M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 3 of 3

They had two soldiers there to row, and the centurion insisted on coming.

“Poemon,” Festuscato called, though he thought the sprite’s name should have been Pokemon.  A gelatinous blob that looked otherwise like a gingerbread man came up out of the water.  “Can you make a bridge so Dibs and I and the four horsemen can walk across the river?”

“Who is the boat?” Poemon asked in a sweet voice.

“Pope Leo, meet Poemon the water sprite, Prince of the Po River.”  The pope stared.

“Hello, your holiness,” The water sprite waved.  “Wonderful to meet you.  Sure, we can make a bridge, but only if the four horsemen behave.  They are very scary.”

Pestilence chuckled.

The boat started out, and Festuscato stepped on the water with complete confidence.  He took Dibs by the arm and brought him along.  The horsemen followed.  Gaius looked over and objected, because it looked like Festuscato walked on the water.

“That’s cheating.”

“Not,” Festuscato answered.  “I am just using the natural gifts that God almighty has placed in my hands.  There is no magic or witchery or any such thing here.  Anyone can do this, if the spirits are willing.

Pope Leo remained calm about it. He talked to Gaius.  “Apparently, the maker of heaven and earth made more things than I ever knew about.”

“There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Festuscato shouted.  “Those words were written by a playwright that will be born about eleven hundred years in the future.”

“Like I said,” Gaius spoke to the pope.  “Sometimes you just have to ignore him when he says things like that.  He has been doing that since he was a child, or at least since I was three and my father moved us from Tivoli.”

“I see.”

By the time they reached the other side of the river, a great crowd had gathered on the shore.  Attila stood there, surrounded by his generals and his shaman.  Attila looked old, his face covered in wrinkles of age and worry.  He looked stressed, and Festuscato wondered if the man’s left eye was perhaps a bit crooked.

“Dragon,” Attila said.  “I knew it was you.  Only you would have the audacity to walk across the water.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I am not the messenger this time.”

“You haven’t come to offer me my own life for a third and final time?”  Attila pulled a necklace from beneath his breastplate.  It had two rings on it, one big ruby and one diamond.

“Not this time,” Festuscato said.  “But in keeping with tradition,” he said as he pulled a ring off his finger.  It had a gaudy emerald in it.  “For your losses.” he handed it over and stepped back as the Pope finally got up the embankment.  Festuscato did the introductions.  “May I present his holiness, Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome and primate of the catholic church.  Attila the Hun.”

Both men looked at each other for a long time before Attila broke.  “So, what do you have to say, holy one?”

“I am here to tell you to leave Rome alone.  In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the city.”

“And I should listen to an unarmed old man in a robe?”  Attila laughed.

“Rome has been claimed by the one, eternal, ever living God as a holy city and his own possession. Do not desecrate the holy city with the spilling of blood or your blood may be required of you.”

“Are you threatening me?  I have been threatened by the very best and they all fill their graves, but two.”  Attila looked down at the emerald ring in his hand.

“I am not threatening you.  I am calling you to give up your pagan ways and recognize the one God who made heaven and earth.  It is to him that we will all have to answer in the end, whether we are destined for Heaven or for Hell.  Take care what you do, lest you end up where you do not wish to go.

Attila looked up and his eyes got big.  He saw something, and Festuscato had nothing to do with it.  “Your Peter and Paul,” Attila said.  “The one above wields the sword.”  Attila put his face in his hands and wept, and Festuscato, Gaius and Dibs knew enough to turn his holiness back to the boat, even if the centurion did not understand what was happening.

Festuscato whispered in Pope Leo’s ear.  “You are supposed to bang your staff and say, you shall not pass.  Next time.”  Then he let Gaius hand the pope to Father Falius.

Attila turned away from the riverbank, but Dengizic caught up with Festuscato before they left.  Gaius still stood on the shore with Dibs, and they listened in.

“Father is seeing things that are not there,” Dengizic said.

“I give him about a year, tops,” Festuscato said.  “You can waste your men on the walls of Rome where Aetius is dug in, or you can prepare for the future.”

“I can see why father fears you,” Dengizic said.  “You speak sense, and you speak truth, and he does not know how to handle that.  Plus, you see things that other men cannot see.”

“Sometimes men don’t want to see,” Festuscato said, and he shoved off the boat.

Dengizic nodded and left as Gaius protested missing the boat.  “Walk with me,” Festuscato said.  “Poemon, one more for the return journey.”

“Right you are.”  The water sprite head stuck up from the water, but nothing else.  “A pleasure to take the cardinal.”  The head burst back into water.

“There is no telling what Attila saw,” Festuscato said as he gently took Gaius’ arm.  “It may have been his sickness.  It may have been real.  But, you know, even if it was his sickness, it was mighty well timed.”  Festuscato took the first step.

“It feels squishy,” Dibs warned Gaius, and Gaius stepped out, but he looked down at his feet, expecting to fall through any minute.  He later castigated himself for his lack of faith.

###

Festuscato cried two years later when Aetius got murdered right in front of Emperor Vaentinian.  He cried again a year later when Vaentinian got murdered by Hun friends of Aetius.  That happened in 455, the year the Vandals sailed into Rome and sacked the city.  Festuscato tried to stay out of it and avoided the Vandal King Geiseric, but for the two times.

In truth, he avoided Ricimer, who became the general in chief in the west after Aetius.  He avoided all the subsequent western Roman emperors, as they came and went almost too quickly to keep up.  And he avoided the church, but that became difficult, because Hillarius became pope after Leo and Festuscato laughed and laughed.  Then Gaius had the bad sense to take the position and chose the name Simpicius.

“Simplify, simplify,” Festuscato told him, but he groused, because Hillarius spent all his time worrying about controlling the church, like who was bishop here and who was in control over there.  In Gaius’ mind, that was not what was important.

“Petty bureaucrat,” Festuscato called the man.

“He missed the forest for the trees,” Gaius explained with one of Festuscato’s expressions.

“I prefer, Lord, what fools these mortals be, these days.  That was penned by the same playwright fellow who will be born one thousand and eighty years from now.  My, how time flies.”

“But seriously.  All the Germans, the Vandals, Goths and even the Franks are Arian heretics.  And in the east, there are Monophysites heretics, and they all want to take over and ruin the true faith.”

“Not even poly-physites?”

“Be serious.  The true faith is at stake.  Chalcedon is in the scales.”

“A fish scale.  I was at Nicaea, I think.  I’m not sure if I was at Chalcedon.”

Gaius nodded, ignored Festuscato, and continued on his thought.  “There are some Arians and Monophysites among the cardinals.  The only good thing is they hate each other worse than they hate us Catholics. “

“You got Childeric,” Festuscato pointed out.  “I remember how excited you got when you showed me the letter.  That young fellow in Reims, the one you recommended for bishop despite his youth.”

“I worked with Childeric and his family during all those years we were waiting for you to show up.”

“Yes, well, wait long enough and maybe your heretic cardinals will die off.”

“I should live so long.”

“My wife keeps me young,” Festuscato said, as Morgan came in and sat beside him.  She just turned fifty and Festuscato thought she was as lovely as ever.

“It isn’t fair, you know,” she said.  “Sibelius looks as young as the day I first met her.”

“I remember the way you looked the day I first met you, with your knife, ready for action, and the sweat on your brow.”  Festuscato made a couple of stabs at the curtain with his empty hand.

“And you.  I thought, here is an arrogant fellow.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said.  “Arrogant cad.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Gaius said and stood.  “I must be getting back to work.  Thanks for straightening out that little misunderstanding.”

Festuscato heard, but as he looked at his wife, he already had other thoughts in mind.  Morgan caught the look.  “We have a daughter and four sons.  Isn’t that enough?”  She was past the point of having children, but that did not deter Festuscato one bit from trying anyway.

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

MONDAY

We move about sixty years into the future for the final tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin in the days of King Arthur.  It will post over the next six weeks.  To tide you over until Monday, have a Dragon Tunic, worn by Festuscato and all Pendragons everywhere.

Happy Reading.

*

 

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 2 of 3

An hour later, Festuscato found his rescue party.  Dibs and six of his men were escorting Morgan and Macy, who were riding on horseback and showing that they knew how to ride well.  They were headed and followed by twenty light elves, also on horse, including the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Festuscato said nothing, but he understood there was a very large party of gnomes, dwarfs, and others all around, hidden, including one determined ogre who was going to be disappointed at not having the chance to smash some Hun heads.

Morgan spurred her horse to ride up to meet him, but the horse balked when Clugh and Rhiannon appeared at Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato had gotten down to wait for the group to catch up, and his Hun horse bolted.  Fortunately, an elf was not far and able to catch it.  

Morgan kept her seat when her horse bucked, but she could not get her horse to go closer, so she got down, then wisely decided not to get closer herself until invited.  That dragon looked full grown.

“I thought you might like to say good-bye,” Rhiannon said.

“Have you decided to go over to the other side?  You are only four hundred and fifty years late.”  Festuscato smiled while Rhiannon frowned.

“I meant to Clugh.”

“Clugh.  Brother.  No fire.  No harm,” Festuscato shouted in dragon-speak.  He could not be sure the dragon heard him as its eyes were trained on the troop of horsemen, but it leaned down and sniffed, and then it got excited.  “Aha!  You remember me,” Festuscato shouted, and when Clugh’s head stopped bobbing up and down, Festuscato petted the beast and scratched behind the ear, which made Clugh purr, now a deep bass rumble.

“Ank!” Clugh said in something like a roar and raised his head.  Morgan started inching up, but she stopped at the sound.

“Tell your wife I am proud of her and happy for her,” Rhiannon said with a broad smile.  “She succeeded where all of the rest of the women in the world failed.”

“I didn’t sleep with every woman in the world,” Festuscato protested.

“Just about,” Rhiannon said through her grin.

“We will meet again,” Festuscato said quickly, as he sensed his audience with the goddess was finished.  “But maybe not in this life.”

“I know,” Rhiannon said.  “I wish you hadn’t said that.  And I lost Greta already.”  Rhiannon showed a tear in her eye and gave him a hug before she and Clugh vanished, and Morgan ran.  She tackled Festuscato and landed on top of him in the grass.  She started kissing his face all over while the words tumbled out.

“You are the best husband.  You have given me the best wedding present, ever.  All the fairies and elves and dwarfs and even the big ugly one, and the spooky ones all listen to me.  And the sprites in the sky and the rivers and the fire all pay attention.”  She took a breath. “Of course, they don’t do what I tell them, oh but they are wonderful, and I love them, and they love me, and I know it.  I really know it.”  She took another breath and her eyes went to tears.  “And I was so afraid I was going to lose you before I ever had you.  Sibelius, your house elf maid pulled me through the wall at the house, so I escaped the Huns, but then I kept crying, and they kept telling me that you were still alive, and here you are.” Her smile came back.  “And I love you so much.”  She hugged him and grinned an elf worthy grin as she laid her head on his chest.

Festuscato knew she was suffering from what he called elf overload.  He remembered Greta’s husband, Darius suffered from it when they were engaged, but he soon settled down, and so would Morgan.  Meanwhile, she excited him, terribly, and she seemed to know it, so he thought to say something.

“Wouldn’t you rather enjoy telling me all this without so many clothes getting in the way?”

Morgan pulled up her head, her eyes got big, and her cheeks turned red.  “Oh, I hope so,” she whispered, and kissed his ear.

###

Late in August, Gaius came to fetch Festuscato.  Morgan, three months pregnant, became happy all the time.  Festuscato stayed happy as well, but he also felt exhausted.  The only thing he could not figure out was if he or she was responsible for not letting the other get any rest.  He decided they were both responsible, and he could not prevent the smile that came to his lips, thinking about it.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned,” Festuscato said, as soon as he saw Gaius.  “I can’t think of a good one to tell you right now, but I must have done something.”

“I guessed from the smile on your face,” Gaius nodded.

“This?  Oh, this has nothing to do with sin for once.  I am a happily married man, you know.”  He looked up as Morgan came in, patting her belly.

“I’m happy too,” she said.  Festuscato looked at her with love in his eyes, and she finished her thought.  “Sibelius has finally mastered unburned toast, and she makes such great ham sandwiches.”

Festuscato stood and got in her face.  “I see.  You’re happy about ham sandwiches.” 

“I am eating for two.”

He put his hand on her tummy.  “Your mama likes to play.  She can’t fool me.”

“I don’t play.  I take it serious,” Morgan protested.  “You are the teacher.  I am the student.”

“And an excellent student you are.” He pulled up close and ran his fingers up her back which made a soft sigh come out of her lips.

“Got any more lessons?” she asked.

“Ahem.”  Gaius interrupted.  “And for once I don’t want to hear about it.  I just came to fetch you.  Are you ready to go?”

“Am I ready to go?” Festuscato asked his wife.

“Yes, you are ready,” Morgan said, but she moved in to hug him and squeeze him.  Then they kissed, and Gaius spoke again.

“I’ll wait outside.”

Pope Leo waited by the gate.  Dibs stood there, and the four horsemen came for a reunion trip, so at least six of them would wear the dragon tunic.  Aetius arrived, but only to try to talk them out of it.  The Pope did not listen, so Aetius turned to at least seeing them off safely.  He had brought his little army into Rome to man the walls when Attila turned and appeared to be headed for the city.  Aetius offered Festuscato good luck and went back to work.

“Hillarius will stand in my place while we are out of the city,” Leo explained to Felix, who had found his place at last, supplying all of the ecclesiastical robes for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope himself.  He had what Festuscato called his sweatshop down by the docks to be close when his imported silk came in.  “He will pay the agreed upon price or hear about it when I get back.”

“Very good,” Felix said, and bowed.  He really was a first-class salesman.

“Felix, Dibs, Gaius,” Festuscato got their attention.  “Who would have thought four grubby kids would go from stealing oranges to this?”

“We didn’t steal the oranges,” Gaius said, in a moment of selective memory.

“You were the grubby one,” Felix insisted.

“Too bad Mirowen couldn’t be here,” Dibs said, and they all agreed with that.

“She is happy where she is,” Festuscato said, though he had no way of knowing for sure.  “Queen of the Geats.  Of course, about now they ought to be fighting their own dragon.  Seamus knows some dragon-speak, and he should get the story down on paper.  We will all be able to read about it in about a hundred years.”  He mounted up, so they all mounted.  The Pope, naturally, had a hundred men under the centurion Abelard, going to protect him in the wilderness.  They kept their distance from the dragon and his men, having heard stories, and they gave Pope Leo plenty of room, and tried not to crowd him as well.  It became an easy thing for Festuscato to push through the dozen priests and scribes and ride beside Leo.

“So, your number two man is named Hillarius?”  The pope nodded and Festuscato said, “That’s hilarious.”  He laughed hard, and Gaius had to interject.

“Just ignore him when he says things like that.”

It took more than a week to get to the Po river.  Everyone kept thinking that Attila would cross over, and they would meet him on the way, but he seemed to be stuck on the far bank.  No one, except Festuscato, and maybe Dengizic, had any idea why he got stuck.

When they came to the river, they found it wide and deep.  That should not have mattered to the Huns.  If they had no bridge or boats, they were adept at making things like simple rafts, and their horses could swim well enough. 

“Why is he just standing there?”

Festuscato explained.  “Attila is a very superstitious man.  He is a pagan believer in the old ways, even though he is educated in the new ways.  He lives by the omens.  He had his shaman sacrifice before the battle of Chalons, and the man read the entrails and told Attila that a great leader would die in the battle.  Attila hesitated, but when he came out to fight, I believe he hoped Aetius would die, or maybe me, though I wasn’t the leader.”

The Pope waited before he said, “And?”

“Theodoric, King of the Visigoths died, but when you think about it, it would have been strange in a battle like that for every leader to come through unscathed.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Leo said, and Gaius helped him down into the boat where Father Falius waited.  

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 1 of 3

Festuscato shoved Morgan into the small room beside the entranceway, before he got grabbed.  Festuscato prayed, and when one of the Huns burst the door to that room, he found the room empty and yelled.  Two more Huns followed and banged around on the walls and floor, but the room proved solid and the woman had gone.

“Where did she go?” The chief Hun yelled and slapped Festuscato, hard.

“In that room,” Festuscato responded through his bloody lip. “I don’t know, unless the goblins took her.”

The chief Hun hit him again, but the two who held his arms lightened their grip and another stared at the floor, like he expected something to rise up any minute.  No matter.  Festuscato would not escape.  They tied his hands and feet, dragged him outside, and threw him over a horse, Margueritte style, he thought to himself.  They rode through the night and arrived at a Hun camp just before sunrise.  

Festuscato felt dizzy and half-conscious when they threw him into a tent and posted several guards.  The tent looked like some sort of command tent, with a table and stools, and a cot behind a curtain.  Festuscato hit the ground near the spot where a fire had burned, recently, but he felt too dizzy to look around much.  He slept for a while, now that he was not being jostled about.  When he awoke in the early afternoon, his stomach remained queasy, but his head felt better.  He just started thinking a bit of food might help his stomach settle down, when his visitor arrived.  Dengizic, Attila’s middle son.  Festuscato made the effort to sit up—not an easy thing with his hands and feet still tied.

Dengizic entered the tent with two others, no doubt his captains, and he slapped Festuscato, hard.  Festuscato’s lip began to bleed as the slap shoved him back to the ground.  He groused because he had to make the effort to sit up again.

“Dengizic,” Festuscato said as he spat blood.  “I heard your father was in Italy.  Did you come for the warm weather?”

Dengizic raised his hand to slap Festuscato a second time but changed his mind.  “At last, the dragon is bound,” he said in a triumphant voice.

“What?  You came this far south just for me?”

Dengizic shook his head.  “We got the word that Valentinian abandoned Ravena and made a dash for Rome.  I was sent to intercept him, but somehow, he slipped past us.  I heard he was dressed as a woman.”  Dengizic and his captains thought of that as terribly funny.

“So, you got me instead,” Festuscato concluded.

“Father will not be unhappy.”

“But what do you expect to gain by invading Italy?” Festuscato asked, seriously.  “The empire in the west is all but gone.  The gold is all spent, and Rome is ready to crumble with nothing to be gained by it.”

“We will be the end of you Romans.  We have utterly destroyed Aquileia and your legion on the Adriatic.  Attila is marching on Padua, and men are scouting as far away as Milan.  Now that the weather has turned, Aetius is seeking to come back from Gaul, but he has no army to reckon with.  The Franks and Visigoths have abandoned him.”

“So, Italy is wide open, waiting for you to take whatever plunder there is.  I hope you won’t be too disappointed.  Besides, Italy has had some bad harvests these last couple of years.  You may find it hard to keep your great army fed as well as paid.”

“We will take the food of the people,” Dengizic said calmly, quite certain that he had the upper hand.  “What do we care if you Romans die by the sword or by starvation?”

“People die of many things,” Festuscato responded.  “How is your father holding up by the way?  His circulation must be getting pretty bad.  Has he shown any signs of bleeding?”

Dengizic paused in his own thoughts and stared at Festuscato.  Clearly, he had seen some things.  “What do you know?” he asked.

Festuscato looked at the others in the tent as he spoke.  “Maybe this needs to be private, for your ears only.”  Dengizic also looked at his captains before he ordered them to leave.  He took a stool and sat facing Festuscato while he waited to hear what Festuscato had to say.

“I imagine he has a couple of years, at most.  The consensus is he has circulatory problems, may be developing blood clots, and may have a stroke or heart attack in the next year or so.  Doctor Mishka thinks he may have a brain tumor, but it is impossible to be certain without examining him with equipment that hasn’t been invented yet.”

Dengizic struggled to understand.  “I know what a heart attack is.  Are you saying my father will have a heart attack?”

“Or a stroke or seizure of some kind.  A stroke is where one whole side of the body dies.”

Dengizic’s eyes got wide.  “I have seen such a thing.”

“Of course, if it is a brain tumor, he could die at any point.  Look for bleeding from the nose, or worse, from the ears.  Look for erratic, that is, strange behavior.  Look for him to behave like a completely different person.  He might go along seeming normal for days or weeks, and then have an episode where he starts to act strange, and then after a time he seems normal again.”

“This will kill him?” Dengizic asked.  He looked at the ground, thinking hard.

“A year.  Maybe two.”  Festuscato paused before he asked a question.  “Tell me about Ellak.  He is your older brother, right?”

“Ellak is not so smart.  You see, father did not send him on this errand.”

“So, when your father dies, you are going to let Ellak take over and rule?”

Dengizic’s eyes got big.  “What are you suggesting?”

“I am not suggesting anything.  I am telling you that you have a year or two to get your house in order and build support if you don’t want not-so-smart to take over.  I am telling you to watch out for Emak, your younger brother.  I hear he is a clever one.  I would not be surprised if he started reaching out to supporters years ago.  I don’t think it will take him long to build an army.”

Dengizic stood.  He looked like a man for whom the universe just made sense and he did not know what to do about it.  Festuscato had a different thought, about something he could do.

“Rhiannon,” he called.  Then the goddess Amphitrite spoke into his mind from her time in the deep past, and Festuscato amended his statement. “In Amphitrite’s name, I give you permission to come into the jurisdiction of Olympus and Saturn.”

Rhiannon appeared, meek and unsure, looking around as if she expected Zeus or someone to show up any minute and start yelling.  When she caught sight of Festuscato all tied up and on the ground, she covered her mouth to hold back her laugh.  She paid no attention to Dengizic, who took a step back and opened his mouth.

“Mother, you look like that pig, Megla.”

“If you don’t mind,” Festuscato said and held out his hands.  “And your mother Danna says she does not want to get involved.”

Rhiannon raised one hand and the ropes that bound Festuscato fell away. He got up stiffly and rubbed his back as he did.  “But what are the Huns doing here?” she asked. “I saw your battle, by the way.  You just sat on your hill and didn’t even draw your sword.  Tsk, tsk.”  She shook a finger at him and scolded him.

Festuscato rolled his eyes.  Most Celtic goddesses were a bit bloodthirsty.  He got to the point.  “How is my dragon?”

“My dragon,” Rhiannon said, possessively.  “You gave him to me.”  He nodded but looked for his answer.  “Well,” she said softy before her face lit up.  “He is really growing.  He has learned to cut a deer in half so the whole thing doesn’t get stuck half-way down.  He is really very clever, you know.”

“Smarter than your average bear,” Festuscato nodded.  “I was wondering if you would mind bringing him here for a bit.  These Huns captured the dragon and I want them to think twice before trying it again.  Besides, I need something to cover my escape.”

Rhiannon curled her lip.  “I have really been good and steered Clugh away from people.”

“The Huns have horses,” Festuscato suggested.

Rhiannon’s lip stayed curled. “Horse gives him the burpies.  He ate a whole horse once and stayed up all night burping flames in his nest.”

“He doesn’t have to eat any. Just crisp a few and cause some panic so I can get away.”

“All right,” Rhiannon agreed, and her smile returned.  She stepped out of the tent with a word to Dengizic.  “Close your mouth.”

“Close your mouth,” Festuscato agreed as he followed Rhiannon outside.  He found a horse there ready to ride.  Whether it was Rhiannon’s doing or not seemed unclear.  Festuscato gave the cheek of the goddess a quick peck, said, “Thank you,” and mounted.  As he rode off, the dragon flew over his head and started burning tents, men and horses.  Rhiannon rose happily in the air and helped Clugh practice his aim.

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 3 of 3

Morgan still had her hand covering her mouth.  “This is you in another lifetime, isn’t it?”  Gerraint nodded.  He had already breached the subject.  “When did you live?”

“Oh, it’s worse than you know,” Gerraint said with a sly smile.  “I haven’t even been born yet.”

Morgan laughed and put her hand on his arm.  “I love it.”

“Move on,” Gerraint said, and Clover got the oxen moving again.  Mercedes crawled up into the wagon and kept shaking her head.  Ironwood stayed big and talked quietly with Macy.  And she talked with him, more conversation than Festuscato got from the girl.  He looked again at Morgan who kept staring at him like she was waiting for the next chapter in the saga.

“Festuscato is thirty-five.”

“Just right.  Well matured, and I assume I won’t have to teach him manners.”

“True, but I’ve lived some lives as women.”

“I expected as much.”

“But I am the only one.  No one else has other lives like that.”

“I have no other lives, but I like what I have seen of him so far.  I like red hair.  It is exciting.”

“You have no idea,” Gerraint said.  “My life is usually like a tornado, like a hurricane.  Sometimes I can stand in the eye of the storm, but those around me often get caught up in the madness and danger.  I have been ninety-five people before Festuscato, though I don’t remember them all, or close to it.  Right now, all I know are the Princess and Diogenes before Christ, Greta, Festuscato, myself and Margueritte in these several hundred years, Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller in the future, oh and Alice who is the creator and caretaker of Avalon in the second heavens.  Worse than that, I have been a god, four gods, four different times in the deep past, and when I have to reach out to one of them it is because something so horrible is happening, the whole word is in danger. Enid, my wife, keeps begging me to stay home, but I have to do my duty, and she is a real help and a real trooper.”  Gerraint paused and took a breath.  “Still interested?”

“More than ever.”

Gerraint glanced back to be sure the Visigoths were well out of sight before Festuscato returned.  He came back and immediately caught Morgan in his arms and kissed her, passionately.  He couldn’t speak for her, but he felt the fireworks go off in his head.  When they stopped, and turned, they saw they had some catching up to do.  They held hands as they ran, then let go when they walked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes what?”

“I’m just practicing for when you ask me to marry you.”  

“You realize, no one knows all this, and maybe I didn’t explain the worst part.  I never get to go to heaven.  I try not to dwell on that fact, but sometimes I get depressed about it and then I am not fun to be around.  I just keep getting to start all over again from scratch, as a baby.”

“And a very cute baby, I am sure.”  Morgan took Festuscato’s arm, and Festuscato knew that this was one woman he could not just slip into bed.  With Morgan, it would be all or nothing, but as he thought about it, he didn’t mind.  “So, tell me about the fairies,” she said.

###

Once they got to Arles, they had some negotiating to do with the merchant and his son.  The boy and Mercedes looked happy with the arrangement, but the dowry did not seem right.  Festuscato felt afraid the man might try to back out of the deal, but then the chief Roman military man in the province, the Dux of Provence found out Lord Agitus, alias the dragon was in town, and the whole city turned out to guide him to the palace, like it was the return of Constantine himself.

Morgan walked beside him and asked softly.  “Is it always like this?”  She was not used to being a public spectacle.

“No,” Festuscato said through his grin as he waved at the people like a conquering hero.  “Sometimes they just arrest me and throw me in prison.”

When they got back to the merchant, three days later, he seemed more than happy to accommodate them.  The bishop of Arles himself offered to perform the wedding, and the merchant’s wife kept fainting.  It became a lovely time, but in the end, Festuscato had to dig out the last of his gold coins from the secret pocket in his armor and pay for passage for four to Rome.  Clover and Heather decided to stay in Provence and promised to look in on Mercedes now and then.  They found May’s family and the fairy troop that roamed the fields and forests of the region and fit right in, as fairies do. Ironwood decided to go with Macy, and he stayed big as much as possible, and maybe more than he should, but sometimes he got small, sat on her shoulder and hid in her hair, which made her very happy.

###

Festuscato spent a lot of time on deck, fretting and bored.  Someone said the Huns had crossed the Alps into Italy and that did not sound good to him.  Morgan comforted him as well as she could, and they hugged and kissed plenty, but then Festuscato would just berate himself for stupidity.  Why did he ever imagine he should wait for Gaius to marry them.  His only consolation was by the end of the voyage, she seemed as frustrated as him. 

When they sailed in on the morning tide, they found everyone there, waiting for his arrival.  The elf Lord Atias stood with the four horsemen decked out in their dragon tunics.  Dibs and all ten of his men were present with Marcellus and a well-worn woman who had to be Marcellus’ wife.  She stood next to Emma, and Felix and the children were with them.  Gaius, it appeared, had been elevated to cardinal, the Abbot of Marmoutier, the name given to Saint Martins looked happy, and Pope Leo himself stood with them.  Festuscato kissed the Pope’s ring and the Pope hugged Morgan and whispered, “Thank you, thank you.”

At the pope’s insistence, they were married that day in Saint Peters Basilica, the one commissioned by Constantine, the Pope himself presiding, and all Leo could say to Morgan was “Thank you, thank you.”

Gaius explained to the bewildered woman.  “Festuscato’s indiscretions are legendary.  Three popes, Celestine, Xystus, and now Leo, could only look at me and shake their head,” he spoke brightly.  “We started to fear no woman would ever get him to marry and settle down, so congratulations.”

“He is all I want,” she confessed quietly.  “But I know he has work to do that the rest of us can hardly comprehend.”

“A little advice,” Gaius confided.  “Sometimes it is better not to ask.”

Festuscato bundled Morgan up on a carriage and they headed for his home. Morgan finally got to ask something when she caught her breath.  “Are you rich or something?”

“Very,” he said.  “Want to spend it all?”

She just grinned.

Everyone went elsewhere so the couple could reach the Agitus house on the Appian Way and have the night to themselves.  They all had plans to call within the next week, but for the present, they left the couple alone.  It turned March, the spring started blooming, and though the couple had only known each other for six months, both felt it more than enough time and they were beyond ready.  As they entered the house, they found men with knives waiting for them.  Huns, Festuscato thought.  Morgan looked to be in shock.

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

MONDAY

Romance is nice, but Attila is not finished with Rome. Monday, The Last Gasp.

*

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 2 of 3

Festuscato looked at the half-elf and waited for her to explain, but the young woman with the brown hair and fascinating Margueritte-like hazel eyes spoke up.  “Macy is the eldest.” she pointed at the half-elf who seemed tongue tied in Festuscato’s presence.  Mother was pregnant with her when she married my father.  It didn’t matter.  As soon as Macy was born with her pointed ears, it was clear that my father was not her father.  But my father tried to raise her like his own.”  Macy nodded to say that was so.  “At least until she was six.”

“And your name?”

“Morgan, and I am twenty-one and all alone in the world apart from my sisters.”  Morgan looked into Festuscato’s eyes and batted her own, just a little.  Festuscato wanted the rest of the story.  He frowned before he saw the tears in the corners of Morgan’s eyes and chastised himself for thinking his crude thoughts.

“So, what happened to your father and mother?” Festuscato asked, tenderly.

“My father got killed by Huns when I was three.  Macy was six.  Mother and Mercedes’ father survived when the Visigoths counterattacked.  They say it was a terrible battle, but after life settled down again, mother was lucky to remarry, and she had another girl.  Mother died of the plague when Mercedes was five.  I was nine and Macy was twelve.  Poor Father Flavius, Mercedes’ father, and Lucas at sixteen had three girls to take care of, and Lucas was kind of slow, if you know what I mean.  We all thought life would be better when we got to Arles.  We sold our home, and the deal was going to be secured when Mercedes married.  Father Flavius promised to find us husbands when we got to Arles, but now we have no hope.

Morgan began to cry softy, and Festuscato hugged her to comfort her.  She did not resist him.  Macy held Mercedes in very much the same way, and Heather stood right there, in her big size, crying along with everyone else.  Festuscato noticed Clover came back to comfort Heather, but since he said nothing, Festuscato figured the immediate area had to be Hun free.

After a moment, Festuscato separated from Morgan and Morgan wiped her eyes.  He had decided something and felt he needed some space, though he kept his hands on Morgan’s shoulders.  He called the head gnome that helped him steal one of Theodoric’s horses.  The gnome thought a minute without saying a word and Festuscato nodded.  Suddenly, there were twenty gnomes in that little part of the forest.  Morgan looked delighted.  Mercedes looked scared again, but Macy smiled, except she began to cry again.  

Heather reached out for Mercedes, and the girl moved to be close to Heather and Clover who were both in their big size and looking like ordinary people.  At least Mercedes did not scream when the gnomes got to work.

They found the wagon, and the oxen that had wandered off.  They hitched up the beasts and packed the tents and everything neatly in the wagon.  Two fetched Festuscato’s horse and red cloak.  Festuscato sent the red cloak back to Avalon the moment he saw it.  He tried to do it without being noticed, but Morgan saw and kept her thoughts to herself.  The gnomes also dug two graves.  They were shallow, but sufficient when the gnomes piled stones on top.  They seemed to have a knack for pulling mostly buried stones right out of the soil.

When they were done, it became noon and they had not moved an inch.  Festuscato made two crosses out of sticks, and the gnomes did something to make them root in the soil.  Then he did not know what to say, so he assured the women they would find a priest and say a mass for the dead.

Festuscato turned to his gnomes and thanked them all for their good help. “I owe you,” he said.

“Nothing,” the chief gnome spoke up.  “You have already given us everything through the centuries, since the day you first made us out of those wild imps.  You owe us nothing.  We were glad to be allowed to help, and would do it again, anytime.”

Festuscato glanced at Morgan who absorbed all of this like a sponge.  He knew there was no doing this quietly.  He clapped his hands, and the gnomes all disappeared, and he felt an explanation might be necessary.

“I sent them home.”

“And a lovely home it is, I am sure,” she said, smiled a lovely smile, and slipped into his arms for more hugging.  “Thank you for your kindness,” she whispered, and snuggled in a way that woke Festuscato right up, before she took a step back and a curious look crossed her face.  “But I don’t know anything about you, or your name other than you said you were the dragon, whoever that is.”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, knight errant for the duration while I deliver you to Arles.”

“Festuscato I caught,” she said.  “And I accept the offer of escorting us to Arles, but you will have to explain the rest, and all of the things you haven’t explained.  I never heard of Huns running away.”

“We should start moving first,” Festuscato suggested, and she collected her sisters while he tied his horse to the back of the wagon and Clover and Heather stepped out front to get the oxen moving.

Festuscato looked at Morgan and felt the smile in his stomach.  She looked at him and smiled outwardly in return, and Festuscato realized that nothing less that the whole truth would do for this one.  She seemed bright enough to understand and not one who would be willing to accept half measures.  In that moment, he felt like he very much wanted to explain it all, like it became a great burden on his soul.  Sadly, they barely started when Ironwood came racing back.

“Lord, the Huns have moved on to the road to the shore, but that Visigoth captain and his troop are on the road, coming back, and they almost got by me.”

Festuscato looked up as Macy said, “Men coming.”  She pointed, and Festuscato barely had time to say, excuse me, before he traded paces with Gerraint who came back in his armor, complete with helmet and swords in the right places.  Morgan squeaked like a cute little mouse.  Mercedes tried not to look.  Macy began to cry again.  Ironwood got big and stepped up to keep the girls quiet.

When the captain called his troop to a halt, Clover and Heather halted as well.  The Captain recognized the armor and got suspicious as to why a lone soldier would be out on the road.

“Soldier.  What are you doing in this wilderness?”

“Escorting this family to Arles.  As you can see, it is a most peasant duty for an old soldier.”  He removed his helmet and showed the gray hair of age.  He smiled for the captain and the captain softened his expression.  He asked about the red-haired man and the dapple-gray horse, but Gerraint could only say he saw no such man.  Morgan covered her mouth to stifle her giggle.

“Take care, old man,” the captain said.  “I heard rumors of Huns on the road.”

“I heard we crushed the Huns up north and sent them scurrying back across the border to lick their wounds.”

“We did,” the captain said as several of the men nodded, like they were there.

“Well good luck to you.  I hope you catch your man.”

The captain shook his head.  “This was an unlikely direction.  The rest of his party all went to Narbonne and by now they have probably taken ship for Rome or unknown places.  We ride.”  The captain and his men rode out and Gerraint turned to Morgan.

“How do you like my disguise?”

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 1 of 3

Heather found an unbranded dapple gray seven-year-old that seemed gentle enough.  They had gotten a couple of gnomes to do the actual looking, and the gnomes had the horse saddled and ready to go.  They also had a glamour covering the horse so instead of being dapple gray, it looked like a natural brown.

Margueritte looked around at her little ones and said, “Thank you all so very much.  It was lovely meeting you all, and I do hope to see you again some time.  Say a special thank you to Fangs.”  She looked at Heather.  “I don’t like rats and bats either.  Good-bye,” she said and went away, so Gerraint could take his turn.

“All right then, Ironwood.”  Gerraint appeared a commanding contrast to Margueritte.  To an outsider, it would have been hard to imagine they were actually the same person, or maybe different persons but the same being.  “Let’s make this fairy weave imitate a Visigoth soldier’s uniform.  I feel silly in a dress.”  It took several minutes.  Gerraint called to Excalibur as his most Gothic looking sword and set it at his left side, Visigoth style.  He set Defender to his right side and stepped back to ask how he looked.  Naturally, everyone said he looked great, but he frowned.  “Well, let’s just hope it fools the men at the various gates.”

“Actually, you don’t look very much like a Goth, with your dark brown hair,” Clover said, in a sudden fit of honesty.  “You might pass for a half breed, but you have a Celtic look about you.”

“So maybe I have to swear and spit a lot,” Gerraint said, as he slipped on his helmet, mounted his horse, and rode off.  “These baby blue eyes ought to count for something.”

None of the guards gave him any trouble, even though he stumbled on a couple of words and once had to revert to Latin.  Gerraint, a big man at six feet, had finally perfected his mean stare, so no one argued.  Once he left Tolouse, he turned in an unexpected direction, towards Provence instead of Narbonne.  The gnomes had thought to fill his satchels with some quality food, so there were no worries there.  The fairies still followed but kept their distance when there were people around.  They came in close when the road finally brought Gerraint into the shelter of some trees.

Gerraint changed to Greta and let his fairy weave change back to Margueritte’s washer woman dress.  Greta immediately stomped her foot.  “What is she, a size two?”

“She is a couple of inches taller than your five foot, four inches, but she is a size four, petite.  Short waist, with nice, long legs,” someone said in Greta’s mind.  She assumed it was the Storyteller, and she responded to him out loud in her grumpy voice.

“So, I have stumpy legs and have to make everything bigger, especially around the middle.  I must be a size twelve,” she said, and added, “at least,” before someone else said it.  Greta considered the clothing then and opted for her old riding clothes which were still being kept somewhere in Avalon.  She called her red cloak with the hood to have against the fall chill in the night.  She mounted her supposed brown horse and headed toward Arles.

Around noon, a large troop of Visigoths caught up with her.  They were looking for a man with red hair, possibly riding on a dapple-gray horse.

“I have seen no such man,” Greta said, in all honesty, since she did not have a mirror.

“It is not safe here for a young maiden alone on the road,” the captain said.

“I will be careful,” Greta promised.  “I am not going far.”

The captain smiled for her and took his troop off at a gallop.  Heather stuck her head out from Greta’s hair where she had been standing on Greta’s shoulder, whispering in Greta’s ear.

“That was close,” Heather said.

“Clover, you need to watch behind.  Ironwood, you need to watch ahead.  If that captain comes back this way, I need warning, so I have time to get off the road and hide.”  That said, Greta and Heather settled into a long day’s ride, with Heather talking most of the way.

At sunset, Greta pulled well off the road, but did not light a fire.  She ate a little before she curled up in her cloak.  She slept well.  It had been a long day.  It just turned to sunrise, however, when she got rudely awakened.  Someone screamed, and the first thing Greta thought was she was back in Dacia, traveling with her friends, and she jumped up.  The scream came again.  The second thing Greta thought was, Margueritte, that’s how you do it if you want a good scream.  There came a third scream as Greta woke enough to go away so Festuscato could return.  He arrived dressed in his armor with the sword Wyrd in his hand.  He ran through the woods but stopped short of the action.

Three women crouched behind a fallen log.  He knew immediately that the one with the long black hair and the bow in her hands was a half-elf, and he also knew her father was a Macreedy.

“Man,” he said to himself. “Those Macreedys get around more than I do.”  Then he shut down those thoughts because he did not want to know how many little Festuscato’s he might have left in his wake.

The other two girls appeared human.  The one with the plain brown hair held tight to a long knife and looked prepared to do whatever might be necessary.  The blonde looked to be a basket case; obviously, the screamer.

Their camp had two tents and two bodies, one young man and one older man who still clutched a sword.  He just caught a glimpse of the men on the far side of the camp hidden among the trees when Ironwood flew up with a report.

“Five men, Huns.  One has an arrow in his leg.  One has an arrow in his chest, right side.”

“Oh, girls,” one of the Huns called.

“Not alive,” the one with the brown hair shouted over the log without sticking her head up.  “You might as well go away.”

“What do you want?” Festuscato interrupted the sparkling conversation and heard silence for a minute, while Festuscato called to Heather and Clover.  He spoke softly.  “You two need to fly over to Mirowen’s Macreedy cousin and tell her we are on her side.  Ironwood get big.  I need you with your bow.”

Ironwood appeared as a twenty-four-year-old, covered in a fine armor, and took up a position by the next tree.  “We mean no harm to you women, but what do you men want?”

There followed a long pause before a man answered. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Fair enough.  Now here is an offer.  You can leave right now while you still live, or you can die.”  Festuscato had sheathed his sword and pulled out his own bow.  He had an arrow ready and three more in his hand.  Diana, the goddess, had given a gift of her own spirit to his genetic reflection, whenever that might have been in the past, much like Bodanagus had been gifted and Margueritte reflected those gifts.  In Festuscato, the gift of the goddess presently pushed deep into his hands and eyes.  Given any sort of shot and he knew he would not miss.  “Time is up.  What’s your answer?”

“Who in Mitra’s name do you think you are?”

“I am the dragon who tied Megla up like a pig and threw him and his men off my island.  I am the dragon who just kicked Attila’s butt so hard he took all of his men and friends and ran away.  I am the dragon who is going to burn you to ashes if you don’t leave these women alone, right now.”

No one answered, but they heard the Huns getting up on horses and riding off at a gallop.  Festuscato called again to his fairies, and they came right away.  “Ironwood, I need you small again, to follow the Huns and tell me where they land.  I don’t want them to set up an ambush down the road.  Clover, you have to search the whole area to make sure they didn’t leave one behind.  Heather, is it safe to visit the women?”

“Oh, yes,” Heather said.  “But Mirowen Macreedy’s cousin is crying.”  Heather did not understand that the tears were happy tears.  Soon enough, the blonde started wailing, definitely unhappy tears.  Apparently, the old man had been her father, and the younger one, her father’s son by another marriage.  Mercedes was seventeen, the youngest of the three half-sisters, but her father had arranged a marriage with the son of a successful merchant in Arles, and now surely that would never happen.

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 3 of 3

After two weeks, it became clear Festuscato would be there for a long time.  He spoke with Thorismund once; more of an interview where Festuscato hardly got to say anything.  He figured Thorismund felt the need to justify his actions and did not want to hear anything contrary.

After a week, he figured his troop should be in Narbonne, contracting with a ship and safe.  The Visigoth kingdom did not claim Provence or Septimania, so they had no access to the Mediterranean and could not follow Gaius, Dibs and Felix.  With that worry off his mind, Festuscato came up with a daft plan, as the Brits would call it.

Fangs the goblin enjoyed his time chasing all the bats, rats and spiders when Festuscato slept.  Heather could hardy bring herself to look at him at first, and Clover did his best to hold and comfort her, which was all she really wanted.  Ironwood stood up to the goblin, but even he did not look too steady, and it made Fangs chuckle.  The goblin seemed really a nice person, who for once did not mind being called a goblin.  Unlike so many others, he did not insist on the term dark elf in mixed company.

“So, what do you think?” Margueritte said, as she adjusted the fairy weave apron to be a little longer and then turned slowly around.  Heather kept her eyes on Margueritte but smiled at her handiwork in shaping and coloring the dress to just the right sort of drab.

“You look the very image of a Gallo-Roman washer woman,” Fangs encouraged her.

“You are still too young and pretty,” Ironwood said as he flew once around her in the opposite direction.  He showed what he meant with his hands before he said, “And too shapely for the sorry old women who clean around the castle.”

“Maybe a small glamour,” Clover suggested.

“No, not now,” Margueritte responded.  “I’ll think about it.  Right now, I have to practice.”  She screamed, frowned, and tried again.  She tried several more times but stopped when they heard a loud bang on the door.

“What is going on in there?” Gormand shouted through the door.  He caught a glimpse of the goblin one time and never opened the window in the door again.  He slipped the food through the hinged board at the bottom of the door, but never looked.  Fangs enjoyed the slop, so Gormand always got the tray back with the food eaten, and that was all he needed to know.  Festuscato, of course, dined well on the goodies the fairies pinched from the kitchens.

Margueritte made no effort to disguise her voice.  “I’m practicing, what did you think?”

“Well, you better straighten up,” Gormand said, apparently not batting an eye at the evident female voice.  “I got word Euric, the younger son wants to see you.”

“Now?”  Margueritte asked.

“Here they come.” Gormand banged once more on the door and everyone had to move fast.  Clover and Ironwood had to get the bucket and scrub brushes to place strategically when they got the word.  Heather had to get the gnomes to check on the horses.  Fangs had to walk through the walls and think directions for the fairies, though they would wait until the return trip to set the trap.  Margueritte had to go away so Festuscato could come back in his comfortable clothes and be waiting.

The door opened.

Two soldiers came in to fetch him.  Two others stayed outside with Gormand, of course, who wanted nothing to do with what went on inside that cell, even if everything looked perfectly normal at the moment.

“Lead the way,” Festuscato said, kindly.  “I haven’t met Euric.  I am looking forward to it.”

The soldiers were prepared to bring him roughly, if necessary, but his eagerness to see Euric made their job easy.  They walked, two soldiers out front and two behind, with Gormand following in the rear.  They passed through any number of halls before reaching Euric’s quarters.  They passed several of the cleaning crew on the way as well, so everything seemed set.

Young Euric tried to be sly in his pleasant conversation.  He thought he was so smart.  Festuscato stayed frustratingly pleasant and offered no information at all until the end.  When he got dismissed, he looked at the younger son and stated, “Right now you don’t have the political or military skill to succeed.  You could learn a lot from Aetius.  You won’t learn it from me because I am going home to eat oranges.  Just one word of advice.  Don’t move until you are ready.”  Euric stood with his mouth open.  He tried to be so cunning, but Festuscato showed that he had been utterly transparent.  He had no answer when Festuscato left.

Festuscato caught sight of the bucket in the middle of the hall.  When they came alongside the bucket, he did a quick bob and weave, instantly traded places with Margueritte dressed in her washer woman garb and she screamed.  The bucket got tipped over, the soldiers shouted, and she flung herself into the arms of the two soldiers who were following and paying a modicum of attention.

“What a rude man!” she shouted.  Her eyes pointed in the direction opposite the way she would be going.

“Where did he go?” the men all shouted.  Gormand said nothing.  Perhaps he recognized the scream.

One of the soldiers grabbed Margueritte roughly and shook her.  “Where did he go?  Margueritte pointed in the direction she had been looking, and the soldier threw her roughly to the floor.  “Come on.”  The soldiers raced off down the hall.  Gormand put his hand out and helped Margueritte to her feet.

“Don’t mind them,” Gormand said, with a grin that appeared almost distasteful.  Truly she was too young and shapely, as Ironwood said, but she counted on the soldiers not giving her a good look.

Margueritte took a step back and smiled for the man.  She gave him a most graceful curtsey, a sign of her good breeding and something no real washer woman could imitate.  Then she picked up her now empty bucket and scrub brush and walked away from the way the soldiers went.  Gormand might have said something but choked when two fairies flew up.

“Clover, please go check and see what horse Heather picked out,” Margueritte said.  “Ironwood, you may sit on my shoulder.”

“Yes, Lady,” both fairies responded before doing what she asked.  At the same time, they heard Gormand running away as fast as he could.

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

MONDAY

Getting out of the dungeon is not getting home. There is trouble on the road, and maybe a little romance.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 2 of 3

Their time in Tours proved brief.  The bishop greeted Gaius with all the pomp of a visiting bishop and gave Festuscato a brief smile.  Festuscato heard Gaius referred to as the apostle to the Franks and as the Bishop of Tournai, though Festuscato knew of nothing official in that direction.  Certainly, Gaius never said anything.

The abbot of Saint Martins was there, a man named Maurentius.  He came dressed to travel and go with them to apply to the Pope to approve his monastery with the appendage for women.  Maurentius, Dibs, Marcellus and Festuscato got to know each other while Gaius got wined and dined.  Festuscato found Maurentius to be a frumpy friar Tuck sort of fellow, good natured, and not a finger shaker when the conversation got a bit bawdy.  He would fit right in.

The first night after leaving Tours took them to Fierbois, hardly a village on the road to Pontiers.  Maurentius and Gaius were both surprised when Festuscato suggested it might be a good place for a church, and a satellite monastery for Saint Martins, and especially for the women.

“It would be a good place for pilgrims to stop and refresh themselves,” he said.

“Another Saint Martins?” Maurentius wondered.

“People would get confused by that,” Marcellus said.  Dibs and Gaius knew not to interrupt.

“I was thinking Saint Catherine would be a good choice, especially for any women on the road.  They would see it as a safe haven on the border between Visigoth and Roman lands.”

“I like Saint Catherine,” Emma spoke up from the cooking fire.

“Saint Catherine,” Felix echoed as he took something to his children.

“Saint Catherine de Fierbois,” Festuscato said. 

“It has a nice ring to it,” Gaius interjected.

“Anyway, after this I’ll mind my own business.  But I was thinking the Visigoths could use some spiritual guidance.  I hear many of them are Arians and do not know the true catholic faith, and this would be right on their border, or near enough.”

“No, I like the idea,” Maurentius said.  “I may mention it to the Pope.  The people of Aquitaine are mostly Christian, but many Visigoth nobles remain stubbornly Arian.  Having plans to expand the true church into the territory might help Saint Martin’s gain papal approval.”

Festuscato said no more, but in the morning, he confessed to Gaius something about the future and for once, Gaius said he had nothing to feel guilty about.

It took two weeks to reach Tolouse, the Visigoth capital.  No one bothered them all the way through Visigoth land, and when they arrive at Thorismund’s court, they appeared welcomed, at first.  Festuscato caught wind of the fact that Thorismund was not happy with Rome and with him for turning him away from finishing off Attila.

“Now my father is not avenged,” he said.  But his younger brother, Theodoric junior who also participated in the fight against Attila simply shook his head, sadly.  Festuscato understood.  Thorismund was not that bright and indeed, would not occupy the throne for long.  But in the meanwhile, Festuscato had to watch out.  During his life and career, Festuscato found that such men were easy to manipulate and easy to turn in the right direction with the simplest of arguments, as he turned Thorismund away from the battlefield; but once they got their mind stuck in a rut, they were impossible to reach.  Festuscato took Theodoric’s unspoken warning to Felix, Dibs and Marcellus.

“Felix has the money.  If I am delayed, your orders are to go to Narbonne on the south coast.  I will meet you there, but again, if I am delayed, you must take the first ship for Rome, before the cold weather arrives.  If all else fails, at least you will get home and I will meet you in Rome.”

“You are serious,” Dibs sounded surprised, though he should not have been, since he got left behind when Festuscato first sailed out of Britain for the continent.

“I have never heard you order anyone,” Gaius confessed.  “You always ask.”

“I had to order the four horsemen.  I practically yelled at them, but they will see you safely all the way to Rome, if necessary.”

“We will do this thing,” Marcellus agreed, and Felix shook Festuscato’s hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

The very next day, Festuscato found himself thrown into a dungeon cell with a single, small window much too high up to reach.

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Festuscato got left alone by his jailer, Gormand.  He was not sure what Gormand’s orders were, but as long as they did not include torture, Festuscato could wait and hope—and try to figure some way out of his predicament.  It helped when on that very first day, the fairies Ironwood, Clover and Heather came fluttering in the little window.  Festuscato frowned and tried not to yell at them.

“Clover and Heather are running away from home,” Ironwood confessed.  “We followed you all the way here from Chalons.”

“Yes, and why are you here?” Festuscato asked.

“Well, someone has to keep an eye on these children,” Ironwood said with a smile.

“We are not children,” Clover insisted.

“I’m one hundred and three and Clover is nearly two hundred,” Heather insisted, looking very much like a petulant child.

“One seventy-six, and Ironwood is just two sixty-five.  Still young enough for a fairy,” Festuscato said, and Clover and Heather eyed each other, and realized Festuscato knew all about them in a way they had not really considered before.  He could look at them right down to the depths of their toes.  “Still, I am glad you are here,” Festuscato said, to change the subject.  He did not want to frighten the young couple with his awesome presence, as some of the ancient gods used to talk about it.  “You can help me plan my escape, and Ironwood, if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate you taking a message to Gaius and the men to tell them to get out now and head for Narbonne while they can.”

“I can do that.  Father Gaius seems very nice, for a human.”

“Would you like us to find some diggers?” Heather asked, avoiding the name goblins.  “It would take some time to dig you out.  There isn’t an easy tribe under your feet like in Tournai.”

“No, no.” Festuscato said, like someone else might have said, “Tut-tut.”  He would have to plan his route out of the city and once he left the city, and he would need a horse among other things.  Just getting out of the cell would not be enough.  “We will work on it.  I am going to try to reason with my captors first.  Meanwhile, I would not mind one digger, as you said.  It would be good to have one while I am sleeping to keep the rats, spiders, and bats away.”

Heather shrieked loudly at the thought of rats, spiders, and bats.  She threw herself into Clover’s arms, which she felt inclined to do in any case, and which he felt glad she did.  Gormand came to the door and slid open the little window in the door to yell.

“What was that?”

“I have a young girl in here and we are making wild, passionate love,” Festuscato responded.  Ironwood flew up to the window so Gormand could get a good look at him. 

“Hello,” he said in a friendly manner, his only previous experience with jailers being the Frank who eventually made peace in his mind and heart with having fairies around.  Gormand did not strike Festuscato as the same sort of man.  He shrieked, a high-pitched sound to match Heather’s, and he shut the cover on the window in the door and ran away.

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 1 of 3

Festuscato and General Aetius rode out from the camp so they could have a private conversation.  Aetius became concerned about Festuscato’s plans.  Festuscato felt curious about a couple of things, and after assuring Aetius that he had every intention of going home and eating oranges, and he had no political ambitions whatsoever, he got to ask his questions.

“So why did you let Attila go?”

“The Franks are not strong enough, divided the way they are.  The Visigoths are too strong.  I still need the Huns to counter Visigoth power.  It is as simple as that.”

Festuscato nodded but added a thought.  “Let us hope it does not backfire on us.  The reports I got said Attila was not in his right mind for a while there.  There is no one in his court who will stand up to him, and he may lead his Huns into doing something stupid.”

“Like lick his wounds and try again?  I have considered this, but I will be staying in Gaul for a time, now that things seem to be settled with Geiseric and his African Vandals.  There are others I can cultivate, even if the Visigoths choose not to fight a second time.”

“And Iberia and the Adriatic get little attention.”

“Sadly, yes.  You and I know the empire in the west is on its last legs.  It is like an old man in need of a cane and a dog.”

“Yes, I spent the last ten years roaming through the wilderness confirming that very thing.  But the Curia will not listen.  They will not make the necessary changes to make Rome strong again.  And the people will not change.  They all want everything for free and will wail when they discover that in the end, nothing is free.  Everything must be paid for by someone, and when the provinces vanish there will be no one left to pay for anything.  It is like the people are living in a dream, but some day they will have to wake, rudely awake.”

Aetius nodded and thought for a moment before he spoke.  “I thought you were a great optimist.”  He sounded surprised.

“Damn reality keeps intruding.  Why do you think I want to go home and ignore all this?  Maybe I can find a nice girl and settle down.”

Aetius laughed.  “Just as well I didn’t take your head all those years ago.  You were right about the emperor’s sister, Honoria.”

Festuscato nodded.  “I may be a cad, but she is a tramp.”

“I can think of some other less eloquent words for such a woman,” Aetius said.

Festuscato just kept nodding.  “Meanwhile, tell me about Geiseric and the Vandals.  Do you trust him to be content with ruling Africa?”

Aetius had to think for a bit.  “Yes,” he said at last, before he added, “for now.”

“Because I heard Attila invaded the west on Geiseric’s urging.  Honoria just became a convenient excuse.”

Aetius said nothing.  They arrived back at the camp, and Festuscato noticed the new arrivals.  Felix showed up with his wife, Emma, and their two children.  He said with his inn gone, and Emma’s family pretty much gone, they decided to go to Italy and look up Felix’s family.  They came with Father Gaius and had two ox-drawn wagons filled to overflowing.

“We followed your army from Cambrai but did our best to stay away from the fighting,” Felix said.  “Waterborn and Tulip were a great help to us.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato said to Waterborn and Tulip who were standing there in their big size, holding hands, looking like the perfect pair of newlyweds.  Tulip nudged Waterborn and whispered.

“I told you he wouldn’t mind.”

“Looks like your four horsemen are ready to go,” Aetius placed a hand on Festuscato’s shoulder and pointed.  “How do you tell them apart?”  They were mounted, waiting, and ignoring the Roman cavalry that waited to escort Aetius back to his command tent.  Indeed, it looked like the Romans were keeping their distance.

“Mostly I can’t,” Festuscato admitted.  “But they drew little pictures on their helmets for me.”

“I see.  The skeleton is death, I would guess.  What is the insect?”

“Pestilence.”

“Lord Agitus,” Dibs interrupted as he rode up with Marcellus.  “We have ten men, that’s all.  The hundred returned to Amorica with King Budic, and most of the others decided to stay with the Franks.  Merovech made a good offer.”

“More than enough,” Festuscato said.  “Excuse me.”  He stepped over to Bran for a private moment.  Bran said nothing, but he listened.

“You are being reassigned, now that Constantine has passed away.  I fear for Constans, and his two sons, Ambrose and Uther.  Remember, Budic is their cousin.  I don’t trust Vortigen or that Pict, what’s his name, Cadal? or the so-called Jute king.  I worry they may have been waiting for Constantine to die before they set their plans in motion.”

“Cadal,” Bran agreed.  “I will not argue.  I will watch, but perhaps like you, I will find a nice Christian girl and settle down.”

“Fine.  Have a whole bunch of Puritans,” Festuscato said, as he shook the man’s hand and turned to Gregor, the one-eyed Saxon.  Gregor grabbed him and gave him a big hug.

“I knew it the minute I saw you,” Gregor said.  “I knew it from the way you humiliated Megla.  I knew you were the one to teach Attila and his Huns a lesson they will not forget.  You know, Attila took my eye, but I escaped to Britain.  I thought to raise the Saxons there and bring them home in an army, but they had settled into their new homes and were not budging.  Then I saw you, and I knew.”

“I’m glad I could help you out,” Festuscato said, and smiled as he extracted himself from the bear hug.  “What now?”

“Now, I will go home and keep my son honest.  I will make peace with the Franks.  As you say, it won’t last forever, but maybe we can have peace for one lifetime.  Peace for my old age would be a good thing.”

Festuscato nodded and turned to Luckless.  Lolly stood a half-step back, her eyes downcast.  She felt uncomfortable around so many humans, but Luckless seemed immune, having bounced around with humans for the last ten or so years.  No doubt Lolly thought he was very brave.

“Lord,” Luckless spoke up first.  “I raised a bit for your trip home.”  He lifted a heavy bag of gold and coins. “Prying it out of the fingers of a bunch of dwarfs was an experience.  I think I would have rather invaded a dragon’s lair.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato accepted the bag and quickly handed it to Felix who could hardy lift it.  “But where will you go?”

“Deep into the mines once again.  I have my tools, the gifts of my father and my uncle Weland, and now I have a home, and maybe one day I will have a son of my own to pass down the family jewels.”

“With all that, we may have to change your name to Lucky.  Lolly, take good care of him and keep him fed.”

“Just what I plan to do,” Lolly squeaked.

Festuscato smiled before he hugged Tulip and shook Waterborn’s hand.  Aetius marveled as the fairies got little and flew off toward the Frisian shore.  It looked like they never stopped holding hands.  Then it became time to go.

“Marcellus and Dibs,” Festuscato shouted for their attention.  “Your men will have to take turns guiding the wagons.  The four horsemen will take the point.  We need three on each flank and three in the rear guard.  That leaves three for the wagons with Felix to make four.  Let’s move out.”

“With these slow-moving wagons, you won’t reach the Alps until September,” Aetius pointed out.  “You can cross them in the fall, but it isn’t recommended.”

“Remember the Bishop of Tours,” Gaius spoke up.

“We won’t be crossing the alps,” Festuscato responded.  “We have to pick up a passenger in Tours.  We will go to Tolouse, try to satisfy Thorismund with a reason why you let Attila live, then head for Narbonne and take a ship for Rome.  I’ve done some sailing, you know.  It’s not so bad.”

Aetius nodded and left.  Festuscato also left, and rode beside Gaius most of the way, confessing all sorts of things.

M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 3 of 3

Festuscato and his company watched as it took all morning for the Alans and Amoricans to move into position just south of the heights where the ridge quit.  Further south, Theodoric and his Visigoths settled in, but pushed a little bit forward.  One might have imagined the Visigoths to the south were curving the end of the line toward the enemy, but in reality, they were too far forward.  Maybe they were too anxious.  Birch reported that Thorismund, the son, in the far south, sat the most forward of all.

They waited some more, and more than one man wondered if the Huns were going to do anything at all that day, but it started around three in the afternoon.  Twenty thousand Ostrogoths and with some Huns engaged Theodoric in the far south.  From his distant viewpoint, Festuscato could not tell if the Ostrogoths were told to really engage the Visigoths or if they were just supposed to keep the Visigoth horsemen occupied.

A short while later, twenty thousand Huns crashed into the fifteen thousand Alans and Amorican’s in the center.  The fighting quickly turned vicious and the Alans began to give ground, either slowly pulling back or being pushed back.  Festuscato noticed at the same time, the Visigoths began to push forward, especially Thorismund.  That exposed the Visigoth flank, badly.  For the first time all afternoon, Festuscato turned to look north.  Aegidius and his legions appeared to be lounging around.  The Franks and Saxons were waiting as patiently as they could.  Out from their position, well out of bow range, the third twenty thousand of the enemy, mostly Gepids with the Franks, Thuringians, and other Germans stood ready, but unmoving.

“Dibs,” Festuscato called.  “We need the cavalry.  It is going to have to be cavalry to the rescue.  Get every man with a horse you can find and get them here as quick as you can.”

Dibs and two men with him, grabbed their horses and went whooping down the ridge top.

“What do you see?” Gregor asked as he stood to take a look.  They all looked.

“There,” Strongarm, with his good elf eyes pointed.  The Hun flank became equally exposed to the Visigoths, but the Visigoths were not looking that way.  Fortunately, someone noticed in the fallback camp.  Theodoric left the Burgundians, Italians and Provence Romans and Gallo-Romans back in the camp in reserve.  They were mostly infantry and would not be much help against horsemen, head-to-head, but in this case, they noticed, and they could certainly catch Huns, horsemen or not, from the side where they were unprepared.  Now the Huns began to pull back, but the Alans were slow to follow and press the advantage.

As the Roman cavalry with plenty of Franks and some Saxons on horseback reached the top of the ridge, Festuscato saw the back half of the Hun attack turn to hit the Visigoths in the side, like it had been planned that way.  Most of those in the back half had no idea the front half of the charge started crumbling thanks to the Burgundians and Romans.  Aetius came up and immediately understood what was happening.  He waved his cavalry to ride to the rescue, as five thousand or so horsemen would, at this point, be hitting the Huns from the rear.  Festuscato had Bran and the four horsemen grab Aetius to keep him from riding into battle with the men.  Festuscato looked again to the north.

Somehow, Ardaric got wind of what appeared to be happening and he began to withdraw from his position.  Then the Ostrogoth line broke in the far south and Thorismund moved to ride around the back of the line.  The Ostrogoths fled as Theodoric gathered what men he could and counter attacked in the face of the Huns.  The Huns, being clobbered from every direction, gathered their own men and fled back to their strong camp.

It became a humiliating defeat.  Attila never lost a battle before.  The Huns, Romans, and especially the many Germanic tribes under the thumb, had Attila painted bigger than life, as a man who could not be beaten.  But here, he got badly beaten.  The Ostrogoths and Gepids might mount another attack, but neither seemed willing.  They had wounds to lick even if they were not as grievous as the Huns.  The Huns, so devastated in their numbers, could hardly mount a defense.

Attila raged.  His plan to conquer Gaul had been shattered.  He raged at his sons who were wisely not present.  He raged that the Roman had three whole legions which were fresh and had not even been committed to the battle.  He raged that he was done, and everything was ruined.  He raged at Ardaric the Gepid, and Valamir the Ostrogoth, and blamed them for everything.  He cursed the dragon, once, thought better of it, and cursed everyone else.  They say he went mad for a time.

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Thorismund found Aetius in the command tent Aegidius set up.  Aetius and Festuscato were there along with Gregor the Saxon, Merovech the Frank, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans and several others.  Thorismund spoke even as he tromped into the tent.

“So, we attack at first light and finish them.”  He arrived understandably angry.  Word had come that Theodoric died on the battlefield.  Aetius remained calm but shook his head.

“Your people have suffered a great loss, many losses,” Aetius said.  “You should take your father home to be properly laid to rest.”

“My father will not rest until the Hun head is on his spear,” Thorismund yelled.

“We have already discussed all this,” Sangiban shouted back.  “Where were you?”

“Me?” Thorismund had to stop shouting to think a minute about what he got asked.  “I was chasing Huns with my men,” he said more calmly.  “I almost stumbled into the Hun camp.  My men had to get me out.  What do you mean you already discussed this?”

Festuscato took Thorismund by the arm.  He directed the man to just outside the door, and Thorismund listened, which he might not have done with anyone else.  “My friend,” Festuscato said.  “I am concerned about you and your people and providing a balance in the province.”  Thorismund did not understand, so Festuscato quickly started again.  “You Visigoths on one end and the Franks on the other end are the only things keeping the Romans honest, keeping the Romans from taking over again.  I am sorry your father died, but we can’t lose you too.”  Festuscato looked back into the tent briefly and spoke like he was sharing a great secret.  “Listen.  You don’t want one of your brothers to claim the throne while you are away.  Aetius thinks he is sending you home so he can claim all the glory for himself.  I say, take advantage of Aetius.  Let Aetius finish Attila and get his men all bloody.  You go home, have yourself a big parade, and claim the crown before one of your brothers nabs it.  Go ahead.  I won’t tell.”

Thorismund stood with his mouth open for a minute.  Though not a speedy thinker, when he spoke, he understood what Festuscato suggested.  “My people don’t need to get mixed up in a civil war, and I don’t entirely trust my brothers.”

“Sure, sure,” Festuscato encouraged him.  “Let Rome deal with Attila.  He is not your problem.  You have a land and a people to rule and take care of, but you might not get the chance if you hang around here too long.”

Thorismund nodded, went back to his horse, and returned to his own camp.  Aetius stuck his head out.

“So, what did you tell him?”

“He gets to be the next king of the Visigoths if he gets there before his brothers.”

Aetius nodded.  “I give him about three years before one of his brothers throws him out.”

“Probably less,” Festuscato said.

First thing in the morning, the Visigoths packed up and left the field.  Attila stayed, and it reached about noon before he decided the Romans were not going to attack and finish him off.  In his madness, he had piled everything he could reach in the center of the camp.  He planned a great bonfire and planned to throw himself into the flames if the Romans attacked.  No way the dragon would kill him.  He would kill himself first.  But when it became clear that Aetius would let him go, or the dragon gave him a final chance, he packed up his men and his allies and hobbled back over the Rhine.

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MONDAY

Just when you think the battle is won, there are complications.Getting home is not so easy.  Until then, Happy Reading

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