  “Good,” Festuscato smiled and looked up a tree.  “Tulip.  You can come down now.  These are not bad men.  They are husbands and fathers and good sons concerned about their homes and families, as they should be.  Miss Tulip, please come to my shoulder.”  Something fluttered in the leaves before a streak of light raced to Festuscato’s shoulder to hide in his hair.

“I am asking,” Heinz said, as he and several of his men tried to get a glimpse of what it was.

“A bird?” one man wondered.

Tulip stuck her little face out from Festuscato’s red strands and shouted.  “I am not a bird.”  She disappeared again and tickled Festuscato’s ear.

“What?  Oh.  She says if you try to hurt any of us she will get her big brother to beat you up.”  Festuscato smiled and reached over to give Heinz a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Is she?”

“A fairy.”

Heinz laughed.  “Never fear, Miss Tulip?  I mean your friends no harm.”  Most of the men were smiling by then, but it all stopped when they heard a voice in the distance.

“Yahoo! Wait until you see what I found.”  Gregor one eye came riding up pulling a mule with two kegs of ale balanced over its back.  Gregor paused when he saw they had company, and Heinz and his men stood and stared until Heinz spoke.

“Lord Gregor?”

“Heinz, isn’t it?  You are all grown up.  After all these years, I can see I have some catching up to do.”

“Lord Gregor?”

“Lord Agitus.  Are these young boys bothering you?”  Wait.”  Gregor got down from his horse and stopped a few feet from the fire.  “Where is my little lady?”

“Hiding,” Festuscato said, and at the same time Tulip stuck her head out and gave Gregor the raspberries.  That set Gregor to laughing, and he slapped one of the Saxons hard on the shoulder.  The man had to catch himself to keep from falling.  He resumed his seat with a look of pain on his face and rubbed his shoulder.

“Lord Gregor?”

Luckless walked to the mule and interrupted.  “Human ale.  It’s better than piss water, but not by much.”

Bran finally asked.  “Lord Gregor?”

Heinz answered.  “Our king.”

Gregor sat by the fire.  “I went back to check out something in that last village we came through.  I was right.  The mule and the ale were just a bonus.”

“Right about what?” Tulip could be heard if not seen.

“Well, little lady, there was the mark of one of Attila’s sons left as a warning for others to find.  What game is Attila playing?”

“That is what I keep asking,” Festuscato admitted, and he stared at Heinz who appeared uncomfortable with the turn of events.  He sat and opened up.

“The talk is of war, and the Huns want to force all the Germans to fight for them.  They have cowed some of the tribes, but some are holding out.  I think they plan to invade Gaul.  They have it on good authority that General Aetius is in Italy and the one he left in charge in Gaul has just three legions available, and maybe half that in Auxiliary troops.  That is about twenty thousand men.  Attila can bring thirty thousand men by himself, maybe more, and if they can get that many Germans from the various tribes, they can go into the province with perhaps three times the Roman numbers.  But many of us are resisting.”

“My son?” Gregor asked.

Silence followed, for a moment, before Heinz pleaded.  “Forgive us, Lord.  Your son is a prisoner of Attila, a hostage, but when he was taken, he ordered us to resist, and we have resisted, though it has cost us in our homes.”

“Lord Agitus?”  Gregor did not hesitate to turn to Festuscato.

“Well, we will just have to get him back.  Tulip?”

“Maywood is my uncle and a king not far from here,” she said.

“There are two things we need to do right away,” Festuscato said.  “Maywood.”  He called in the right way, and the fairy king appeared out of thin air.  After a second to get his bearings, he approached Tulip and bowed in mid-air to Festuscato.

“Lord,” he said.

“Maywood.  I do not want you to put any of your people in danger.  We just need information.  If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you would send out fliers to all of the Hun camps.  Anything they overhear about war objectives and Gaul would be helpful, but mostly I would like to know where Lord Gregor’s son is being held prisoner.  After that, I may need you and yours to carry some messages for me, to Thorismund, to some of the tribes that I know are not friends with the Huns, like the Samartians and Scythians, the Alans and so on, and Aldrien in Amorica.  I assume he is king now.”

“Aldrien passed away after ruling for twelve years,” Maywood said.  “His son, Budic is king now for these last two years.”

“Time has gotten away from me,” Festuscato admitted, and added quickly.  “That means fourteen years ago I was a brash youth who confronted the old king and took his younger brother on an adventure to Britannia.  Fourteen years.”  He repeated and shook his head until Tulip tugged on his hair and protested.

“And fifteen years since I have been in Saxony,” Gregor mused.

“Only about ten since you found me in Wales,” Luckless said as he struggled to open one keg.  “Most of that has been spent here, on the continent though, among the Jutes and Danes, Goths of all sorts and Germans of more types than can be counted.”

“You forgot all the different Iranian types and the Slavs,” Bran noted.  “And I was thinking when we left the Holy Land to return to the west, we might get back to civilized lands soon.”

“What is the second thing?” Heinz asked.  “You said there are two things we need to do right away.”

“Enjoy this venison, the veggie pot and the ale.  We can’t make good plans on an empty stomach.”

“Ha!” Gregor agreed.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 6 of 6

Diogenes caught a glimpse of who stood in the courtyard.  He changed to Gerraint as soon as he got through the window and finished helping Enid and Guimier down.  Gerraint gave Guimier a fatherly kiss, and kissed Enid like a faithful husband and went away again so Danna, the mother goddess of the Celtic gods, could come from the deep past and stand in his place.

The first thing Danna did was make Coppertone, the pixie stop fluttering around the courtyard and change into her big form.  She turned from a two-foot tall clawed and winged harpy-like creature into a four-foot-tall matronly lady, a bit round, and with gray hair sneaking into her brown.  Danna found Belle, an elf maiden short of three hundred years old, and made sure her glamour of humanity was secure.  She thought to have Belle and Coppertone tend to their mistress and the princess, by which she meant Enid and Guimier.  Belle curtsied, though Danna was not there to see, she knew Danna would see.  Then she hurried to Enid’s side.  Coppertone went skipping along the side of the great hall, despite appearing far too old to skip like a little girl.

“Can’t take the pixie out of the pixie,” Danna thought with a smile before she spoke to the beauty that stood in the courtyard.  “Rhiannon.”

“Mother,” Rhiannon answered as Danna joined her.  “Coppertone flew all the way to the Lake of the Moon to find me, and I am glad she did.  Arthur’s soldiers have the fort again, and twenty-three prisoners.  But these three are the ones from Sussex making the guns and powder.”

Danna nodded.  She raised one hand and made a fist.  Those three disappeared, and no one asked where they went.  Lockhart, Katie, Percival, Thomas, Peter, and Tristam walked up from one direction.  Arthur, Gwynyvar, Bedivere, Guimier, Enid and her two handmaids walked up from the other direction.  Piebucket and Bogus the dwarfs walked up from a third direction.  The dwarfs had in mind to complain, but Danna pinched her fingers so neither dwarf could open his mouth.

Rhiannon made Odacer and Harwic appear.  Harwic was dead.  Odacer had a minute of life left.  “Gunter and Sven,” Danna called them by different names.  “We will meet again.”  Odacer said nothing.  He closed his eyes and died.

Rhiannon raised her hand and the wraith appeared, badly broken by the explosion.  “Mother.  What do you want me to do with this one?”

Danna did something before she explained.  “I have removed the compulsion of Domnu.  Lockhart, she will bother you no more.  I believe I will send her to Alice.  Alice may send her through the Heart of Time, back to her proper days.  Then Alice will have to put a hedge around the time gates and all the land between against the wraith, so the wraith cannot interfere with herself as she travelers through time, chasing after the travelers.”  Danna quickly held up her hand for silence.  “I don’t know if she can do that just yet.  The Storyteller is still missing, and things are still very confused.  Alice may need to keep the wraith in a safe place until that can be accomplished, but at least she will not bother you anymore.”  She looked around at the fort and generally at the sky as the wraith disappeared.  “Time flies,” she said, as the last of the sun sank into the west.

“Yes mother. I will be going over to the other side, soon, but there is one more.” Rhiannon tried to smile.

Danna did smile.  She kissed the goddess on the cheek.  “I know but be sure it is soon.”

Rhiannon found a genuine smile then and waved to the travelers.  “Good to see you all again.  Sorry, must run.”  She disappeared and took nearly all the little spirits with her.

Danna turned specifically to Boston.  “Be gentle with me,” she said, and went away so Gerraint could return to his own time and place.  Boston raced up, paused, and hugged Gerraint most gently.  He still said, “Ouch.”  He added, “And tell Alexis her services will not be needed, either on myself or on the wounded, dead, or dying in the fort.  I am sorry, but that is how it must be.  We fight our own battles and take our lumps as they come.”

“So we are learning,” Tony said, and the other travelers agreed.

“You will stay a few days before you move on?” Gerraint asked, and people nodded.  “The place is a bit of a mess right now, but Gwynyvar and Enid love Cadbury in the spring.”

Katie looked at the older woman that Gerraint indicated was Gwynyvar, and she got that groupie look in her eyes.  They all did a little on meeting Arthur, and Lockhart had the good sense not to say, “I thought King Arthur was a myth.”

Sir Thomas said, “So what was that all about?  What just happened?”

Percival turned to the Admiral.  “As I am sure Bedivere will tell you from years of following Gerraint around, sometimes it is better not to ask.”

###

The travelers spent a week in Cadbury watching Gerraint heal.  Gerraint sent Scorch and Spark home with his thanks, and the thanks of Arthur and Gwynyvar.  “Don’t forget us if you need to blowed up some more things,” Spark said, as they vanished.

Most of the little ones that came with Rhiannon, went home to the British highlands and the lake.  The dwarfs got to escort the Saxons back to Sussex.  “To put the fear of God in them?” Nanette asked.

“No,” Gerraint said.  “But it might put the fear of dwarfs in them.”

Boston finally laughed.

Sukki sat quietly, thinking about what she did in taking down the wall.  Nanette moped.  Katie and Enid, who had become quite friendly, both came to ask what was wrong.  Nanette did not want to talk about it, so Boston told, snooty little sister that she was.  “She is upset that Sir Thomas is taking all of Decker’s attention.”

“I am not,” Nanette denied it, but the women could tell.

When they got to the south coast, Sir Thomas gave them free passage across the channel.  Boston and Lincoln had determined that the time gate had to be on the continent.  “If not in Brittany,” as they called it, though Sir Thomas mostly called it Amorica, “Then right next to it.”

“Bad area,” Sir Thomas warned them.  “Back when; a man named Claudus took the Roman military left in Provence and Septimania and tried to reestablish so-called Roman rule in the provinces.  Truth is, he ruled under the Visigoths, and sometimes played the Visigoths and Burgundians against each other.  Then the Franks came.  Then the Ostrogoths came out of old Rome and settled things.  Provence, at least, came nominally under the Eastern Roman Empire.  Claudus thought that was great.  He took his army and tried to expand his territory.  The Visigoths, Burgundians and Franks did not budge, but Claudus managed to capture the Atlantique province, alongside Amorica and south to about Bordeaux.  Then he tried to take Amorica, and Arthur brought the army over to help his cousins.  Claudus was defeated and killed in the battle.”

“Move forward.  The Atlantique province is now tributary to the Franks, but the Sons of Claudus have gained power and are again threatening Amorica.  And the Franks are sitting back, watching, to see how it goes, because they have spent their forces for the time being driving the Visigoths south of the mountains, not counting Septimania.”

“And we are heading right into that mess,” Lincoln said.

“Not so bad,” Boston countered.  “We will only be there about a day inland.”

“We might go before they know we have arrived,” Alexis agreed.

“I know a port that is safe,” Sir Thomas said.  “At least it was safe last I heard.”

“Great,” Lincoln let out his full sarcasm.

The port turned out to be safe enough, but the travelers had to wait in the port for three days until Lancelot showed up with three hundred men on foot.  They would be escorted to the time gate and left in the morning.  Around noon, Lancelot, who rode in front beside Lockhart and Katie pointed to the trees off to their left.

“The lake,” he said.  “What the Franks call Dulac.  It is where the Lady of the Lake had her residence and held court.  She trained me to the sword as she trained my son, Galahad.”

Katie nodded.  “She has moved to the British highlands and the Lake of the Moon.  She says she has one more to train.”

“How would you know this?” Lancelot asked.

“Sometimes, you just have to trust,” Lockhart said, and Lancelot accepted that.

Later that day, Lancelot admitted that things were not going well.  “Bohort and Lionel are backed up to the west coast.  The King’s city is besieged.  I will be going with Thomas back to Britain to try and raise an army.  The Sons of Claudus with their Frankish help have wasted the countryside, slaughtering whole villages.”

“I wish you well,” Katie said.  “Maybe Arthur will help.”

Lancelot shook his head.  “Arthur will not prevent me from raising men at arms, though I hope they bring their families to repopulate the land.  But Arthur says he is getting too old for foreign adventures.”

That ended the conversation.  Alexis kept talking about how lovely the spring was, but Sir Thomas and Lincoln were almost as morose as the three out front.

They camped that evening before the time gate, in an open field on the edge of a great forest.  They stayed quiet most of the evening and took advantage of letting Lancelot’s men take the watch in the night.  The following morning, Sukki asked a serious question.

“How much longer do we have to travel?”

“Are we there yet?” Boston said, with just enough whine in her voice to make Lockhart chuckle.

“As I count it,” Lincoln said.  “We have twenty-four more time zones to go.”  He waved to Lancelot and Sir Thomas and paced the mule as Tony drove and they disappeared in time.

************************

MONDAY

Having read the travelers’ encounter with Arthur, the Pendragon, and before that, their encounter with Festuscato and the Vandals in Rome, it is only right to share the stories of the Kairos from those same days.  First, to see how Festuscato gains the trust of both the Pope and the Empress, not to mention how he gained a wife.  Then, Gerraint in the last days of Arthur leading to his final battle, when all is lost.  Beginning Monday.

*

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 5 of 6

Arthur, Diogenes, Bedivere, Gwynyvar, Enid, and Guimier hid in a back room of the great hall.  The room had a big enough window that looked out on the barracks and the new tower.  They could not see much of the central courtyard where most of the activity seemed to be taking place, but in any case, Diogenes made everyone stay away from the window.  He said they had to wait until dark.  With that, Diogenes sat on the bed in that room and went away, so Gerraint could return and hug his daughter, who was worried about him.

“Besides,” Gerraint said, “Any trouble we face will come from the door, not the window, and that will only happen if they discover we have escaped from our cell.”

“You know I don’t like not knowing what is going on,” Arthur said.  “But we will wait.”  He examined the sword he held, the one they took from a sleeping Saxon.  The man had probably been posted to guard the downstairs cell, but figured since the cell was locked, he could take a nice long nap.  They took the man’s things without waking him.  Bedivere got Gerraint’s long knife, Defender, and gave Enid Gerraint’s cutting knife.  Arthur took the sword and grabbed the man’s wicked looking knife that had been set on the table.  He gave the knife to Gwynyvar.  No one doubted the women knew how to use those knives, and would use them expertly, if they had to, and to protect Guimier.

###

Outside Cadbury Fort, Elder Stow handed Sukki an invisibility disc and said, “Be careful.  A lucky shot can still hit you, even if you are invisible.  I have mini self-screens in my belt array, but you have no such help.”

“She has pressurized fish skin,” Boston said.  “She got shot once before, but the bullet did not penetrate far and quickly fell out.”

“But it hurt,” Sukki said.

Elder Stow assured her.  “If you cut along the bottom of the wall while I press down from the top, you should be able to finish cutting before they figure out where you are.  Hopefully, I will distract them, so they may not even realize what you are doing.  And when you are finished, you need to rush straight back here to the others.  Is that clear?”

“Yes Father,” Sukki said.  “I am ready.”  She rose up into the air, and Elder Stow touched his belt to fly up and join her.  Then he touched in another place on his belt and the two of them vanished from sight.

###

Inside the fort, the Saxons hurried to reinforce the east wall with their guns.  “They will be charging into the setting sun,” Odacer pointed out.  “That is one more point to our advantage.”

“It will be a slaughter,” Harwic agreed.

“It will be a waste of your weapons and powder,” the wraith appeared, and yelled.  “I care nothing for the men of this age.  You should talk.  I have seen humans talk before they fight.  You should insist the man and woman who lead the travelers be there.  Also, the one who carries the memory in a box, and his wife.  And the big, African.  Then, when they are all present, you can shoot them with your gunds, and kill them.”

“Guns,” Harwic corrected the wraith.

Truth was the wraith came from the year 3585 BC.  Domnu, the Titaness who tried to take the old lands of Vanheim for herself, laid a geis on the wraith.  The compulsion to kill the travelers would never go away on its own.  The wraith honestly had no idea what guns were, but she knew the travelers had guns, and somehow, she became convinced she needed guns to kill the travelers.  It would be an understatement to say the travelers frustrated her and made her mad. Wraiths are angry creatures, by nature, and mad as well, for that matter.  But she remembered.  She had to kill the humans traveling through time.

When she first followed them through the time gate, she aged about sixty years all at once.  It all but killed the human men that followed her, but sixty years is not so much for a wraith whose lifespan is counted in centuries.  After the initial shock of ageing so rapidly, she almost turned back.  She found she could not.  The compulsion to kill the travelers felt too strong to resist.  She hesitated before following them again through the next time gate, but discovered after going through the first gate, she aged normally, no matter what.  The travelers could have explained to her that once she went through the first gate, she became displaced in time and aged according to her own personal timeline without regard to what time period she entered.  Of course, she would not understand that.  She just knew the travelers had to die.

She had enough sense to lay low while the gods remained active in the world.  The gods seemed to favor the travelers, and while she made a few slight attempts, she dared not do more than follow them.  Then the day came when the gods all went away, and she felt, surely, she could kill them.  But then she realized the Elder Race man had a thing that she could not break through to get at her prey.  And he had weapons that posed a danger to her.  And the girl who had been an Elder Race girl had dangerous powers.  She contrived a way to break the thing stopping her and got the guns in that day to attack the travelers, but the travelers proved too strong.

“Talk to your enemy,” she yelled at the gun makers.  She had to resort to trickery, but that was something she was very good at.  The two men grabbed the idea the wraith put in their heads.

“Our supplies of powder and shot are about two days away, I would guess,” Odacer said.  “Talking would delay the battle and help preserve what supplies we have.”

Harwic looked over at the barracks where the powder got stored.  They all looked over and saw a girl going inside.  The men thought nothing of it, but the wraith knew it was no ordinary girl.  She screamed, even as an invisible Elder Stow, that she could see perfectly, began to clear off the men from the top of the wall.

The wraith sent something like a fireball at Elder Stow, but it dissipated around the elder’s personal screen.

“Save the powder,” Odacer shouted.  His suspicious nature told him the girl did something.  That girl came out the door, transformed into a ball of flame, and raced to hide in the cooking fires.  The wraith screamed once more and flew to the barracks, easily getting inside the powder room.

“Get down,” Diogenes glimpsed Spark flying away and shouted to the others.  No one questioned him.  They all got to the floor, and Enid, Guimier, and Gwynyvar ducked behind the bed.

Elder Stow finished sweeping the wall clean of men as Sukki finished cutting the bottom of the wall.  The wall did not rumble for long before it fell, though it may have been helped when the powder room exploded.  That massive explosion knocked Odacer and Harwic to the ground where they got skewered with splinters from the barracks.  It provided enough push to make most of the east wall fall outward, like a cleanly cut tree.  Spark had to hold on to her log to keep the kitchen fire from being scattered everywhere.  Any men in the barracks, died.  And the new tower shook, right down to the new dungeon cells down below.

It felt like an earthquake, but the two Saxons managed to throw their prisoner into the cell before they slammed the door shut and raced back up the stairs, followed by the two assigned to guard the prisoners.  Inside the cell, a sergeant of the fort soldiers stepped forward.

“Who are you?”

“A friend of Arthur,” Scorch said, while in the back of his mind he thought, “good girl, Spark.  I love you.”  He heard her answer his thought.

“I love you, too.”

Scorch looked at the men.  “So, are you ready to fight the Saxons?”

“Sure,” the sergeant answered.  “But we appear to be stuck here.”

Scorch just grinned and got one finger hot enough to melt the lock on the door.  “I don’t much like metal,” he said, softly.  “Leaves a bitter aftertaste.”  He swung the cell door open, and the men piled out.  One grabbed the keys left hanging on the wall.  He opened all the cells.  Two went to a cupboard where the weapons of the soldiers were not so neatly stacked.  As soon as the first ones were armed, Scorch yelled, follow me, and he practically flew up the stairs.

###

Arthur’s men saw the wall fall.  Percival did not blink.  He shouted.  “Prepare to dismount and climb over the wall.”  He expected the order would be passed along by the leaders of the various groups, not that what they had to do would not be obvious.

Sir Thomas, standing beside Lockhart and Katie, put his own spin on the order.  “Boarding party ready?”

“Aye, Captain,” one man answered.

The little army mounted, but before they even sat on their horses, they noticed about fifty dwarfs already halfway to the goal and charging with all their might.  They saw an equal number of elves rush passed them, running at a much greater speed, but even they could not match the fairies who looked like mere streaks of light.

“The sun is almost set,” Katie said.  “I am sure the dark elves will want to take a turn, too.”  The travelers started their horses at a walking pace, so Percival and the army matched that pace.  Boston laughed, and then reported to the others.

“Piebucket said those skinny wickets and fly-balls better leave something for them to do.”

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 4 of 6

Percival handed back Katie’s binoculars and spoke softly. “I always thought the southwest corner of the fort-hill was the weakest part.  If we can get close enough on horseback, we might be able to breach the wall.”

“They will expect ladders,” Gwillim said.

“The southwest wall is shorter because the hill is steeper, but no one thought to compensate after they put the road in.  Men can sling ropes with hooks on that wall, and it should be no worse than a farmer clambering up to the roof of a barn to fix a leak.”

“Slim chance,” Decker said.  “But it might work if we can keep the defenders busy and make them keep their heads down.”

“We go with it,” Percival said.

After the dwarf supper, about two hours before dark, three hundred horsemen sounded like thunder along the road.  Every man had a rope with a makeshift metal hook attached to their saddles.  The road zig-zagged up the hill and watchers were surprised the arrows did not start on the last zig before the zag that ran along beside the wall.

“We have caught them napping,” Tristam said.  Percival knew better.  He kept his mouth closed and waited.  When the men were committed, the Saxon defenders rose up all along the wall and let off a volley of gunfire.  It was a ragged volley, but enough to be affective.  Some men and horses went down, throwing the charge into confusion.  The sound of thunder badly frightened the horses.  Many bucked or ran, bumped others or stumbled over the fallen ones.  Only one fell off the road down to the road below, but the attack faltered before the first rope got thrown to the top.

The defenders began to fire at will, picking out individual targets, though their muskets were not very accurate.  The horsemen still on horses picked up all of the fallen comrades they could, and leaving the dead behind, headed down the road back to the woods.  By then, the men on the wall pretty much stopped firing out of fear for their lives.

Decker and Katie fired three-shot bursts and slowly cleared the wall.  The others all fired their handguns a couple of times, though handguns at that distance were not much help.  Lockhart fired a few extra shots with his police special, but even he was not sure if he hit anything.  Most of the men made it back to safety, but they likely left a few wounded there on the hill.  No one said anything, but that was the way of it.  They felt terrible about that fact, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Up in the fort, Odacer yelled.  “What do you mean they got guns?  They aren’t supposed to have any guns.”

“Good ones, too.  Much better than our matchlocks,” Harwic said.

“They are the ones you must kill,” the wraith screamed as she appeared.  “Kill them.  Kill them.”

###

When the Saxons first took over, they grabbed some of the villagers, the ones who did not move fast enough.  They put the women to work cooking and cleaning.  They kept some men in the barn for heavy labor and fed them once a day.  The guards were too dangerous for such use.  They stayed locked up in the new dungeon rooms beneath the tower and were used for target practice.

Scorch and Spark fit themselves in, and nobody said anything about them being strangers.  Scorch helped keep the cattle penned and fed until they were ready to be slaughtered.  He tried hard not to set the hay on fire.  Spark kept the kitchen fires burning, and one older woman noticed and asked.

“You have come to free the Pendragon and his Lady?”

Spark nodded, but her eyes looked at the barracks where the powder got stored in a room separated from the Saxon sleeping quarters.  Gerraint told her and Scorch that they needed to set a fuse long enough to get away before the powder exploded.  Thus far, she did not know if either had been able to do such a thing.  She tried to go earlier with the women who cleaned the Saxon quarters, but got told to stay in the kitchen.  She felt frustrated, and imagine Scorch felt the same way.  Of course, she could not know, since the men and women were kept separated.

Spark and Scorch watched the men load those weapons and shoot at still targets, at first.  They practiced shooting altogether in what one of the head men called a volley.  Scorch felt fascinated by the fire and explosion that sent the projectile reeling into the distance, but he knew, somehow instinctively, that it was too early in history for these weapons.  He would blow up the powder if he could.  They could make more powder, but he felt one step at a time.

Scorch did feel the frustration, but he bided his time. When all the men rushed to the south and west walls, and the fort got generally in an uproar, Scorch took the chance.  He left the cattle and ran to the powder room.  He found a small piece of old, rotted rope that he knew would burn well, quickly, and easily.  He honestly did not make nearly a long enough fuse for a human, but Scorch was not human.  He could transform into flame and fly to the nearest campfire, where he could chew on some wood while the powder exploded.  He wanted to see that but decided to wait until dark.

Scorch backed out of the room, only to come face to face with the wraith and a dozen men down from the wall.  The wraith did something as the men grabbed him.  Somehow, he got stuck in human form and could not transform back into flame for a few minutes.  He could not even burn the hands of the men holding him.

“A fire sprite,” the wraith said.  “It seems we caught him before he could burn your powder.”

The head man swallowed at the prospect of a fire sprite touching the powder.  The wraith had no idea how dangerous that would be.  “Take him to the tower and lock him in one of the lower rooms.  I will want to question him.”

They dragged Scorch off, and Spark saw from the kitchen area and wondered what she could do now.”

###

Down in the dungeon under the great hall, Bedivere opened the door to look out to be sure no Saxons were presently guarding the door.  He closed it quietly again and gave the all clear.

“What did you do?” Gerraint asked, still sitting on the edge of his bed.

Arthur smiled.  “Bedivere and I picked the lock just after you went back to sleep, after Scorch and Spark squeezed through the crack under the door.”

“And nearly set the door on fire,” Bedivere added.

“I helped,” Gwynyvar said.

“She actually succeeded with her delicate touch,” Arthur admitted.

“You were right,” Bedivere said.  “These skeleton locks are too easy.”

“So, why are we still here?”

“You were unconscious,” Enid scolded him, whatever he was thinking.  “We couldn’t exactly carry you.”

“It would not have been right for us to all escape and leave you here,” Arthur said, plainly.

“I’m awake now,” Gerraint answered.  “I have wings to fly, and all that rot… Allow me to borrow Diogenes.”  Gerraint vanished and a different man appeared sitting in the exact same place.  This man was tall enough for Gerraint’s height, and still had blue eyes, but his hair appeared a light golden brown in place of Gerraint’s darker brown.  He appeared wearing the armor of the Kairos, with the sword called Salvation across his back, and the long knife called Defender across the small of his back.  He spoke right away.  “I used to sneak around forts all the time when I spied for Alexander the Great.”

“Alexander?” Arthur asked, unable to place the name.

“Greek fellow,” Diogenes answered as he walked to the door.  “Overthrew the Persian Empire.”

“Persian Empire?” Gwynyvar asked.

“Nothing like a classical education,” Diogenes said.  He pulled Salvation, handed Defender to Arthur, found the knife he used to cut meat at the table and handed it Bedivere, shrugged for the women, as if to say he was out of weapons, and stepped out into the hall, motioning the others to follow and keep quiet.

###

Outside the fort, Elder Stow stepped into the meeting of the minds.  Lockhart, Katie, Decker, Percival, Tristam, Gwillim, Thomas, and Gerraint’s son all sat and tried hard to think of what to do.  Decker finished his comment before they all stopped speaking.

“Now that we know they have guns we need to do something.  The Kairos was clear about that.  Only the Masters would be making guns before they are supposed to be made, and that makes them enemy combatants.”

People nodded, but then waited.  Elder Stow spoke when he got their full attention.  “I would not have suggested this, but in light of what Colonel Decker said, which is what I remember the Kairos said about guns, I may have a way. Sukki and I could fly up there, invisible, and working together, I believe we can take down a section of wall.”  He pulled out is scanner device and projected a three-dimensional view of the fort and environs, with the travelers as red dots, Arthur’s men as blue dots, and the men inside the fort as yellow dots because, he said, yellow was for danger.

“Remarkable,” Sir Thomas said.  The others kept quiet, not sure what he was suggesting.

“Here,” Elder Stow said.  “The east side of the hill appears less steep than the rest.  I’ve ridden enough to know you should be able to get up to the wall quickly.  You will have to dismount and climb over the rubble when you get there, but that should not be too difficult.”

“What do you mean, invisible?” Gwillim asked.  Elder Stow touched his belt and vanished.  Thomas spoke over his younger brother.

“Oh.  You mean invisible.”

“Father?”  Sukki came up with Boston and Nanette.  Boston overheard the conversation and warned Sukki they were talking about her.

Elder Stow reappeared and spoke kindly to Sukki.  “I thought we might do as we did to the pirate ship back when we met the bishop.  I can make the top of the wall unstable.  You can cut it near the bottom.  I can cut out the ground beneath the wall if needed, and the wall should tumble right down.”

“We should travel secretly, then, to be ready to attack the east wall when it crumbles?” Percival said.

“No,” Lockhart countered.  “There is an hour of daylight left.  We should travel openly, so they see, in order to draw as many men as possible to the east wall, so they will tumble with the wall when it falls.”

Arthur’s men agreed, though they did not exactly understand the way it would work.  While the men galloped the road within sight, but well beyond bowshot from the fort, Lincoln and Alexis brought the wagon more slowly.  When they arrived beyond the east wall, they found a hundred and twenty men newly arrived from Caerleon and eastern Wales.  They were mostly rapid defense force trained and more than ready for a good charge.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 3 of 6

The travelers found the gift of the dwarfs fairly quickly.  There were eight fires burning, plenty of wood to keep them burning into the night, and eight whole deer roasting in spits over the fires.  The deer had been well butchered, and the dwarfs even left the livers to be fried, and two big cauldrons of vegetables to cook up when the deer got near ready.  That would not be until about four o’clock.  They would eat at five when there was still plenty of daylight.  Meanwhile, they had leftovers from the night before to chew on.

The first to join them were four dwarf women who wore glamours to make them look like kindly little old ladies.  “I’m Magpie,” the chief woman said.  “This here is Parcels, Treewart, and Butterbut.  The men folk said to leave you alone, but we figured somebody gots to cook this snack if you want to get more than four hundred humans fed.”

“Snack?” Lincoln asked.

Magpie frowned at him.  “We got bunches of men folk hidden in the woods, and the women there aint doing nothing but cooking and more cooking.”

“We have seen dwarfs eat,” Katie admitted.

Magpie smiled.  “My Piebucket is a good eater.  He also said I had to be good to the elf princess.”  Magpie tipped her hat for Boston and wandered over to the other dwarf wives who were basting the deer with something unknown.

“We could help,” Sukki said to Alexis.

“No, dear,” Alexis responded.  “I don’t think we can.”

The next to show up was a group of fifty rough looking men who looked more like pirates than soldiers.  The head man stepped forward while his men waited patiently.  Lockhart stepped up to shake the man’s hand, and Katie went with him.

The man introduced himself.  “Sir Thomas of Dorset, Admiral of the fleet of Britain and Knight of the Round Table, though I am hardly deserving of the honor.  I am really a merchant from the south coast.  I trade mostly with Dumnonia, Wales, South Ireland where there are the only Irish ports safe for British shipping, Little Britain across the channel, and sometime far away Galicia.  We have tried a few Francia ports, though the Franks are not very hospitable.”

Lockhart tried to match the man’s demeanor.  “Robert Lockhart, Assistant Director of the Men in Black and self-appointed leader of this motley group of time travelers.”  He paused to let Sir Thomas ask a question.

“Motley?  Outside of having two Africans, I see a normal enough crew.  Even the Africans are unusual, but hardly unnatural.”

Lockhart smiled.  That was not what he expected the man to ask, but he explained anyway.  “We are from the year 2010, except Nanette, there, and Tony are from 1905.  Sukki, the big girl, is from the time before the flood.  Elder Stow is a member of the Elder Race that once walked these lands in the days before human history began.  Boston, the red head is an elf.  She used to be human and became an elf to marry an elf.  Her sister, the one with the black hair, used to be an elf and became human to marry Lincoln.”  He took a moment to name all of the travelers.

“Motley crew,” Thomas said, and finally asked.  “Time travelers?”

“My wife and Colonel Decker, there, are Marines.  That is something like an army that works with our navy.  The Colonel knows a lot about naval combat, as long as you understand he cannot tell you certain future things that might upset history.”

“I understand,” Thomas said.  “But we have an errand to perform, much as I might like to stay and chat.”

Katie interrupted.  “We were told to stay here and wait for Percival.  The dwarf wives are just over the hill where you see the smoke.  They are cooking enough for a small army.  I think you are supposed to stay and wait with us, until Percival gets here.”

Thomas nodded at something that came to his mind.  “My little brother, Gwillim; he was the one who got the word.  We grabbed as many men as were handy, including a bunch from the Tumbling Seagull.  Sorry if some of them are hungover.  Anyway, Gwillim took ten men and rode off to find Percival.  We will wait.”  He turned to his men.  “Set the canopies for the night.  Make a fire, but we have supper already cooking so no need to break into the stores.”

“Aye, Captain,” one man responded, and promptly began yelling at the men.

“So, can you tell me more about your crew.  I’ve never met an elf.  I heard Gwillim talk about them, though I understood they were connected in some way with Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”

“Come and sit,” Katie invited him to join their group.

“And time travel.  What all have you seen?  It must be fascinating, and you know, as a merchant sailor, I do love to travel, new ports and all that.”

“All we have seen would make a very long story,” Lockhart said.

“Then, let us hope Percival takes a very long time to get here,” Thomas smiled and took a seat.

###

Gerraint finally sat up when he heard the sound of firecrackers overhead.  The big chamber-cell did not have any windows, but he recognized the sound and did not have to see.  The distinctive Crack! was enough to trigger his memories.  The multiple cracks, like mini thunder, sounded like a firing squad.

“That’s it,” he said as a way of giving himself enough energy to get up and swing his feet to the ground.  He knew better than to try to walk, but he could at least sit.  Enid came right away and mothered his cuts.  She and Gwynyvar tore the bottom of their dresses to make bandages.  They tore his shirt to wrap his ribs tight and tore the sleeves of his shirt to make a sling for his right arm.  The arm was badly bruised, not broken, except every time he moved the arm, he felt some shooting pain in his ribs.

“Daddy.”  Guimier came to his left side, not to mother him, but to touch him and look at him with big eyes full of concern.  Gerraint cleared his throat.  He seemed to be having trouble breathing, like a rib might be pressing against his lungs, or maybe a bone shard scraped them.

“I need a big empty space in the middle of the room.  No straw there.  Bedivere.”  He coughed, took a big breath. “Enid and Guimier, you can help.”

Gwynyvar also helped clear the space, but Arthur got curious.  “What do you have in mind?”

Gerraint paused.  He had just been dreaming about Greta, the time she borrowed four fire sprites from Avalon and blew up the black powder and guns hidden beneath the temple mount of Ravenshold.  Arthur did not need that whole story, so he just said, “Watch.”  First, he looked at Guimier.  Everyone there went with him to Avalon when Enid and baby Guimier got kidnapped.  They all knew something about it, but Guimier would not remember.  Gerraint sighed, went away, and Greta came to take his place.  She came dressed in her own fairy weave dress, like she wore most recently on the Scottish shores.

Gwynyvar and Bedivere let out a slight shriek, though Bedivere had met Greta before.  Guimier more nearly screamed and cried out for her Daddy.  Enid grabbed her.

“It’s all right.  Hush.  This is your daddy from another time.  This is Mother Greta.  She is a healer, though I can’t imagine there is much she can do for her Gerraint self.”  That last bit got directed at Greta.

“Not what I am here for,” Greta said.  She settled her mind and heart as she had been taught by wise, old Mother Hulda.  Then she called for two of the fire sprites from Avalon.  “Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark.”  That was what Marcus Aurelius called them, and Gerraint agreed, so those words came out of Greta’s mouth.

Two balls of flame appeared in the room.  They spun in the air and fell slowly to the ground, only setting on fire a couple of stray pieces of straw.  It took a minute for them to get their bearings, before they took on human looking form and Spark said, “Missus,” to correct Greta’s word.

“And a lovely couple you are.” Greta said, and smiled for them.  She rose and hugged them both.  She returned to the cot and sat as comfortably as she could, knowing exactly how much Gerraint hurt.

“But Greta,” Scorch said, in a slightly worried voice.  “You died.”

“I did,” Greta agreed.  “A long time ago.  But I came here because I need to blow something up.  Do you want to do the blowing up?”

“Yes,” both shouted, together, and Spark grabbed both of Scorch’s hands and almost started dancing in her excitement.

Greta turned to the others.  “They are fire sprites.  They blew something up for me ages ago, in Dacia.  These two claimed at the time that they wanted to do it again.”  Greta smiled and shrugged, like maybe the fire sprites were crazy.  “That cracking sound you hear in the distance are guns—a very powerful weapon that has no place in this day and age.  They work by using a black powder called, plainly enough, gunpowder.  The powder is usually stored where it can be kept dry and away from fire, because the fire sets it off.  I propose to let our friends set off the powder all at once.  It will be a big explosion.  It will probably destroy whatever building in which the powder is being kept and might well set the fort on fire.”

“You are not suggesting we sacrifice our Scorch and Spark,” Enid objected.

Greta shook her head as she went away and Gerraint came back to suffer in his rightful place and time.  “No,” Gerraint verbalized.  “But it won’t be like the last time. Scorch and Spark will have to take great care in how they do this.  There will not be a magical string to draw them safely back to Avalon.  Still interested?”

Scorch looked at Spark, and she gave him a peck on the lips.  “We will do it,” he said.  “What do we have to do?”

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MONDAY

The last three posts of the episode and the end of Season Seven where nothing works out to anyone’s plan.  After Avalon, Season Seven is finished, we ill return to our regularly scheduled programming.  The final story of Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome (6 weeks) followed by the final tale of Gerraint in the days of King Arthur (6 weeks) and finally the second tale of Margueritte, The New Way has Come.  Don’t miss it, but first the end of this episode and the end of Season Seven begins Monday.  Until then, Happy Reading

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