R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 1 of 3

After only a few days, Patrick made a decision. He had good people in Father Teigh and Father Aon, even if they were married.  He was not needed in MacNeill’s land, now that MacNeill had turned to the Lord and things were going well, so he would take his work inland.  “No offence,” he told Festuscato.  “But I hope to get far enough away from you to where I can find some peace.  You are like the whirlwind.  Nothing around you ever keeps still.”

“It has always been thus,” Festuscato confessed. “After five thousand years, you would think things would settle down, but no.”

“How long?”

“I was firstborn when that butthole Nimrod built that stupid tower.  I figured it would not last.  Not enough straw in the bricks.”

“That long?”  Patrick patted his shoulder.  “Hard to imagine, but you have my prayers.”

“And you have mine, for what they are worth.  We got lucky to find MacNeill, a man willing to let you work for the sake of his grudge against Leinster.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Patrick said.

“Even so, Ireland is like a wild dog.  It might trot along for a while as long as it is getting fed, but it might also turn on you at any moment and on the least provocation.”

“I understand.”

“Then why don’t I leave and let you work,” Festuscato suggested.

“Indeed.  And I am sure the Lord will lead you to wherever you are needed next.”  They stood in silence for a moment on the wall of MacNeill’s fort, looking over to where the town was rebuilding after the Saxon raid.  The new tavern looked ready for the tourists.  “I think I am finally getting an idea of what your job really is,” Patrick added.  “I don’t envy you.”

“I’ll be taking Dibs, Bran, Gaius, Mirowen and Mousden,” Festuscato responded.  “That is going to leave you pretty isolated.”

“Take Seamus,” Patrick insisted.  “I am assigning him to you.  All he wants to do is tell exciting stories, but he doesn’t know any, so he mopes.  We are in prayer and he lets out a moan that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.”

“What?  Making friends with a dragon and fighting off pirates and Saxon raiders not exciting enough for him?”

Patrick shook his head.  “He says he was too close to it all, and the important parts went by too fast and were too confusing.  I suspect it is always like that, but I figure some time with you and he will get his fill of exciting stories.  He is young.  Send him back when he matures.”

“I can’t promise he will come back,” Festuscato said, honestly enough, but Patrick nodded.

“The gods don’t make promises.  I heard.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I don’t envy you, and I say that from experience.”

“Eh?  You carried the gospel into hostile territory?”  Festuscato thought of the church in late twentieth century America and rolled his eyes at the church lady horror stories.  Patrick gave him another encouraging pat on the shoulder.  “I better go pray.”

Festuscato watched the Bishop walk out the back door of the fort and head for the hill.  He would climb to the top and spend the next several hours in prayer and contemplation.  Festuscato thought the man ought to be successful, if nothing else for his shear dedication.  Festuscato still stood there ten minutes later when Mirowen found him and stepped up alongside him.

“Captain Breok said it will be at least a day before we can sail.  Treeve suggested two would be better; something about bringing enough feed down from the highland farms.”  Festuscato finally looked like he paid attention, so she said, “Sheep in the hold,” and held her nose.

Festuscato rolled his eyes again.  He also had news.  “We get to take Seamus.  Patrick says he is a young man in search of an exciting adventure.  I don’t know why Patrick thinks Seamus will get an exciting adventure going with me.”

Mirowen started to laugh.  It took twenty minutes to get her to stop.

###

An hour later, Festuscato, Bran and Dibs were helping Hugh, Cary and young Donogh rebuild the tavern when they saw a sight to remember.  Patrick came down from the hill, walking with his shepherd’s crook, being followed by dozens of snakes of all kinds, and they were all poisonous.

“That’s not right,” Festuscato said.  “Ireland is supposed to be snake free.”

“That’s what I heard,” Dibs confirmed.

They left their work and followed with the rest of the crowd, and stopped when Patrick stopped on the edge of the docks. “Go on,” Patrick said.  He stepped back and watched as the snakes took the plunge, sank into the sea, and never came back up.

“What happened?” Gaius asked from the other side of the crowd.

“I was in prayer,” Patrick looked up at Gaius and turned to Festuscato.  “These snakes surrounded me and would not leave me alone.  I could not focus.  I got angry. Forgive me.”

“No, no.  Quite all right.  Nothing wrong with some righteous indignation,” Festuscato responded.

Patrick looked down as he spoke.  It sounded like a confession.  “I got up to walk away.  Anger is not the answer.  I wanted to get away so I could refocus my heart on faith, but they followed me. Strange as it sounds, they kept their distance, but they would not go away.  It came to me, like the Holy Spirit speaking in my heart that the sea was the answer.  I felt led to this place, and now they are gone.”  Patrick shrugged.  He looked a little dazed, like a man living in a fog.

Festuscato felt certain there was magic afoot. Snakes in Ireland shouted as much. He knew his little ones were not responsible, and according to the Storyteller’s estimate, the Other Earth, the source of the magic, went out of phase with our Earth some sixty or seventy years ago.  There should not be any natural, human magic for the next couple hundred years at least. That suggested a power, perhaps one that should have gone over to the other side, and that was not a good thought. But what power would care if Patrick moved inland?  What difference would it make to a greater or lesser spirit if the people stayed pagan or turned Christian?

“What say we all go look at your hill,” Festuscato suggested.

“I thought you might want to look,” Patrick agreed.  They walked in silence, Dibs, Bran and Gaius following.

The hill itself appeared nothing special.  It had a clearing at the top, with enough trees to shade but not enough to block the view of the distant valley.  Dibs noticed.

“With a view like this, I can understand why you might want to move inland.”

“Not a productive valley,” Bran objected. “Looks more like fields of clover on the moor.  Maybe bogs down there in places.”

“It looks to me like the great unknown,” Gaius said.

“It looks like a ripe field, ready to harvest,” Patrick said, and they stood there for a long minute before Dibs spoke again.

“Hey, where did Festuscato go?”  They had to look to find a golden-brown-haired girl going down the far side.  They might have overlooked her if she had not been wearing Festuscato’s armor. “Hey!”  Dibs yelled.  Everyone yelled and she stopped and waited for them to catch up.

“Princess,” the young woman introduced herself.  “I’m following the trail of the snakes back to their lair.  Maybe we can find out who is behind this.”

“We, we are coming with you,” Dibs insisted.

“No you must not.  Patrick, this is where you want to go.”  She paused.  She stood no small girl, being five-foot seven, but she looked up at Bran and gave him her flower-growing smile.  “And Bran. I suppose I won’t get rid of you easily. But Dibs, you need to go back and hold the boat, and Gaius, you need to get all of our things on board, including Seamus.  He is now one of our things.”

“But, if Seamus is going with us, with you, maybe I can stay here with Patrick,” Gaius looked hopeful.  The Princess looked at Patrick before she spoke.

“No.  You need to report back to Guithelm.  Do I have to change back to Festuscato to order you?  I will, even if you won’t listen.  You know, Princes is not just a pet name.”  The Princess put her hands to her hips and stared Gaius down.  Dibs commented.

“And you look like such a fun-loving girl.”

“I am,” she said, and gave Dibs a curtsey before she shouted.  “Now go away. Be off with you, you rapscallions, you scaly-wags.  We are working here.”  She bit her tongue.  She even sounded like Festuscato.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 3 of 3

Once inside the gate, Festuscato grabbed the old man from the group that appeared around the parley.  “Macreedy,” He knew who it was.  “Why are you here.”

Macreedy put up his hands to forestall any anger. “There are only thirty of us, and we have come to protect my niece, Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden, and that’s all. You humans can play whatever game you want, as long as Mirowen is safe.”

Festuscato frowned, while Macreedy waited to see how his half-lie got taken.  Festuscato decided keeping Mirowen and Mousden safe was a valid concern, but Mousden would probably hide.  Mirowen would pull out her bow and wade into the midst of the fighting, but if Macreedy and his supposed thirty elves could keep her from serious injury, Festuscato would not quibble about how many Saxons they killed.

“All right.  Spread your men out along the wall, only keep a strong glamour on to appear human, please.  The best way to protect Mirowen will be to keep the Saxons from breaking into the fort.”

“Yes, Lord.”  Macreedy let go of his breath.  “To the wall,” Macreedy shouted, and his men appeared with dragon tunics, already on the wall, anticipating the attack.  Festuscato rolled his eyes, but said no more until Mirowen stepped up beside him and confessed.

“You wouldn’t let me go to the parley, so I called my uncle.  Sorry you weren’t here to ask.”

Festuscato only said one thing.  “Elf.”  It did not get kindly spoken.

MacNeill and Patrick looked over the wall at the gathering Saxons.  The Saxons had no siege equipment, not even ladders to scale the nine feet of wall, but even with men from the village added, the Saxons had twice the number of defenders.  The Saxons probably also thought that apart from the twenty or thirty men who worked more directly for MacNeill and acted something like soldiers, the rest likely did not have the stomach for a real fight.  They concluded that this would not take long, and the only reason the Saxons paused before attacking the fort was to visually determine where the weak spots might be in order to concentrate on those places.

Festuscato walked up and down the length of the wall. “Keep down,” he shouted.  Get your bows ready, but don’t stand and fire until I yell fire.  Don’t expose yourselves until I yell fire.  Bows ready, but heads down until I yell fire.”

All this time, Donogh kept Clugh entertained in the lair, and kept him quiet, but it became impossible to avoid the tension and excitement in the air.  Donogh felt it just outside the cave entrance, so Clugh certainly felt it. People say dragons can smell fear, but the truth is more complicated than that.  They can actually sense things like stress, worry, apprehension and the like and feel the general emotional state in the air around them, even if there is something near, like someone invisible that they cannot see or smell or hear.  That is why it is all but impossible to sneak up on a dragon, unless the dragon is sleeping, but as said, waking a sleeping dragon is not recommended.

“Wait until I say fire.  Ready.  Heads down,” Festuscato jumped up beside the Lord and the Bishop.

“I see you found some friends,” MacNeill said and pointed at a nearby man in a dragon tunic.

“These are not like the glorious ones that shined even in the dim light of dusk,” Patrick said.  “There is something more earthy and humble in these.”

“Like Mirowen,” Gaius said, as he stepped up beside the others.  Festuscato said nothing.  He took a good look at the enemy and jumped down to continue his walk up and down the back of the wall.

“Heads down.  Bows ready.  Wait until I yell fire.”

Clugh came out of the cave despite Donogh’s protests.  Seamus was there, but it did not help.  The people who did not find a place inside Lord MacNeill’s manor house, or in the barracks, or out back by the blacksmith’s and other shops, backed up as far as they could.  Some screamed on sight of the dragon, but not many noticed, concentrating as they were on the coming battle.  Festuscato ignored the interruption and kept walking up and down the back of the wall, yelling in as calm a voice as he could muster.

“Keep down and be ready.  Not until I yell fire.”

“Donogh, lad.  Clugh can’t be out here,” Seamus said,

Donogh had one hand on the back of Clugh’s neck, where the dragon liked it, but Clugh squirmed and Donogh appeared anxious himself, so the scratches behind the ears did not really help.

“Ready,” Festuscato yelled.  They heard the Saxons begin to scream their war cries.  They would scream wildly for a minute or so, a technique intended to unnerve their enemy.  “Ready,” Festuscato repeated as he jumped up to the back of the wall.  He raised his hand and waited while he looked up and down the line.  Men here and there could not help a peek at the assembled Germanic horde.  Some chose not to look.  Generally, the only heads above the wall were MacNeill, Patrick, Festuscato and Gaius, and they stared, and not one of them looked concerned.

“Ready.”  Festuscato yelled, though it became hard to hear him above the Saxon din.  The Saxons charged.  They did not have much ground to cover, but Festuscato immediately lowered his hand to point at the enemy and he yelled, “Fire!”  Knowing he would be hard to hear, he yelled it several times, up and down the wall.  “Fire. Fire.”  He knew the elves would hear, and spaced as they were among the men, when they stood, the men stood and the arrows flew.  He did not know Clugh would hear, and fire was one word the dragon knew.

More than thirty Saxons got dropped in the first volley.  Whether they were dead or wounded hardly mattered.  They were taken out of the action.  Another twenty fell quickly, but then the Saxons raised their shields and began to fire back, so the third volley looked much less effective.

The Saxons chose their targets well.  There were a few places along the wall where the wood had sufficiently splintered from age or got wobbly in construction so men could get handholds and climb.  The gate got the makeshift battering ram the Saxons made from a whole log taken from a house in town.  But even as Gaius started suggesting it would be inevitable that the Saxons get in, Clugh could not contain himself.  He took to the air when Festuscato yelled and, on seeing the Saxons roaring, Clugh roared and came in like a dive bomber spewing flame everywhere.  Part of the fort wall got set on fire, and one Saxon became totally crisped while quite a few were badly burned.  To be sure, when Clugh landed and roared, every Saxon within flame range turned and fled.  That seemed all it took to get the whole lot of Saxons to run.  They dragged off some of their burnt and wounded, to their credit as soldiers, but they did not stop long enough to see if some of their men might be saved.  The ones who could not even limp were abandoned.

Once Clugh landed, he slithered to the crisped Saxon and bit off the dead man’s head.  No doubt he found it tasty, but with that, Festuscato sighed.  He knew once Clugh got a taste for human flesh, he would not be contained, no matter how well the Agdaline command words were pronounced.

“Lord.  Save Clugh,” Donogh yelled as he came up alongside the others and stood on his toes to look out over the top of the wall.

“I cannot help the dragon.”  Festuscato spoke gently to the boy.  “But maybe the Lady can.  Maybe mother can help.”  Donogh and Seamus thought he spoke of Greta, but he meant Danna, and he traded places with her through time and immediately became invisible.  She floated down to the dragon where she became visible again and calmed the beast.

“Mother,” Clugh said, but Danna shook her head and lifted her voice.

“Rhiannon.  Come here. I need you.”  She spoke, not a harsh call, but a request, and Rhiannon appeared, her face full of curiosity.  “Rhiannon, dear.  You need to take this beast and keep him from people.  He has tasted human flesh, so now there is no turning back.”

“Mother.  I have nowhere to keep such a creature.”

“Well, it is either that or I have to put him down. And he is still such a youngster, you know, a child in need of a good mother.”

Rhiannon screwed up her face.  “You cheat,” she declared.  “What am I going to do with a dragon?”

“I was thinking.” Danna folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.

“A dangerous sign,” Rhiannon admitted, but she waited for the shoe to drop.

“There is a lake on the edge of Amorican territory in the forest called Vivane.  Do you know it?”  Rhiannon nodded so Danna continued.  “The naiad there is getting elderly, but she is very nice.  I am sure she would not mind if you built a castle on the small island in the middle of the lake.  There are plenty of spirits who live in the forest.  You could hold court there and keep Clugh as a pet.”

“And why would I want to do all that?”

“Because your work will come to you there.  I have seen it.”

“You have seen the future?”

“No, I live there, remember?”  Danna stepped up and kissed her many times distant daughter. “I have tweaked the image of mother in the dragon’s mind so you will fill the role, only don’t get too attached. Leave him in Amorica, and one day this male will sire babies, I think.”

“But you just told me to go to Amorica.  Now why are you telling me to leave him there?”

Danna shrugged.  “Just don’t get too attached.”

“Mother.  Why do you have to be so mean to me?”  Rhiannon reached out to pet the dragon and Clugh purred.

“Because you don’t belong here, you should be over on the other side.”

Rhiannon said nothing.  She looked unhappy but disappeared, and took the dragon with her. Danna reappeared on the wall and went away so Festuscato could return.  He smiled for his friends before he hugged Donogh.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “Rhiannon will take good care of Clugh.”

“The goddess?” Donogh wiped an eye. Festuscato looked briefly at Patrick.

“And should no longer be here, but out of Ireland at least.  And Danna should not be here, either.  She knows that.  I’m sorry. The new way has come.”

“The old way has gone, though stubbornly I see.” Patrick turned his back and said no more.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor.  Don’t Miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 2 of 3

The gate to the fort got closed and locked when the last of the villagers straggled in.  They knew Sean Fen was MacNeill’s cousin, so he and his men were not there to loot and pillage, apart from stealing whatever brew they had; but they were pirates, and it was generally not safe to be around pirates, especially for young women.  The courtyard of the fort presently teemed with young women and Festuscato could not help pausing and admiring a few.  He turned to look outside the fort when he heard Sean Fen’s voice.

“Roman.  It would save us both a lot of trouble if you just came out and gave yourself up to the sword.”

“Give me some time to think about it,” Festuscato said, as he looked around.  The sun looked nearly set and Sean Fen’s men started lighting torches, as did some of the men in the fort.

Sean Fen looked like he might be thinking.  “I will give you until the sun is fully gone, and that is more than generous, and only because I don’t want the bother of having to fetch you.”

Festuscato said nothing when a strange, Asian looking man stepped up beside him.  Mirowen noticed and curtsied for the man.  Festuscato frowned.  “Yin Mo,” he said.

“Lord Agitus.”

“Macreedy sent you, didn’t he?”

“As you say.”

“This has got to stop.  The knights have no business being here, of all places.”

“Yes, Lord.  But the Knights of the Lance might send your enemies to various places around the island without actually injuring them.  I had thought an end to the trouble that avoided shedding blood might be preferable.”

“There is that.”  Festuscato thought about it while the druid shouted up to the wall.

“Crooked heads, come down.  It will be my privilege to remove the crookedness from the land by taking your heads from your bodies.”

“Tell him those that are with us are more than those that are against us,” Festuscato offered, and Patrick repeated the words before responding to Festuscato.

“What?  So now you are Elijah?”

“I don’t remember.  Was it him or Elisha who said that?  Anyway, just watch.”  He turned to Yin Mo and gave his okay and Yin Mo waved his arm.  As Festuscato figured, well more than a hundred Knights of the Lance appeared just outside, at the base of the castle wall.  They charged.  Most of Sean Fen’s men had the good sense to run for their lives, not that it did them any good.  Every man vanished as soon as he got touched by a lance, and the knight vanished as well. The knights did not stop, however, until they got to the docks.  Where Sean Fen’s three ships went was anyone’s guess.

When the action finished, an action very hard to see and follow unless you had night vision like a goblin, or Mousden, Yin Mo also vanished and Festuscato spoke again.  “I would have told him no more than in Greta’s day, like Gerraint told him, but he snuck about five or eight hundred into that battle.

“When was that?” Gaius became curious.

“Oh, about a hundred years in the future.”

“As you say.”  Patrick had picked up the phrase.

Sean Fen and the druid were the last two still out front, but men with torches came from the village and MacNeill and his men came out of the fort so there seemed nowhere the two could run.  It got hard to hear the yelling that went on when they met, but Mirowen likely heard with her good elf ears.  It also got hard to see exactly what happened, but at some point MacNeill pulled his sword and chopped off the druid’s head.  He later explained.

“I knew the man.  He would have devised some poison or some ambush, and he would not give up until the deed was done.  Removing his head simply removed my headache.”  MacNeill headed them back inside to salvage what was left of the meal. “I hear in Britannia, the one they are calling the Pendragon has forbidden the killing of priests.”

“That includes druid priests,” Festuscato said.

MacNeill shrugged.  “Well, maybe starting now.”  The man smiled for his mother.  “But who would kill the druids there?  I am told the Christian God is all about love and peace.”

“Never fear,” Patrick said.  “The church has its share of militant priests.”

“Really?”  MacNeill smiled.  “There may be something to this faith of yours after all.”  Festuscato just laughed and prepared himself to answer questions about the Knights of the Lance.  Those questions did not come, but from that day, all over Ireland, scattered here and there, pirates appeared and told about a man named Patrick and the power and the miraculous army of his God.

###

At the end of the second month, Clugh started taking to the air in anticipation of his visitors.  He found the fire pit fairy quickly, and on scattering it, he almost set the fens on fire, wet though the swamp was.  The men had to build a new pit out behind the tavern, and then with MacNeill’s permission, in the courtyard of the fort itself.  He had men dig out a great underground chamber, lined with stones and with a great bed of stones and broken and rusty spears and swords, plows and axes for the dragon’s bed.

Clugh actually arrived only two days after the construction finished.  Some were not sure he would come into the midst of so many humans, but Clugh had become accustomed to his brothers and his one sister, and he showed that perhaps humans were not the enemy.  Whether or not he considered humans to be edibles remained to be seen.

Festuscato figured it would only be a matter of time once Clugh went airborne.  He kept day-old, burnt meat in the nest, and he called it a nest for Clugh when he arrived. The dragon slithered in and squealed, flamed the walls and roared, which made MacNeill and most of his people doubt the wisdom of making a home for the beast.

“It is frightening,” MacNeill admitted.

“Nonsense,” Festuscato responded.  “All that fuss just means he likes the new nest.  Just think what the other Lords around will say when they realize you have your own personal dragon guarding the place.  Why, I bet Leinster will get so jealous, he will run out and try to get one of his own.”

That made MacNeill grin.

Clugh settled in for about two weeks.  MacNeill lost a couple of good hunting dogs, and he had to move the stables further away.  He also took back his old barn from Patrick, though Patrick did not mind because of the church they were building.  Overall, Clugh stayed good, and Donogh was there every day to play with his brother and keep him somewhat contained.  By then, Clugh knew how to say “Donogh”, though it came out more like “Dalnaw.”  For his part, Donogh learned a reasonable amount of dragon words.  He learned to say come and stay and stop and no and Bran suggested the boy was learning parenting skills.

 After two weeks, Festuscato knew it would not work.  As much as the people might be willing to give it a try, and as good as Clugh could be, eventually the dragon would get big enough and old enough to where he could not be contained.  Given the circumstances and the regular feedings, he imagined Clugh might stay good for another fifty or so years, or at least as long as Donogh remained alive. But there would be incidents, no doubt including some crispy people along the way, but after two weeks, circumstances changed.

Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius sat in the tavern, reminiscing, when the Saxon long boats were spotted, headed for the port.  They had little time to evacuate the village before the Saxons landed and began burning and looting everything in sight.  People crowded into the fort, but left a wide area empty around Clugh’s home.  Donogh and Seamus went down into the dragon’s lair and tried to keep the beast calm, but it was not easy given the air of excitement and distress all around.

It did not take long for the Saxons to gather outside the fort.  Mirowen counted about two hundred which seemed quite a sizeable group for a raiding party.  Festuscato knew that Saxon raiders were much like the Vikings that were to come centuries in the future.  They tended to avoid direct conflict with large groups of armed men and avoided forts, unless they had something to gain.  Raiders, like pirates, struck hard and fast, took what they wanted, and left before any serious opposition could be raised.  In this case, though, the Saxons looked like they had something in mind.

Festuscato, MacNeill, Cormac and Murdoch went out to meet the Saxon leaders before hostilities erupted.  It turned out Festuscato and the Saxon knew each other.  It turned out to be Gorund, the chief who wanted the Cornish gold that did not exist.

“Take what you want from the village, but leave my people alone and you can go in peace,” MacNeill said.

“But what I want isn’t in the village,” a big fellow named Herslaw countered.  “We have been very well paid to come here and do a job, and when we bring back some heads, we will receive the other half of the payment.”  Gorund simply watched and kept his eye on Festuscato.

“Leinster.”  Cormac spit.

Gorund grinned.  “I am thinking you don’t want to fight any more than we do.  You can send this Dragon and his priests out to us and we can go away, and nobody needs to get hurt.”

MacNeill folded his arms and looked at Festuscato. Festuscato took that as permission to speak.  “Listen, Gorund, Coleslaw.  The problem with the priests is they have been declared off limits for killing by Lord MacNeill here, and as for myself, the one some call the dragon, you see, there is an actual dragon, a real dragon behind the fort wall ready to defend the people here.  The real dragon came from Rome, burned his way across Gaul and has been terrorizing the Fens for some forty years, until we made peace with the beast.  Leinster wants you to get the real dragon.  I am sure you don’t want to get involved in that, though I see where you might have been confused.”

Gorund did not budge.  “I heard a rumor about a real dragon, but I figured it was just you. I heard you only have two men with you, and that seems a small price to pay for a village.”  He turned and saw the smoke rising near the docks.  “What is left of it, anyway.”

An uncomfortable silence followed for a moment as MacNeill thought through a number of options before he spoke. “Nope.  You have already done your damage to the town.  There isn’t much more you can do unless you want to waste your men attacking the fort.  As my friend said, the priests are off limits, and as for the dragon, now I am talking about the man, I figure he has a few tricks up his sleeve that none of us can imagine, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got and you can go back to Leinster and tell him you changed your mind.

“Ah, but I can’t do that, you see,” Gorund responded with a wave of his hand.  There was movement in the Saxon line until ten men appeared out of thin air around the group, and each man had a bow with an arrow pointed right at Gorund.  “Hold it,” Gorund shouted for his life.  “No tricks.  We do this the proper way.”

Festuscato and MacNeill walked casually back to the fort. Cormac snickered and Murdoch nodded in agreement.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 1 of 3

It took two months for the dragon wing to heal. Donogh went almost every day.  He would have gone every day, but sometimes he had too many chores.  On those days, he made sure whoever went took something special for Clugh.  “A boy and his dog,” Festuscato quipped.

Festuscato went himself every day at first, and Dibs, Bran and Seamus went often.  Mirowen said they were all mad, and Mousden screamed the same thought every time they invited him to tag along.

They kept Clugh fed by building a fire pit near the boulders where they could burn whatever deer or other generally smaller animals they could catch.  In the second month, Seamus went one day by himself with a book he made of blank parchment. He tried to get a sketch of the dragon, but Clugh would not leave him alone.  He wanted to be petted, and only took a break when he inhaled his daily offering of food.

Clugh slept for a whole week in the second month. Festuscato explained that dragons stuffed themselves over several months or years before they finally had to hibernate and digest it all.  The older Clugh got, the longer the time of hibernation.  He was aware that after ravaging a countryside, some big old dragons could sleep for a whole generation, about thirty or forty years. Clugh sleeping for only a week showed how young he really was.  Festuscato also pointed out that when a dragon awoke after a long sleep, they were very bloated with gas and tended to flame everything in sight for a while.

“It is not a good idea to wake a sleeping dragon,” he said.

“It is not a good idea to go anywhere near a dragon,” Mousden shrieked.

Festuscato kept one eye on the dragon during that time, but the other eye stayed on Patrick.  The Bishop seemed to be making good progress and even converted the local Lord MacNeill’s mother.  MacNeill complained about it to Festuscato.

“Time will come when every Irishman will be a Christian, and then we won’t be able to fight anymore.”

Festuscato laughed.  “I wouldn’t worry about Irishmen fighting.”

Chief MacNeill’s home looked something like a fort, a good-sized manor house, barn and stables, barracks for the men that worked for him, and a short wooden wall around the complex.  Needless to say, he was not happy when he heard about the dragon in the swamp, but he and his men were stymied as to what to do about it other than hide behind their wall.  They were honestly afraid; all of the people who heard were afraid, but Festuscato and the others assured them they had things well in hand and would resolve things before they had any trouble.  The people did not exactly trust the Roman, but they were willing to hold back for the sake of any man who could command elves and pixies to do his bidding.

“Ha!” Festuscato nudged Mirowen one evening when they were feasting in MacNeill’s home with Patrick, Gaius and MacNeill’s mother. They were six weeks into the dragon business at that point, and the dragon was into his long nap.  “Since when do you do what I tell you?” he asked. Mirowen said nothing, but Patrick interjected a thought.

“I don’t know.  She and you seem to end up in the same place even if you come from completely opposite directions.”  Mirowen and Festuscato looked at one another and shook their heads.

“True enough,” Gaius agreed with Patrick.  “She is pure and you are anything but.”

“That might have been true in the past, but not now that he has taken up with a dragon.  Madness.” Mirowen looked away.  MacNeill’s mother, Fianna dropped her eyes and wiped away a small tear, and MacNeill took a moment to show his concern for her.

“I am sure you have heard,” he said.  “My father was killed by the dragon some forty years ago when I was a small boy.  Many people died, including his druids who thought they could devise a way through magic and such things to control the dragon.”

“They were the first eaten,” Fianna interrupted, and Patrick responded to her.

“Trust in the Lord, the Almighty. He is the only sure and certain help in time of trouble.”

“Anyway,” MacNeill began again with a hard look at Patrick, not happy with the interruption of his tale.  “They say the dragon began in the Alps, burned its way across Gaul, and eventually crossed over the sea to settle in our fens.  Some say there were two of them in that rampage, but some say only one.  I can tell you, there was consternation in the lands all around here for forty years, on and off.  Leinster got burned regularly.”  MacNeill snickered at the thought.  “Anyway, about ten years ago it appeared as if the dragon moved north.  Ulster suffered, and maybe that encouraged some to accept the Roman offer cross the sea to live between the walls, I don’t know.” He paused to grin.  “I remember Lord Giolla, Leinster’s right hand man, sent a small army against the fens.  They did not fare well.”

“They got bogged down,” Festuscato joked, and to the looks of the others he added, “Well, someone had to say it.”

“Anyway,” MacNeill continued.  “About a year ago, almost two I suppose, everything stopped. No one knows why, but there has not been any word of any dragon in the fens for ten years, and for the last two, no word of any dragon in Ireland at all, until now.  Now, people are afraid to go into the fens again, and I say I can hardly blame them.”

“It isn’t like that,” Festuscato said.  “I can make a good guess what happened two years ago.  First of all, I would guess two dragons, and I would guess Mama dragon had her babies in the fens.  Papa dragon did his best to feed them for forty years, but by then the babies started getting old enough and big enough to be worth eating.  I would guess Mama dragon took her babies elsewhere, and Papa dragon followed.  No telling how it ended up.  At that age, more or less, the babies are old enough to escape and make their own way in the world if it comes to that.”

MacNeill and his fellows, Cormac and Murdoch all groaned at that thought of having the whole countryside covered with dragons.

“Anyway,” Festuscato used MacNeill’s word.  “I don’t know how it turned out between Mama and Papa dragon, but little Clugh got left behind because his wing was broken. He probably hid from Papa, and likely would not have survived if young Donogh had not found him.  The boy fed him and nursed him as well as he could for at least a year before we arrived.  Now, with Greta’s help, the wing will be properly healed, and then I just need to decide what to do with him.”

“We’ll make a raft so you can take him with you when you leave,” Cormac mumbled and Murdoch nodded in agreement.

“I should whip that boy,” MacNeill mumbled at the same time.

“The opposite, I would say,” Patrick objected to MacNeill’s thought, and Festuscato picked up on it.

“Donogh has proved himself to be clever and capable and fearless.  I would think you should help raise the boy.  He may prove very valuable in the future.”

“We may take him for the church,” Gaius suggested.

“Now wait a minute,” MacNeill put his hands up to hold off that thought.  “What the Roman says makes sense.  If he is as capable as all that, I may bring him into the fort and train him myself.”

“Lord MacNeill.”  A man stood in the doorway, reluctant to interrupt the event.  “The people from the village are coming in the gate. Sean Fen has sailed into the port with three ships and a hundred men thirsting for blood.”  Everyone stood except Festuscato and Mirowen.

Festuscato first threw his wash cloth down on the table. “What is it with this pirate?  Why does he feel obliged to interrupt my dinner parties?”  Before MacNeill could give answer to his man, Mousden came flying in, screeching and screaming.  He went straight to Festuscato and Mirowen where he squeezed between them and shivered. Mirowen did her best to calm the pixie. She got him to get big and made a place for him between her and Festuscato even as Bran, Dibs, and Seamus came tumbling in the door.  Dibs still carried his sword, and it looked used.

“They off-loaded some men in a cove a mile down shore and they came up to take the tavern at dusk,” Seamus reported.

“We would not have gotten out if Mousden had not distracted them with all his screaming,” Dibs added.

“Lord MacNeill.”  Another man came into the room.  “A message from Sean Fen.  He says send out the dragon and his men so he can exact justice for his men that were murdered.”

“Dragon?”  MacNeill looked confused until Cormac whispered in his ear.  “Of course, I had forgotten.”  He turned to Festuscato who sat looking calm and undisturbed. “Actually, that explains a little bit.”

“Lord,” the man was not finished.  “The druid with Sean Fen says send out the priests. There is a price on their heads.”

“Tell him,” MacNeill paused and looked at Patrick and his mother.  “Tell him I will do no such thing.  He will have to fetch them himself.”  MacNeill and his men sat again at the table and Gaius helped bring up chairs for Dibs, Bran and Seamus.  Dibs, Bran and Gaius looked and sounded almost as calm as Festuscato, but Seamus was new.

“What are we going to do?” he asked.

MacNeill got their attention.  “I cannot help you,” he said.  “Sean Fen is my cousin.  He was born in the fens, but when the dragons came forty years ago, his father, my uncle took him to sea, saying a dragon would not be interested in all that water with so little to burn.”

“Now Sean Fen has taken over for his father,” Fianna interrupted her son.  “He spends his days raiding Wales and sometimes Cornwall and Lyoness.  He is a horrid man.”

“He doesn’t get much for his efforts,” MacNeill added.  “And what he gets he wastes on drink and women, and buying the favor of men like Leinster.”

“But you can’t help us because he is your cousin.” Festuscato made it a statement, but MacNeill answered it like a question.

“Yes.”

Festuscato sighed and stood at last, so the other members of his company stood as well.  “Might as well go see what Sean Fen has in mind,” he said.

“Might as well,” Patrick agreed, and the priests followed Festuscato and his company out the door.  Mirowen held tight to Mousden’s hand, and Fianna followed her and remarked how she was not aware Mirowen had a son, and so big, and she was so young.  Mirowen did not bother to correct the kindly old woman, but with Fianna along, MacNeill and his men also followed, curious about how things might turn out.

Festuscato let go of his comfortable clothes and called for his armor and weapons as he exited the home.  Dibs and Bran took a bit longer as they unwrapped their dragon tunics that they kept folded and hidden in a secret pocket they had built into their own version of armor.  When they climbed the five-foot rise that was just inside the nine-foot wall that allowed a man to stand and look down on an enemy, Mirowen put Mousden in Fianna’s hands.

“You stay with this nice lady,” Mirowen said. “She is the mother of the Lord of this castle and there are no safer hands you could be in, so stay with her and stay big.”  Mirowen meant it.

“Yes, mother,” Mousden teased, and stuck his tongue out at her.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 3 of 3

Festuscato kept his hand on the dragon’s neck and the top of the head where he found a spot that made the dragon purr

“Clugh glewg,” Festuscato said the mouthful.

“Glewg,” the dragon repeated.

“Brother look.  Brother help.”  Festuscato said that several times, since Clugh got preoccupied with swallowing the raw beef Donogh laid on the rock.  Festuscato noticed the dragon did not flame the beef first, and he wondered if there might be something broken more than the hurt wing, like something wrong on the inside.

“What are you telling Clugh?” Donogh finally asked. He apparently made some peace as his hand returned to scratch under the dragon’s chin.

“Well.”  Festuscato looked at the wing with his hands and felt glad the dragon made no hostile move when he touched the break.  That had to be painful.  “First, I told him we are his brothers, like family so he won’t eat us.  Dragons have a natural sense about not setting family on fire, at least when they are as young as this.  Now I am trying to ascertain the damage and see if I can help him heal, but I can’t hardly think straight because Greta keeps yelling “no” and “no way” in my head.”

“Greta?” Seamus asked.

“She is the healer,” Festuscato told them.  “I’m surprised you can’t hear her from Dacia, three hundred years ago.  She is that loud.”

“What can we do to help?” Bran asked the more practical question.

“Well.”  Festuscato turned toward them and put his hand back on Clugh’s neck to stroke him some more.  “You and Dibs can go bag a deer, the sooner the better.  Being like family is a help, but not if the dragon gets hungry enough, and this one is a bit thin.  About any game will do.  Seamus, you could try praying for Clugh instead of for your own skin, and Donogh, talk nice to the dragon.”

“Will you teach me to speak in dragon words?” Donogh asked as Bran and Dibs slowly backed away.

“Yes, but first I am going to bring a friend of mine to help and see if we can heal the dragon wing.  She is a fine lady, and she will try very hard not to scream in the face of the dragon.  Donogh and Seamus, you must not scream either.  We want a calm and peaceful dragon.”  He turned to Clugh.  “Clugh. I bring sister to make wing better. Sister help.  Let sister make wing better.”  It seemed a complicated thought and Festuscato was not sure if Clugh processed it all, but he went away and a very reluctant Greta came to stand in his place.  She wore the full armor of the Kairos, but for the helmet, and that full armor included the cloak of Athena which, among other things, had proved seriously fireproof.

“Sister.  Family.” Greta said quickly in the Agdaline language.  “Sister.”

Clugh took the transformation in stride.  He stuck out his nose to get a good whiff of sister while she squinted and stood perfectly still.  To be sure, in that armor she had to smell very much like brother. Seamus yelped at the transformation, but softly lest he startle the dragon.  Donogh said nothing.

“I think this is foolish,” Greta said, as she examined the wing with her own eyes and hands.  “I have no idea how dragon anatomy works.”  She paused to pet the beast.  “Pet,” she said, and thought.  “Well, maybe I do know a bit where one or more of my lifetimes knows something.”

“Pet,” Clugh wrapped his serpent tongue around the word.

“Sister help,” Greta said, and added in the Gaelic, “I hope.”    She had a bag over her shoulder and got out some ointment.  The first that she found was something that would work like a general anesthetic and deaden the pain—or at least it would have that effect on human flesh and blood.  She talked while she worked, because it kept her fear at bay.  “Dragons are not native to Earth.  They belong to a people that fly between the stars.  They were bred to guard the ships in deep space while they traveled slower than light between the stars and the paranoid Agdaline sleep in cryogenic chambers.  When they land on a planet, they expel the big ones in space, but save one big one for touchdown, just in case the natives are not friendly.  I don’t know how this young one got expelled, unless it went out with the big one, which means there is likely some big mama out there, somewhere.”

“I don’t understand most of those words,” Seamus admitted, as he finally took a step closer.  Clugh took another whiff of the cleric and Greta grabbed Seamus’ hand and placed it on the dragon’s neck.

“Gently, but don’t be afraid to scratch.  You can’t hurt him, and he likes it” she said, as she returned to her work on the wing.  “Dragons are not really serpents, like reptiles, despite their appearance. They are really more like insects. The scales are like an exoskeleton and they have very few internal bones.  If they had bones, they would be too heavy to fly, you see?  And they have more help with flying as well.  They have a bladder of a sort that runs along the belly, the full length of the body.  When they digest, the bladder fills with hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The hydrogen gives them lift, like an old zeppelin, but they have to expel some now and then to keep from becoming bloated.  They have a valve in their throat like we have that lets air into the lungs but swallows food into the stomach.  The valve lets them expel hydrogen as needed, but the thing is, they are oxygen breathers and the hydrogen is like a toxin to them.  I guess the bladder acts like our liver and kidneys and strains out the toxin. But anyway, they have this great thing, two little bones connected to the valve that rub and spark like a flint when they let out some gas.”

“And that spark sets the gas on fire,” Seamus understood.

Greta nodded.  “It is all automatic, and a great defense mechanism, don’t you think? There.”  Greta stepped back and Clugh turned his head, practically knocking Seamus down to give Greta a great, slobbering lick.  Greta’s response will remain untranslated.  It came out in her native Dacian, so no one there understood it, anyway.  She traded back to Festuscato, and he came dressed in his casual clothes.

“He feels better,” Donogh suggested as they heard Dibs in the distance.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Dibs was correct in thinking it best not to come up on a dragon unannounced.  They did manage a deer, and in such a short time, Festuscato had to ask.

“We found a small herd not far from here,” Bran confessed.

“I was surprised,” Dibs said.  “I would figure the whole area for miles around a dragon would be deserted.”

“It probably was,” Festuscato said.  “But it doesn’t take long for the animals to figure out the dragon is inured and not up for hunting.  News travels fast in the forest.  Now, put the deer on the rock.”  They did and Clugh whined a bit.  It had not been cooked, and too much uncooked meat could give a dragon a belly ache.  “Mother come,” Festuscato said in Agdaline, and he stepped aside so Danna, mother goddess of the Celts could step into his shoes.  She immediately blinked Dibs, Bran, Seamus and Donogh ten feet away, and put an invisible wall between them and the dragon, anticipating the dragon’s response.

“Mother is here,” Danna said, and touched the dragon on the nose as she tweaked her image in the dragon’s mind.  Clugh began to bob his head up and down in excitement, and then it could not help expelling a bit of fire.

“Lady!” Seamus shouted, but the fire merely warmed Danna.  Danna was rooted in the fires of Mount Etna.  She was Vesuvius on volcano day.  She was not a sun goddess, but contained the sun within her, and she had children like Gwyn and Lugh who reflected the very essence of light and radiant heat.  Danna, mother dragon, turned to face the deer and toned down her flame to almost nothing. She let it pour from her mouth which she thought of as very dragon-like, and cooked the deer to perfection.  That made Clugh get very excited, but he would not move until Mother gave permission.

“Baby eat,” Danna said, and the dragon squealed in delight and attacked the deer.  “Stay.  Nest.” Danna said, and she expanded the place in the rocks where Clugh slept, and filled the floor of the space with pebbles and rocks, an uncomfortable bed for humans, but well suited for dragons. “Stay.  Nest.”  She made sure the words penetrated Clugh’s brain, and she added, “Brother and sister will return tomorrow.”

Danna backed away and let Clugh feast.  When she left and Festuscato returned, he moved the others away from that place.  “The dragon will heal slowly,” he said.

“Of course, the question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of healing a dragon?” Bran asked.  It was a long sentence for him, and deserved an answer as Dibs and Seamus both looked at the big man with faces that said they just then realized what they had been doing and wondered if it was wise.

“Because,” Festuscato drew out the word.  “I hate to see anyone suffer, man or animal, and you never know how an act of kindness might be repaid.  Karma, you know.”

“As you say,” Dibs shrugged when Donogh interrupted.

“Remember your promise.  You promised to teach me dragon words.”  Festuscato smiled and tussled the twelve-year-old’s hair, while he thought the first words he would teach would be no fire, do no harm, friend and brother.  He imagined he might get the boy to call the dragon “Brother Clugh” to remind the dragon every time that Donogh was his brother and not to be eaten.  Brother Clugh, he thought.  Maybe the dragon could be an early Dominican.

R6 Greta: In the Middle of the Night

In the early hours before dawn, Greta got up and stripped out of her armor.  She washed herself thoroughly to get the dragon slobber off.  Mavis came instantly awake, of course, and could not help the whispered comment.

“I smell dragon.”

“Shut up and go back to sleep.”  Greta sent her armor back to Avalon, where it came from, and recalled her own dress and red cloak.  She laid down with her mind full of emotions.  She felt heartbroken for Enid and angry at Merlin.  She felt afraid for young Donogh and for her friends, but soon enough she went back to sleep, and slept well.  It had been a long day.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons.  Patrick does well, and Festuscato stays out of it, but they left a trail, and some are determined to catch up.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 2 of 3

“I heard you are the Dragon,” MacNeill spoke first.

“I was, but I have given that title to a man named Constantine.  He is now the Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall.  I am retired.  But tell me, aren’t you afraid the King of Leinster will get mad when he finds out you have made a place for Patrick?”

MacNeill and his roughs grinned.  “I hope so,” MacNeill said.  “I hope this sticks in his craw and he chokes on it.”

Festuscato glimpsed the political workings and slipped his arm around MacNeill’s shoulder.  “Buy you a drink?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” MacNeill responded, and they all went in to an early, liquid supper.

The Fathers Gaius and Seamus caught up with them in the tavern, and after Gaius finished scolding Festuscato for his drinking, the Fathers joined them, with Gaius instructing the cleric Seamus throughout supper.  “We have to give leeway for Lord Agitus.  His is a life not like any others with many great and grave responsibilities that we cannot imagine.  You need to pray for him every day.”

“The jury is still deliberating,” Bran interrupted, and took a long swig of his beer.

“Like whether he is an angel or demon,” Dibs added with a wink.

“If only it were that easy,” Festuscato said. “Alas, I am utterly human this time around so nothing is easy or obvious.”

“Praying for him twice a day would not hurt,” Gaius added to the bewilderment of Seamus and the confusion of the Irish.  There followed silence for a second before all eyes got drawn to the end of the table.

“Milk?” Mousden groused, but Mirowen insisted it was good for him.  The men laughed, but Mousden, looking like a stubborn nine-year-old, knocked the glass and sent the milk flying.  No one got wet, thanks to Mirowen’s quick magic, but then no one especially noticed the magic.

Mirowen pulled out her handkerchief and began to clean Mousden’s mouth.  Dibs squinted as he remembered how that could hurt.  Mousden looked at Festuscato with pleading in his eyes, but Festuscato would not have it. “Go to your room,” he said in his most gruff tone, but Mousden determined to be rebellious.  He took his natural pixie form right in front of everyone, and the Irish at least shoved back and stood, prepared to run.

“I mean it.  Nap time.”  Festuscato pointed his finger at the pixie, and Mousden let out a wail and frightening shriek before he flew for the stairs.  Dibs put a finger in his ear.  Bran took another long swig of his beer, and Gaius held Seamus to his seat while Mirowen apologized.

“He is still adjusting to living in daylight hours. He still naps and is up some at night, but he is usually better behaved.”  She bowed to everyone and headed for the stairs.  Every eye in the room followed her, and Festuscato thought Mirowen could not help it.  The glamour that made her appear human did not disguise her beauty, and only made it worse in some ways.

“Come.  Sit.” Festuscato encouraged the Irish and they sat but looked wary.

“You will be staying here for a time?” MacNeill asked in a way that suggested he would not mind if Festuscato sailed off with Captain Breok.

“Yes, Lord MacNeill.”  Festuscato disappointed his host.  “There was a woman, Keela, the daughter of the tavern master in Wicklow. Three of Sean Fen’s men caught her out back and planned to rape her.”

“What happened?” MacNeill asked, curious enough.

“I killed all three,” Festuscato said, owning the work of Mirowen and her arrows.  “Now I have to be sure he does not follow and blame Patrick in any way.”

“Oh, Lord,” Seamus spoke up like a man who suddenly remembered his errand.  “I came to tell you, I was with the King when word of the Bishop came to him.  He got angry at first, thinking Palladius returned, but he did not act much better when he found out it was a different Priest. He said, “Are these men like ants where every time I squish one another takes his place?”  I was gaining a hearing with the King’s wife and son, but when he had time to consider the matter, he ordered me out of his kingdom. That very morning, I went to pack my few things and planned to say my good-byes by early afternoon, but I steered clear of the King because Sean Fen the pirate and his mate had come to the King’s table.  It was not long on that day, and I was not yet out of the town, when a rider brought word of Sean Fen’s losses.  I don’t know how the King took it, but be assured Sean Fen fell into a rage and would not be calmed down.”

“Great, you see?  I allowed Sean Fen to keep his head at Caerdyf, and this is the thanks I get.” Festuscato sipped his wine and made a face.  It was not very good wine.  “Looks like I may have to kill him after all.”  One of MacNeill’s roughs looked like he thought that might not be so easy, though the other looked like he was not sure he believed the story about killing three men. MacNeill looked like a man stymied, not knowing what to believe or do, but then the tavern keeper stepped up to the table, and Festuscato wondered which of his little ones put the man up to it, because only they were able to time things so perfectly.

“Lord Agitus,” the man said in a humble tone, and he knew exactly who Festuscato was.  “My name is Hugh and my wife is Clary and my son Donogh is a fine boy of twelve years, and we want to thank you for what you did for my niece Keela, down in Wicklow.  I heard the true story and how you saved her from a terrible fate, and I think I want to give you back the money you paid for rooms and to stay here.”

“Don’t you dare give me any money back,” Festuscato interrupted.  “A man is worthy of his rent, and I would be insulted to live off your good will.” Festuscato grabbed two more gold coins from his pocket.  “In fact, you and your family will also be under my protection, should it come to that. Here, for your trouble, because I will be staying for some time and I may have some strange or unusual visitors while I am here, so just be a good host and everything will be well.”  He handed the man the coins and the man smiled and went off to fetch another round of drinks.

“Generous,” MacNeill said, having eyed the gold.

“It’s only money,” Festuscato said.  “Life is much more precious, and I pray I don’t have to kill Sean Fen or any more of his men.”  He lifted his glass in a toast.  “Here is to the Amorican, British, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Saxons, Picts, Scots, Angles, Jutes, Galls, Danes, Goths, Franks and Romans.  May we all learn to live in peace.”

Everyone drank to that, and Gaius and Seamus added, “Amen.”

###

It did not take three days before young Donogh prevailed upon Festuscato to come into the swamps just south of town.  Bran and Dibs said they were up for an adventure, being tired of the tavern life after the last time.  Seamus, the cleric turned out to be a scribe, a bit of an artist, a writer and poet.  Being able to read and write explained why he had been employed by the King of Leinster. But he said he always wanted to have an adventure so he could have something worth writing about. Festuscato chuckled at the thought, knowing the way his lives went.

“Good luck with that,” Festuscato said, but the mystery Donogh presented at least sounded intriguing.  Donogh said he had a special friend named Clugh who lived in the swamp.  That was all he said.  They would just have to come and meet him.

The land proved to be all inhospitable muck and ferns, with occasional bits of rock that appeared here and there like strange weeds or bushes in the way.  Festuscato could not imagine what geological upheaval might have shoved the rock up from below.  Then again, he thought the boulders might have been dropped off in the last ice age. He wondered if any of his other lifetimes knew anything about geological formations.  Anywhere else in the world and he would have kept one eye open for serpents, but Ireland remained a place where the only serpents grew in the shape of a man.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Donogh called for his friend like a boy might call for a lost dog. “Clugh.”

They came to a particularly large outcropping of rocks, a kind of stack of boulders that left spaces in and though the various rocks. The spaces around the boulders were enough for several trees to grow up in between the stones.  Festuscato jumped back when he saw Clugh’s head.  It looked as big as Festuscato’s head, and the body looked seriously serpent-like, about fifteen to eighteen feet long, and the nostrils were smoking. Bran froze where he stood.  Dibs looked like he wanted to run away, but he did not dare.  Seamus fell to his knees in the muck and appeared to pray.

“Come on, Clugh.  I want you to meet my friends.” Donogh appeared fearless, but it obviously came from ignorance.  He put his twelve-year-old hand right up to the dragon’s head and patted down the feathers. He had no idea about serpents, and less so about dragons.  No telling what sort of beast Donogh thought Clugh was.

“Friends,” Festuscato spouted in the Agdaline tongue, the language bred into dragons millennia ago.  All dragons were designed to obey the right words, and the clever things did when they were young.  Of course, when they got older, they got grumpy and stubborn, and sometimes became pretty slow in the obedience department.  “Brothers,” Festuscato changed the word when he looked to see that Donogh was all right.  “Brothers, family.”  He added the word when he realized this one seemed quite young, to still be sporting so many feathers.  “Family. Brothers.”

“Family,” Clugh mouthed in response to the words. It pulled from the rocks and took long whiffs of those present to be sure to identify these as family.

“Brothers,” Festuscato repeated and he dared to add, “Pet.” He reached out despite his better judgment and stroked the beast on the neck beneath the head.

“Pet,” Clugh said.  He seemed to like that.

“Isn’t he great?” Donogh said, excited.

“Great,” Bran managed the word as Clugh currently sniffed Seamus who had his eyes shut as tight as possible and appeared to be shivering.

“Clugh?” Dibs asked.

“Glewg” the dragon said.

“It means hurt in Dragonspeak,” Festuscato told them, and he took a moment to examine the beast.  It had a broken wing.  It could not fly, which was why it had taken up residence among the swamp rocks. The boy had some fresh beef in his pack and he laid it out on the rocks.  Obviously, the boy found the injured beast and made friends by bringing it food, generally a dangerous idea.  If Clugh had been bigger and older, at some point the dragon might have decided the small offering was not enough and eaten Donogh for desert.

“Clugh is a dragon,” Festuscato spoke plainly. “But a youngster, not yet a hundred years old I would guess.”

Donogh pulled his hand back which showed he had no idea what kind of animal Clugh was.  Bran and Dibs hardly flinched on the word dragon, but Seamus got back to his feet.  He just made sure the big Roman Sergeant and the bigger Bran the Sword stayed between him and the bulk of the beast.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 1 of 3

The sun came up over the sea to reveal a sail angling to cut them off.  Festuscato squinted, but Captain Breok recognized the ship right away.  “Our Pictish friends,” he said, and sighed, and set about getting the sail down and running his crew through their litany of please don’t kill me.

Patrick came up with a word.  “I noticed last time you asked Mousden for the small bag. I would guess Captain Keravear decided there must also be a big bag somewhere.”

“They were probably waiting just out from the docks at the Inver-dea.  Probably saw us pull into port and thought to try their luck on our way back out to sea,” Treeve suggested.

“But they had no way of knowing we would be on board again,” Gaius countered.

“True,” Treeve responded.  “But it was worth a shot, and if you were not on board, there would probably be a cargo worth something; and Captain Breok has his crew so well trained to cower and not resist.”

“They probably also decided that your water sprites did not really pose a danger,” Patrick added.  “I mean, what can a blob of water really do to hurt them?”

“Give them a bath, I bet,” Gaius said, as Bran and Dibs walked up.

“What’s the plan?” Dibs asked, not that he expected an answer.

“Doctor Who,” Festuscato said.  “I make it up as I go along.”

It took an hour for the Pictish ship to come along side and tie up.  It looked the same as last time, with Captain Breok and his crew in the bow showing the epitome of respect and abject cooperation, and Festuscato and his people in the stern, lined up like a group awaiting a family photo.

“We talked about it,” Captain Keravear started right in.  “Seeing all those water waves up on the deck was a bit of a shock, I admit, like seeing your pointy-eared woman and that demon, but then we talked about it. Maybe you are the Dragon and maybe you are not, but we figure there are only three of you and lots more of us. So the way we figured it, you should give us the rest of whatever gold and coins you have and we will be on our way.”

“Captain,” Festuscato’s words were sharp.  “You have already been paid for your trouble and I am not in the habit of paying for the same service twice.  There may only be three of us that you can see.  I won’t say how many more may be waiting in the cabins and below deck.  You know I have at least one elf who is quite capable of going unseen among humans. You also know the elf answers to me. Do you really want to know how many more may be on board?”

The Captain paused.  Apparently, these were things he had not considered.  There could easily be others in the cabins and below deck hidden and waiting to come when called.  At least one of the Picts took the thought of invisible elves seriously. He jumped when the wind picked up and shifted his hair around.

Then the wave came, and like the last time, everyone had to splay their hands and feet to keep from falling down.  This time, the deck not only got covered with water sprites, but they came with a person.  He looked tall, lean, and naked but for the seaweed that clung to him. His gray skin appeared the color of cold steel, and his eyes glowed like the furnace.  Pict and Cornish sailors alike shrieked and turned away.  Some fell to their knees, covered their eyes and trembled.  The Pictish Captain dropped his jaw and bugged out his eyes but otherwise appeared frozen in place.

Festuscato’s crew remained more composed, though Mirowen and Mousden dropped their eyes as a sign of respect.  Patrick showed no surprise when this sea-monster of a man came right up to Festuscato and dropped to one knee.  He was slightly surprised by the one word the monster said.

“Mother.”

“How did you figure it out?” Festuscato asked.

“Really?” the man-monster responded.  “You have been broadcasting who you are from Rome to Britannia, and really since you took a governess.”

“Mannanon,” Captain Keravear exhaled the name of his supposed protector while Festuscato tapped his foot.  With a glance at Patrick, Festuscato went away and let Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts come and stand in his place.  She stepped up and bent down to kiss the man-monster on the head while she spoke and helped him to his feet.

“You bad boy.  When are you going over to the other side?  You are late, you know.”

“Soon,” Mannanon said with a grin, and an appearance that suddenly did not look so monster-like.

“Well, this is your lucky day.  This is Captain Keravear.  I believe you have met, and I have already paid him for his trouble and I will not be paying him twice.  Will you please take him and his crew and their ship back to the Caledonian shores where they will be too far away to cause us any more trouble.  I have these holy men to deliver to the Irish.”

“Yes,” Mannanon said, with a glance at the Priests. “The new way.”

“And it is a good way, and why you should not be here,” Danna insisted, as she turned Mannanon away from the clerics and toward the Picts.  “Now, please take out the garbage, only don’t hurt them.”

Danna appeared very tall for a woman, but Mannanon stood a good bit taller, like a basketball player, but with the slim build of an Olympic swimmer.  He leaned over and kissed Danna on the cheek.  “Kind heart,” he said, and smiled a sort of Bran smile, and vanished along with Captain Keravear and his whole crew and ship.  Danna traded places with Festuscato right away so he could deal with the questions.

Captain Breok wasted no time.  “Get the sail back up.  Colan, get aloft to see if there are any more sails on the horizon.  Treeve, go get Gerens out of the hold.  Tell him it is all over so it is safe to come back out.”

Festuscato stepped up to his spot on the railing where he could keep out of the way.  Mirowen took Mousden to the cabin.  Bran and Dibs helped lower the rudder.  Only Patrick and Gaius came up with a question or two.

“Who was that?” Gaius asked.

“An old Celtic sea god, and a bad boy who does not belong here,” Festuscato answered.

“The new way has come,” Patrick understood.

“And the old way needs to be gone,” Festuscato agreed.

“And the other side?” Patrick asked.

“Death,” Festuscato answered.  “As near to death as a god can get.  He needs to give up his flesh and blood and become the pure spirit he is, the true force of nature he is without eyes and ears or any senses in this world.”

“And who was that woman?” Gaius asked.

“The mother goddess of all the Celts, and another one who does not belong here,” Festuscato said and sighed.  “I lived her life eons ago.  Before Christ, nature bore witness to the truth, but now the old ways need to be gone.”

They stood in silence for a time before Patrick asked one more question.  “Were you there?”

Festuscato nodded as if he anticipated the question. “When he was born and when he was crucified, but those stories have not been told.  Someday.”  Festuscato quieted, and Patrick looked again at the sea.

“I will pray for you,” Patrick said.

“Good,” Festuscato responded.  “I need all the prayer I can get.”

###

Captain Breok took them to a port that straddled the land between Leinster and Ulster.  The Lord there, a man named MacNeill, had no love for the King of Leinster, and at the same time, he had not been in a place to be pestered by Palladius so the gospel might receive a fresh start.  Patrick got excited and said surely this is the place, but when they docked, they found a reception committee.  MacNeill had his two roughs with him, Murtagh and Cormac, and behind him were three clerics, the survivors of the work of Palladius, Teigh, Aon, and Seamus.

“Come,” MacNeill said with a big grin.  “I have set the barn for you to hold services after your fashion.  Fathers Teigh and Aon and their wives have made the bread and gathered the wine and the women and children are gathering there.”

Patrick did not know what to say.  He hardly knew where to begin with married priests and church in a stable.  Mirowen nudged him.  “I asked my Uncle Macreedy to let them know we were coming,” she said.

“Is everyone in your family named Macreedy?” Festuscato pulled Mirowen aside and asked, though he would know the answer if he thought about it.

“The males, mostly,” she responded quietly, as Patrick finally spoke.

“Thank you.”

Gaius turned to Festuscato.  “The Bishop will take it from here,” he said to suggest Festuscato back up.

“It is all yours.”  Festuscato smiled, hoped things would work out this time, and he took Dibs and Bran to speak a moment to Captain Breok.  Eventually, they would need passage back to Britannia, but for now they headed to the nearest tavern, and Treeve and Colan followed.  MacNeill and his roughs also followed them, but from a distance, so Festuscato thought to stop and let them catch up.

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 3 of 3

Festuscato ran.  He became dressed in his armor with hardly a thought and pulled Wyrd, his sword. He was not going to see another innkeeper’s daughter raped and left for dead.  Sure enough, there were three men in a clearing out back.  Keela’s dress had been torn, but she held it up as she backed up to a tree.  The men grinned wickedly, and two had knives ready to finish disrobing the girl or kill her if she resisted.

“Stop!”  Festuscato shouted.  He sounded like a third-rate Hollywood actor in his own ears, but the men stopped and turned on him.  One pulled a sword of his own.  Festuscato jumped to the side when they rushed him.  He let defender fly and it sliced right through one man’s jerkin and deep into the man’s ribs.  He brought his sword down, not even a trick move, and sliced the knife out of the second man’s hand, taking most of the man’s fingers with it.  He turned to face the third man when an arrow came out of the bushes.  That man dropped his sword and fell dead from the perfect shot.  The man without fingers also fell with an arrow in his chest. Festuscato called to his long knife, and defender pulled itself from the man’s ribs and flew back to Festuscato’s hand. That man moaned horribly and would not live long.

Mirowen stepped from the bushes while Festuscato cleaned his blades.  “Bad news,” she said, as she stepped toward the young woman.

Mousden flew ahead to the young woman.  “Are you all right?” he asked.  Keela took one look at the pixie in his natural form and threw a fist to her mouth to stifle the scream.  Her eyes got big and Mirowen had to grab her attention and ask the question three more times before it penetrated.

“Are you all right?”  Keela finally nodded when Mirowen helped the girl to her feet.

Keela never stopped staring at Mousden as Mousden spoke.  “Mother Elowen taught me how to sew.  I could help you fix your dress.  Mother Elowen said I was a natural.”

“Yes, Mousden.  But now we are back with people.  You need to get big again,” Mirowen spoke in a very comforting, motherly tone, as much for Keela as for Mousden.  Mousden looked once at Festuscato, but Festuscato simply nodded and returned the stare.  Mousden acquiesced and looked again like an ordinary nine-year-old boy.

Dibs and Bran chose that moment to show up.  “Bran thought he heard something,” Dibs said. “But we were inside so it wasn’t clear. We finally agreed to check it out.” Bran knelt by the three bodies to make sure they were dead.  Dibs also looked, but he recognized who he was looking at.  “These are Sean Fen’s men, the Irish pirate.”  Festuscato nodded.  He thought that might be the case.

“That means we are in double trouble,” he said.

“But you saved me.”  Keela came to herself as they escorted her back to the tavern.

“What do you mean?” Mirowen asked.

Festuscato frowned.  “I have no doubt when Sean Fen finishes telling his story, I will be the rapist and a murderer besides.”

“But that’s not true,” Mousden said.

“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” Festuscato said.  “A beautiful young elf once explained that to me.  Patrick is here telling the truth, but most people can’t hear him.”

“Oh, but it is worse than you think,” Mirowen got his attention.  “The King of Leinster has ordered us to get out of his land, and if we won’t leave, he said to kill us and be done with it.”  Festuscato just nodded that he heard, but he could not respond right away because when they entered the tavern, Keela got all the attention of the locals, and Captain Breok stood there, waiting patiently.

“Captain.  You could not have timed that better if you were an elf.”  Festuscato patted the Captain on the shoulder.

“We came in on the tide, four hours after midday. But I must warn you, we followed an Irish pirate into the dock.  His name’s Sean Fen.”

“Yes, I know,” Festuscato interrupted. “Mirowen.  You and Mousden need to get us packed, and you better pack for Gaius and Patrick, and I guess everyone.  Dibs and Bran, you need to fetch Gaius and Patrick.  Carry Patrick here if you have to.  Captain, we will be sleeping on board tonight.  How soon can we put out to sea?”

“Not before dawn.  Maybe a couple of hours before if we set the course while it’s daylight.”

“Get on that.  We will be there soon.”  Festuscato went to see about Keela and got tackled by Aideen, who jumped up into his arms.

“But you will be going away, and I will miss you terribly.”

“And I will miss you, lovely spitfire that you are.”

Aideen held him tight and managed to hold back the words, “Don’t go,” as Keela’s father stepped up.

“I want to thank you for the sake of my daughter.”

Festuscato hushed him.  “The men belonged to Sean Fen.  I expect you will not insist on the truth, but I would appreciate it if you held back and kept this quiet until we have a chance to leave in the morning.”

The man looked astounded with the way Festuscato spoke in such a straight forward manner, and he nodded.  “I think I can do that.”

Aideen whispered in his ear.  She wanted to say good-bye.  “Find a good man for your daughter to marry, and be quick,” Festuscato added.  “And one for Aideen who can handle being burnt, though I know Aideen is not yours.”

The man grinned slightly, but nodded again as Festuscato paid him for their time at the tavern and a little extra, he said, for a dowry.  That done, Festuscato kissed Aideen and stepped out to fetch his purchase.  He found a good woodworker when he first arrived in town and paid to have a proper staff built for the Bishop. Patrick was honestly older than the rest of them, except Mirowen of course.  He had it in hand, hardly seasoned though it was, and got back to the tavern when the others arrived.

Bran and Dibs showed up with Gaius and a protesting Patrick.  Dibs had to sit the Bishop in the corner and stand over him to keep him still.  Bran went to carry the luggage even as Treeve, the first mate showed up with Colan and Gerens to help.  Together, they managed the trunks and made straight for the ship.  Dibs and Gaius followed, Patrick between them so he could not run away.

“Lord Agitus, you have no right kidnapping me,” Patrick said.  “You promised you would not interfere with my work.”

“I’m not interfering with your work,” Festuscato said. “I’m interfering with your life. By the way, here.”  He handed Patrick the staff.  “A shepherd’s crook.”

“I know what it is.”

“A gift,” Festuscato said.  “I thought it would be appropriate considering your occupation when you were last on these shores.”

“The Lord is our shepherd,” Gaius added.

“We shall not want,” Patrick understood.

“I think one of my sons wrote that one, or no, that one was David’s.”  Festuscato smiled and asked to see the shepherd’s crook one last time, pretending he saw a nick in the wood he wanted to examine.  Patrick obliged, but then they reached the dock and the planking to the deck of the ship.  Two members of the crew were there to help Patrick aboard and Dibs and Gaius would not let him back away.  Patrick suddenly realized he had been tricked and he flailed his hands and stared at Festuscato.

“I would not have hit them with it, you know.”

Festuscato held up the crook.  “Sometimes temptation is best removed.”

They were not aboard more than a half-hour before the captain of Leinster and his dozen soldiers arrived on the dock.  They were joined by a druid who appeared unhappy the Christian holy men were slipping from his grasp.  “Come down,” he shouted from the dock.  “I have an ax waiting for your head.”

Patrick stood at the railing, shepherd’s crook in hand, squeezed between Bran and Festuscato so he would not go anywhere. “When Hell freezes over,” Patrick whispered, and Festuscato chuckled.  He was not aware Patrick heard that one.

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Festuscato added out loud before he raised his hand and waved to everyone ashore. “I can’t come back.  I don’t know how it works.  Good-bye folks.”  Several men and women working on the docks and a couple of soldiers returned the wave. The druid spat and stomped up and down the planking.  He yelled at the captain of the soldiers and, getting nowhere, he started to yell at the soldiers directly.  Finally, he turned to insult Patrick.

“Crooked man with your crooked staff.  Your head is crazed.  Even the head of your staff is crooked.  How dare you come into my house and stand at my table and speak impieties to my people.”

Festuscato put his hand over Patrick’s mouth and spoke for him.  “The king has ordered us to leave, and we are leaving.  The king said we are only to be harmed if we refuse to leave, but we are leaving.  If you defy the king’s orders and harm any of these men, I think your head will not sit long on your shoulders.  Captain, we are obeying the king’s orders and will leave as soon as the tide turns. Will you and your men also obey the king’s commands and see we are not harmed until our leaving can be accomplished?”

The captain paused before he set his men on the dock to guard the ship.  “By the king’s command, you will not be harmed this night,” he said, and the druid pitched an absolute fit before he stomped off, yelling at the sky.

“That Roman is a wicked sorcerer.  I have heard the truth.  You are all under a spell, and I will not rest until the Christian scourge is driven from our land, once and for all.”

Patrick pushed Festuscato’s hand away and spoke in a deadpan voice.  “Emotional fellow.”  Bran said nothing.  He just showed that hint of a grin for which he was becoming famous.  Mirowen, Gaius ad Dibs walked up and Mirowen spoke first in the same deadpan tone.

“A long hot bath would do his nerves a lot of good.”

“He does not appear to be one that does that very often,” Patrick added.

Gaius joined the emotionless expressions. “Probably took a vow of dirtiness.”

Dib’s voice was not quite so deadpan.  “Hey, Festuscato.  They are all sounding like you.”

Everyone looked at him while Festuscato nodded, and in a deadpan voice, added, “That’s because I am a wicked sorcerer and have them all under a spell, don’t you know?”

The meeting at the railing broke up, and they decided to try again further north, beyond the lands of Leinster.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: Clugh.  North there are Picts, Pirates, and a big fire-breathing beast… Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 2 of 3

Everyone ran to the railing to look.  “Picts,” the Captain described their visitors.  “And their ship is much faster than ours and more heavily armed.”

“What will they do?” Gaius asked what jumped into everyone’s minds.

“Probably get mad that we don’t have any cargo to steal. The Picts generally just steal the cargo and let the ship go.  The Irish would steal the cargo and take any young ones for slaves.  the Saxons would steal the cargo and kill everybody, and then sink the ship.  I suppose the Picts aren’t so bad when you think about it.”

“No telling what they will do when they don’t find any cargo,” Treeve repeated the first thought as the captain got the crew to take down the sail and practice begging for their lives.  Festuscato dressed his people up at the stern, in front of the rudder, like they were preparing for a family photo.  By the time they were ready and quiet, the Picts were alongside and coming on board.

Captain Breok profusely apologized for the lack of a worthwhile cargo but suggested they were carrying some rich passengers whom the Picts were welcome to rob.  He did not exactly betray them, just accommodating to the circumstances. The Pictish captain stepped up to look Festuscato in the eye.  The Pict wore a leather jerkin studded with bronze circles that looked like rivets. He had a long sword at his side and no doubt had various other sharp things hidden around his person.

“And you are?”  Festuscato spoke first, his voice calm and clear.

“Captain Keravear,” the man said.  “And you?”  He grinned.

Festuscato reached out and shook the man’s hand before the man could react.  “Festuscato Cassius Agitus, an ordinary mortal human who will grow old and die like any other human.”  Captain Keravear grinned again, but did not know how to take that.  He glanced back at the half dozen men who were one step behind him, and the men with their knives drawn who were holding Captain Breok’s crew.

The Captain put on his mean face and spouted. “Whether you grow old or not remains to be seen.”

Festuscato looked down at himself and looked embarrassed. “Oh, but I see I haven’t properly dressed.”  He called out for his armor, and it fit him perfectly, Wyrd his sword and Defender his long knife fitted to his back, and overall, he wore the tunic that sported the dragon.  “Some have called me the dragon, but I really hope Constantine will own that name.” Several of Captain Keravear’s men took a step back on seeing the change, and the rest stepped back because they heard stories of the Dragon of Britain.  “Now, if you don’t mind,” Festuscato borrowed Gerraint’s thought. “I have pledged to take these holy men safely to the Irish shore and I don’t appreciate the interruption.”

Captain Keravear smiled again in an attempt to regain the upper hand. “Then give me all your money and your gold and we will let you go on your way.  Oh, but I think I will take your woman as well.”

“Not even if Hell froze over,” Festuscato responded and lifted his arm.  The glamour that covered Mirowen fell away and her true elf form looked unmistakable, complete with her cute pointed ears.  Mousden also reverted to his pixie form just in time for Mirowen to put him in Gaius’ arms.  She pulled a bow and arrows from her usual nowhere.  Dibs and Bran meanwhile slipped into their own dragon tunics and drew their swords.  This time Captain Keravear took one step back.  He had to think if it would be worth it.  He had no doubt at least some of his men would die, and given the reputation of the dragon, he was not sure if all of his men might die.

“Gentlemen,” Patrick stepped up and waved his hands like a referee calling for a time out.  “Surely this can be settled without the need for bloodshed.”

“That remains to be seen,” Festuscato turned his head and Captain Keravear pulled a small knife.  Before he got it all the way out from his Jerkin, Festuscato had Defender at his throat, and without missing a beat.  “We will see if Captain Keravear has a brain or not.”  He turned to the Captain and spoke again.  “This ship is under God’s almighty hand.  You need to leave before you get yourself in eternal trouble.”

“Which god are your speaking of?” Captain Keravear said and took another step back to get away from the blade at his throat. “I met Mannanon the sea god, one dark and stormy night by his isle of Man.  He guided us to a safe harbor until the storm passed, and I like to think of him as our protector.”

Festuscato kept a straight face when he spoke.  “It was a dark and stormy night.  He is a good son who does good for people now and then. But I was speaking of Mannanon’s God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

“Don’t start stealing Patrick’s lines,” Gaius whispered from behind.

“We aren’t in Ireland yet,” Festuscato responded with more volume.

Patrick would have stepped between the two men, but Festuscato held his arm out and would not let him.  Still, he spoke.  “What would it take to satisfy things so you leave us in peace?”

“All your money and gold.  I’ll forego the woman.”

“Kind of you,” Festuscato shook his head as a great wave struck the ship and everyone had to spread their arms and legs to keep from falling over.  The wave splashed up on both sides of the ship and formed into several hundred little blobs of gelatin looking creatures with heads, arms and legs, about a foot tall each, with mean looks on their faces, if cute little gingerbread men-like blobs could be said to have mean faces.

“Lord Steran,” Festuscato called.  He knew who it was, the king of the water sprites of the Irish sea.  “Please refrain from drowning these people.  We are trying to work out an equitable arrangement.”

“Lord.”  The water sprite offered Festuscato a regal bow and spoke in the cutest baby voice while Mousden clapped his hands and let out an excited shout.

“Water babies.”

“Mousden,” Festuscato called.  “Bring the little bag.”

“Lord?”  Mousden used the term Mirowen used and now Steran confirmed, though he knew well enough that it was the right term.  He brought the bag and hovered while Festuscato counted out fifteen pieces of gold. “Fifteen pieces!”  Mousden felt more concerned with missing the gold than he felt with the pirates.  He screamed once in the face of the pirates, but the loss of the coins made him want to howl.

“Fifteen pieces of gold for your trouble,” Festuscato said.  “But I suggest you be on your way or I cannot guarantee your safety.”

Captain Keravear ran out of arguments and knew when his luck was done.  Most of his men had deserted his back and were already on their ship.  The Picts wasted no time casting off, and soon enough would dip below the horizon.

“Thank you Lord Steran,” Festuscato said, and could not help the smile as Steran offered a wave not unlike a salute, and he and his people jumped back over the side to blend into the sea.

“Bye.  Bye,” many of the water babies said, and more than one hardened sailor returned a wave and a sweet goodbye before they went back to work getting the sail up and the ship underway.

Festuscato turned and scolded Patrick.  “What did you think you were doing?  You need to let me do my job without interference.”

“What is your job?” he shot back.

“To deliver you in one piece.”  Festuscato swallowed much of what he wanted to say before he deflected the question about his job.  “If pirates think they have the upper hand, you are dead.  You don’t bargain with pirates.”

Mousden shrieked.  “I’ll say.  You didn’t bargain at all.  You just handed them fifteen pieces of gold.  Fifteen!”

Festuscato and Patrick looked at the young man hovering beside them.  Festuscato laughed.  “It’s only money,” he said.  Patrick just nodded and laughed.

###

The ship pulled into the docks at Wicklow and Captain Breok wished them all well. “Leinster is as fair a trading partner as you can find among the Irish,” he told them.  They all thanked the captain for the journey, but then Festuscato took the man and his mate, Treeve aside.  They would be picking up some lumber, mostly pine in Lyoness, and be back in two weeks to ten days, depending on the weather.

“You are not going with them?” Patrick asked, having discerned that something was happening.

“No,” Festuscato admitted.  “But I have arranged for passage, and meanwhile I promise to get out of your way.”

They found some Christians in the port and Patrick wasted no time bringing them together and sharing the gospel.  He held Mass in a grove by the river every morning and spent every afternoon teaching about the people of God and the life of Christ. He invited his few disciples, the remnants of the work of Palladius, to bring in their family and friends, but found few converts.  Most of the people resisted his message.

Festuscato, Dibs and Bran stayed the next ten days in a tavern by the port.  Gaius spent most of his time with Patrick and occasionally Bran joined him; less often Dibs. Festuscato, good to his word, stayed out of it.  He paced and drank and ate enough for three people, but he kept his mouth closed.

Mirowen and Mousden went out into the wilderness on the first day and stayed gone that whole time.  Mirowen said she went looking for family, elves related to the clan of Macreedy, though the clan originally came from further north, from Ulster. Festuscato recalled that Mirowen was in fact an elf Princess, and her father Macreedy had been a king among the elves.  Mousden said he did not want to be left alone with so many clunky humans, so they disappeared, and Festuscato would have been very bored if he did not find a couple of young women to keep him in the night.  Keela, a tall and slim Celt, inspired him to bad poetry.  Aideen was a short, buxom redhead who Festuscato called little fire.

“She squeals,” Festuscato said.  “Like when the hot iron is doused in the cool water.”

“I’ve heard,” Dibs responded and knocked on the thin wall.  “And I don’t want to hear about it.”

After ten days, Festuscato began to worry that his ship might not return.  That felt troublesome, because a dozen rough men, soldiers to look at them, came riding into town under orders from the King of Leinster, the self-styled King of all Ireland.  They said they had enough of this Christian business with Palladius.  To their credit, they first listened, and one of them remarked it was hard to believe it was the same message.  Patrick taught about the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Palladius had put much more emphasis on hellfire and brimstone.

At that same time, Festuscato went looking for Keela. He had ruined another potential poem, so he imagined she might be out back by the cooking fire, ruining another roast.  That would have only been fair.  She was a beauty, but she could not cook any better than Greta.  He found her cauldron bubbling over the fire and her cooking utensils laid out on a table next to the fire.  He found baskets full of herbs and spices, but no Keela.  He started rubbing his chin when he heard her off in the bushes, screaming.

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 1 of 3

Festuscato waved good-bye to the shore, though no one stood there to wave back.  Mirowen stayed beside him and Mousden shoved up between them, though he could hardly see over the railing.  Mousden spent the past two weeks in Cornwall and Lyoness, clinging to Mirowen’s skirt. He felt afraid of humans, especially so many big ones, but he started learning and limiting his screams to more serious concerns.

Festuscato could at least imagine Heini waving.  She seemed a fine young maid, hidden away in Weldig’s fort by the sea, and pleasant company over the last few, lonely days while they waited for the storm to pass in order to take ship for Ireland.  He remembered the way she made the bed, and tucked everything in so perfectly.  Mirowen took Mousden by the hand and walked him away when Father Gaius stepped up to the rail beside Festuscato.  Festuscato just thought how Heini’s name suited her when Gaius coughed.

“Forgive me father for I have sinned.”  Festuscato lost his smile.  Gaius simply nodded and Festuscato thought to change the subject, quickly.  “But, hey. I thought you were in a prayer marathon with Patrick.”

It became Gaius’ turn to look up with a bit of guilt on his face.  “My knees can only take so much,” he said.  “That Patrick is unstoppable.”

“He is going into battle,” Festuscato suggested. “I don’t blame him.”

Gaius nodded, put his hand to his lower back and stretched backwards while Bran came up and snickered.  No telling what Bran imagined might be going on, but Festuscato had begun to realize that the big man was bright, so he probably had a very good idea what made Gaius so stiff.

Gaius frowned and gave voice to his complaint. “Whoever decided that prayer had to be done on one’s knees?”

“Rome,” Bran offered, and it sounded like he thought it a silly idea.

“I thought prayer was inspired in a man’s heart,” Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “I was not aware the heart had knees.”  Before Gaius or Bran could answer, Mousden, in his pixie form, came flying up, screaming. He squeezed between Festuscato and the railing and clung with both hands and feet to Festucato’s robe.  Mirowen came chasing after the boy, followed by Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve.

Mirowen got down to comfort the boy and the Captain apologized.  “Lady, I am sorry.  Gerens doesn’t know when to hold his tongue.  He was just teasing.”

Festuscato turned his head while Gaius asked, “What happened?”

Treeve shrugged, but Captain Breok explained. “Gerens told the boy that the coiled ropes around the ship were really sleeping serpents that would wake and come out at night.  It is from an old tale, but there is no truth in it.”

“I heard that tale,” Mousden wailed from Festuscato’s feet and Mirowen hushed him.

“Frankly, I think your young person scared Gerens worse. He has locked himself in my cabin, and I hate having to wrench it open.”

“Get big and go with Mirowen.  She will protect you,” Festuscato insisted before he turned to face the Captain.  “Children. You never know how they are going to react.”

“No offense meant,” the Captain responded. “But that is no child.  Some of the men are going to wonder why we don’t throw the thing off the ship.”

“What’s the trouble?”  Patrick came up from below.  “Mousden, come here.”  Mousden came slowly from the railing, looking again like a young boy.  He held Mirowen’s hand until he saw Patrick hold out his arms.  Then he ran and leapt into the Bishop’s hug.  “I have spent these weeks in prayer, learning a great deal.  You would be surprised.  But above all I have learned that people come in all shapes and sizes, and I mean all shapes and sizes, and I have come to understand that the Almighty will not judge us on our outward appearance, but on the content of our hearts. This lad is a good and kind soul, and you dare to harm him at the risk of your own soul in the face of eternity.”

Festuscato spoke while Bran, Gaius and Mirowen stepped over beside Patrick and the boy.  “That a man should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He shook his head, because he did not get the voice right.

“Besides,” Bran spoke up with the slightest grin on his face.  “You throw him overboard and he will just fly back to the ship.”

Mousden nodded his head and patted the big man on the shoulder before Mirowen took him from Patrick’s arms.  Mousden honestly made more like a teenager in age and only appeared eight or nine in big form because pixies aged more slowly and lived longer than ordinary humans.  But in his first real human contact, with Denzel and Elowen, he learned that he received better treatment when he acted as young as he looked; not that it would be hard for a pixie of whatever age to act like a child.

Mirowen took Mousden off to the cabin the Captain provided for the Lady and her son, as he had imagined them to be.  Bran also wander up to the foredeck to find Dibs for a little martial practice.  They were keeping each other in shape and teaching what they knew about their weapons. Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve stepped up to one side of Festuscato while Patrick and Gaius stepped up to the other side.  Festuscato turned them to face the sea before the Captain spoke.

“So, your woman?”  It was a question.

“My governess.  Now my housekeeper, but well-practiced at raising boys,” Festuscato answered and Gaius grinned and nodded.

“But she is not a, whatever.”  Captain Breok honestly did not know.

“A pixie?”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf.”

“And as fine a woman as you will ever find this side of Heaven,” Patrick added.

“And I suppose that makes you?”  It was another question.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Senator of Rome, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and Comes Britannia, and a normal, mortal human being who will one day grow old and die like any other human person.”

“But you don’t really die,” Gaius understood that much.

“No.”  Festuscato frowned.  “I feel all the pain and heartache of death, but I don’t get to the joy of Heaven part before I get shoved back into a new birth.  I start all over again as a baby, but as I have confessed, I think I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not get it right.  Patrick, don’t underestimate the power of sin in this broken old world.”

“I don’t,” Patrick confirmed.  “And I confess, while I have every confidence in Mirowen and young Mousden, I still have my doubts about you.

“I do my job.”

“And what is your job?”

“Right now, it is delivering a stubborn Bishop alive, into the hands of a bunch of mad Irishmen.  Then you will have your job to do, and I think it won’t be easy, and I don’t know if I can help you.”

“I think I should thank God you can’t help me.” Patrick said, with an honest smile and a friendly pat on Festuscato’s shoulder. “But I will pray for you.”  He turned to go back to his place for prayer.

“I figured you were already doing that, hopeless cad that I am.”

Patrick said nothing, but Gaius thought to answer. “Only as needed,” he said.  “Which for you is about every minute of every day.” Gaius also thought to give Festuscato an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“Come along, Treeve,” the Captain spoke up as he turned from the railing.  “Let’s go pry Gerens out of my cabin.  I plan to sleep well tonight, and in my own bed.”

###

That evening, Treeve said he expected Mousden to sleep in the cabin, maybe upside down like a bat.  Gaius thought he might prefer to sleep in the darkness down in the hold, but Mousden said it smelled too much of pine trees and strange animal droppings, and besides, he already caught the only rat on board for lunch. Festuscato kindly asked him to not go into the details.  It turned out Mousden slept up in the nest at the top of the mast. He said it was a wonder to see all the stars overhead, and in its own way, not unlike the roof of a cavern, or being in a fairy circle.  It reminded him of the many times his tribe roamed the meadows at night and danced and played in the circles of the moon.

“He probably won’t sleep much in any case,” Mirowen said, with a yawn.  “Sorry. I find the sea much like a cradle. It really tires me out.”

The Captain and his mate both looked at Festuscato to explain.  “Mousden is a night creature.  Pixies in general prefer the darkness, or I should say the moon and stars.  They live underground, in caves and caverns, and find the sun glaring bright.  I’m surprised Mousden doesn’t have a headache from the sun shining off the surface of the sea all day.”

“He slept for much of the day,” Mirowen added before she excused herself and went to her cabin.

Everyone slept well that night, as is often the case at sea.  Mousden stayed up top and observed the changes in watch through the night.  Most of the time he simply looked at the unchanging sea, the horizon and counted the stars in the sky.  When Colan, the skinny young man who had the morning watch climbed up to join him in the nest, Mousden casually mentioned that he noticed a sail on the horizon.

“I can’t see anything,” Colan said, as he squinted off into the dim light before dawn.

“Right there,” Mousden pointed, but Colan shook his head.

“How far?”

Mousden did not know.  Growing up in caves allowed him no chance to learn how to judge distances in the great outdoors.  They waited in the quiet, Colan squinting now and then until the sun seemed to burst above the horizon all at once and he saw a ship much closer than he imagined.  It headed straight toward them and no doubt had seen their watch lights in the night.

“Ship off the port side,” Colan shouted.  “And it is headed right for us.”