R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 1 of 3

“I would really like to make Paris before the fall rains turn to snow,” Festuscato suggested. It was September first or so and they were stuck in the town of Saint Somebody or Other, one oxen shy of a compliment. Both of their spares had been used crossing the Alps and now one more collapsed.  “What did you pack in your wagon, anyway?” he asked Mirowen.

“Things,” she said.  “Girl things and some of your things as well.  And not heavy things, so you can get that smirk off your face.”

“Okay.  We probably need a couple more spares.  This time, I suggest getting a gnome who knows the animals.  Take two of the Four Horsemen and drive a hard bargain for three new oxen.”

“I’ll take Death and Pestilence, if you don’t mind.  You can keep Plague and Famine.”

Festuscato squinted.  “I suppose I really should not call them that.”

“On the contrary. They enjoy the names and the reputation it gives them.”  She scooted off to sit with the women.  Mirowen, Sibelius, Drucilla, May in her big form, and Mascen’s wife Eselt, were all sitting together and giggling.  Festuscato, Marcellus, Mascen, and Mister March were at the big table in the inn, sampling the local wine.

“Where is Julius?” Festuscato asked.

“Out checking on the men,” Marcellus said.  “You know, I have worked for a number of different Centurions in my time, but you have turned Julius into just about the best of the lot.  Most Centurions don’t care what their men are doing outside the battlefield, and even then, it is the sergeants who work the men.”

“Come now, you’re not that old,” Mister March said.

“Thirty-four, I think.  That’s well old enough to have been around.”

“Child,” Mister March set his glass down.

Mascen let out a chuckle and spoke when the others looked at him.  “Over forty,” he said.  “And my wife, but hanging out with those women, she says they keep her young.”

“I don’t see why not.  She is the youngest one in the group,” Festuscato remarked.  Mascen looked curious.  Mister March did not even blink.  Marcellus nodded, vigorously, like he understood something but said nothing. The Priests Gaius, Felix and Lavius took that moment to join the group.

“Any good?” Gaius asked about the wine.

“Leaves a dry aftertaste,” Festuscato complained.

“Not bad,” Marcellus said, as the lady of the house brought another bottle and three more glasses.

“What’s on the menu?” Lavius asked.

“Mutton and potatoes,” Festuscato said.  “And something that used to be green.”

“Now, don’t be hard on these people.  They are poor, but good people and fine Christians, many of them,” Lavius said.

“You are right.” Festuscato sat up straight.  “At least I bet Eselt is glad not to have to do all the cooking this week.”

“Yes and no,” Mascen responded.  “She really enjoys cooking.  Why do you think I married her?”  Everyone smiled for him, except Marcellus who looked suddenly sober.

“I am married,” he admitted.

“No. Really?  Congratulations.”  People around the table said something while Marcellus downed his wine in three gulps.

“Why do you think I joined the army.”  He stood. “Excuse me.”  He went out to check on Julius and the men.

When they left the town of Saint Somebody or Other and headed for the town of Saint What’s-his-name, they were back up to full steam.  The horses and oxen were rested.  The new oxen were groomed and ready.  They had fresh water in the barrels and full bags of grain for the animals and flour to bake their bread.  They picked up a couple of sheep which Mascen, Mister March, Sibelius, and Drucilla drove with the wagons, and Pinewood presented the company with a knee length tunic that was all white with a golden dragon on the chest.  They were not wool, but a thick linen that would be valuable once the weather changed further into the fall.

Festuscato knew he had to talk to Julius because Julius and Drucilla were getting to be such good friends.  But he kept putting it off.  Often, such romances were brief, and he hoped that might be the case here.  He dwelled on it when Marcellus and his six came riding in hard from the flank.

“Huns,” Marcellus shouted, and the elf who had the horn blew it loud and long.  The men on the point and the rear guard came racing up. They were on the edge of a forest where the trees grew on both sides of the road, but ended on Marcellus’ side not far from the road.

“Tiberius,” Julius yelled.  “You and your men get the horses and passengers into the woods and defend them.”

“Dismount,” Festuscato shouted over top.  “Bows and keep your spears handy.”

“Get those sheep off the road,” Marcellus added, and six men did their best to get all of those horses into the quiet of the woods, while the rest of the troop found cover. There were about twenty soldiers charging, and Festuscato could not imagine how Marcellus knew they were Huns.

“Wait for the signal,” Festuscato shouted as Julius came up beside him.

“Here we go,” Julius breathed as Mirowen, Sibelius and Drucilla stepped up alongside the four horsemen, bows ready.  Festuscato frowned.

“Now!”

Sixteen of the twenty attackers went down with the first volley.  Two broke through the woods to the road, but they got surrounded by so many spears, they did not last long.  The other two turned and ran, and Festuscato did not like the thought that they might fetch more.  “Horses,” he shouted.  “Bring your spears but hold your bows.  Shields ready.”  He found his horse and mounted.  When most of the men were up he shouted again.  “We want prisoners, not bodies.  Pursuit!”  They had practiced this.  They were Festuscato’s own little RDF.

They did not ride that far behind the Huns, though maybe they had first class horses and the Huns had steppe ponies that were not as swift.  The two men ran into a camp of Huns, yelling the alarm, but Festuscato and his company were right there, bows drawn and arrows ready to let loose.  The Huns who stood around their tents and campfires got taken by surprise.

“A hunting party,” Marcellus named the group.  He guessed about fifty.

“Hunting Romans?” Festuscato quipped and dismounted at what looked like the big tent.  A man with dark hair and dark angry eyes came out of the tent with something to say. Festuscato looked around once at his Romans and saw twice his numbers.  Pinewood hurried up to his side to translate, and Festuscato assumed all the extra men in helmets and dragon tunics were elves and fairies in their big size. Festuscato did not feel happy about that, but at the moment, he was not going to quibble.

“What is this?”

“Are you the chief?  Your men attacked my wagon train.  You now have eighteen dead men and two cowards who ran away.  I want a good reason why we shouldn’t just kill you all where you stand.”

The short, broad shouldered man had some grey in his curly black hair and beard, and he growled at the word coward.  He turned to one of the two who ran away and slapped him hard enough to knock him down.  “It was not by my orders,” the man shouted.  “I said watch them, not attack them.  I suppose you will want compensation, Roman.”

“I don’t see why. We suffered no loss, just a temporary inconvenience.”

The man looked at the two who returned and then took a good look at the Romans who sat on obedient horses with bows ready to fire.  “Eighteen men?”  He looked to the sky.  “You are the dragon?  Who are you?”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris of Rome, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia, and you?”

“Attila, King of the Huns.”  Attila grinned for some reason.  “And you have General Aetius waiting for you.”

“I am sure I will run into him, why?”

“Nothing,” Attila said, but he did not lose the grin.  “But tell me, Roman.  I heard you abandoned Britain years ago.”

“A special appeal from the Pope through the Emperor, Valentinian.”

Attila’s eyes widened and his mouth mocked.  “The Holy man and the mother’s boy.  I am surprised they have the time to consider such a far-away place.  I hear the Vandals have invaded Africa.”

“Indeed, but I am sure you have bigger fish to catch than a poor Senator on the road to an impossible task.”

“Somehow, I have a feeling for you it may not be so impossible.”

“Give me your word that we may proceed unmolested.”  Festuscato said, and Attila thought about it.  He looked again at the men and their arrows.  He twisted his hand to a man who was near.  The man roared and drew his sword.  He became a pincushion of arrows and collapsed before he got more than two steps.  Festuscato did not flinch.

“Nineteen men dead,” Festuscato said, sadly.

“He was not a man. He was a fool.”  Attila lied without blinking.  He did not see which archers fired, and they all looked to have another arrow in the string.

“Fair enough. Nineteen fools and two lucky ones that ran away.  Now give me your word.”

“Given.” Attila shouted to the camp.  “Let the Roman and his dragons go in peace.”

Festuscato nodded. “Here,” he said.  “A token for your losses.”  He took a ruby ring from his right hand and held it out.  “You might wish to return it to me the next time we meet.”  He mounted his horse.

“We will meet again?”

“You can count on it,” Festuscato said, and he started out.

“Marcellus,” Julius called and joined Festuscato at a walking pace.

“Back to the wagons,” Marcellus yelled at the men and waved his arm.

“Father. You aren’t going to let them go,” Attila’s son had recovered from his slap down, and raised his voice.

“His fate is already decided,” Attila said.  “Let them go.”  He shouted to his camp again.  “Let them go.”  All the same, the little ones who joined the troop waited for all of the Romans to leave before they came last in line, just in case.  They did not disappear until they were well away from the Hun camp.

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 3 of 3

Gotlieb proved a dull wit, but that actually proved good, because he took the job seriously. Heinrich did steer the company away from several troubling places where Brigands were known to frequent, so all in all, those months were positive.  Heinrich and Gotlieb were found, on several occasions, rifling through the wagons, no doubt looking for where Festuscato kept his gold.  Mirowen, backed up by the Four Horsemen always stopped that before it got too far.  It got to where all Mirowen had to do was cough and Gotlieb would jump and run back to his tent.

“Old habits,” Heinrich would smile, and confess, and try again a few days later.

“Thank you, not.” Mirowen said, as they moved down into Gaul and Heinrich became obsessed with finding the gold.

“Now then.” Festuscato patted her hand.  “It can’t be worse than looking after four eight and nine-year-old boys.”

“Here, here,” Father Gaius said.

“And they were a handful,” Mister March added, with a big grin rooted in his memories.

“Still are,” Mirowen said.  “But at least I could bathe them.”

“Right,” Festuscato said, but he had stopped listening.  Julius and the elf maiden, Drucilla were getting to be on much too friendly terms.

The day came when they left the hills.  It was still August hot, and Festuscato felt pleased they made such good time. “Heinrich,” he called to the man, and Gotlieb trailed right behind like a faithful puppy dog.  “I was thinking if you plan to go back over the mountains before winter sets in, I should pay you for your service and let you go.”

“You know the way from here?” he asked.

“North. That about covers it.”  Festuscato reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a rather large pouch of coins. “Let’s see. It has been four or five months.  I believe you will find this generous.”  He opened the bag and pulled out a few gold coins. He smiled, dropped them back into the bag and handed the whole bag over to Heinrich.  “And you won’t have anyone chasing you to take your head,” he said with a smile.  “But now, I should say, you better watch out for highway robbers.”

Heinrich’s jaw dropped.  In his time, he found Festuscato to be a man of his word, and more than generous, and he still did not know how to take that.  Everyone he knew was a selfish, self-serving thief.  He really struggled, but found the words, “Thank you.” Gotlieb just grinned.  Julius yelled in the distance.

“Form up.”

“Look for me when I come back this way in a few years,” Festuscato said, offhandedly, as he rode over to see what might be on Julius’ mind, his ever present Four Horsemen trailing behind.

“Visigoths,” Marcellus pointed.

“Spears,” Festuscato said quietly.  Then he raised his voice.  “Tiberius, I want the eight best bowmen to stay here to protect the passengers.”

“Spears,” Marcellus shouted while Tiberius called off the men.

Julius counted. “I estimate two hundred.”

“Let’s wait and see what Heinrich does.”  Heinrich and Gotlieb rode out to face the Goths.  Scarface and another man rode to meet them.  It looked like they had a meeting with plenty of yelling.  Festuscato yawned.  He could not help it.

Tiberius came back with his eight and joined the ranks.  “Lady Mirowen told us to stay with you.  She said to tell you Dumdiddle and his band of merry men have the passengers well covered, whatever that means.”

“It means I hope they don’t attack.  The little ones have no business getting mixed up in human stupidity, and maybe getting killed because of it.”  Festuscato noticed the enemy starting to relax as the argument went on.  “Smoke if you got ‘em,” he said, and kicked his horse toward the meeting.  “Four horsemen stay here,” he heard the grumbles, but Julius went with him, and surprisingly, Father Gaius caught up.

“I’ll take talking over fighting any day,” Gaius said.

“And Lord Agitus is good in the talking department,” Julius confirmed.

When they arrived, the four men were standing and staring, until Heinrich stepped forward. “Lord Agitus.  This was not my idea.”

“I understand. Pinewood,” Festuscato called, and again Pinewood fluttered up like he had not been very far away.  Like last time, he got big and dropped to one knee.

“Lord.  The elves of the Marsh have their bows ready, and you know they don’t miss, and I have a hundred of my people in the grass waiting to spring out on the enemy.  And there are others.”  He looked up and grinned a true elfish grin, just in case they blinked when he flew in. “I know at least one ogre who is looking forward to crushing some bones.”

“Hardly fair,” Julius complained.  “Hardly leaves anything for my men to do.  They do need the practice, you know.”

Festuscato waved them both off.  “Scarface, who’s your friend?”

“I am Thorismund, Eldest son of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths.”  The young man had an attitude problem.

“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia. Good to meet you.”  He put out his hand but Thorismund declined.

“You have legions?”  Thorismund wondered.

“I do, but you cannot see them.  I take it Scarface did not tell you about my friends.  Oh, get up Pinewood.  Here, you can sit on my shoulder.”

“Thank you, Lord.” Pinewood got small and grabbed a seat without tugging too much on Festuscato’s hair.

“I’ll tell you,” Festuscato continued before Thorismund could frame his thoughts into words. “Britain is going to be a hard nut to crack, what with all those warring Celtic tribes.  But then, I bet your father is pretty hard to work for, too. Eh?  Am I right about that?”  Thorismund looked at the fairy and rolled his eyes.  “Still, at least you have a father.  Mine got murdered when I was just eight years old.”

“Murdered?” Thorismund asked.

“Oh, my little ones here,” he pointed at Pinewood.  “They drove the murderer mad, haunted him day and night.  I still haven’t decided if I am going to forgive them or not.  But let’s not dwell on my problems.  How can I help you?”

“Help me?” Thorismund asked, now confused and not quite sure what Festuscato suggested.

“How about safe passage back to Visigoth land, and I promise I won’t let any trolls or goblins eat your men along the way.”

“It is a fair offer,” Heinrich said, having seen enough over the last five months to not doubt it.

“And a piece of advice for free.  You need to surround yourself with honest men like Julius, Pinewood and Father Gaius, my old friend.”  He turned to stare at Scarface.  “And you need to get rid of those who don’t tell you the whole story and are only interested in furthering their own ambition.”

Thorismund looked at Scarface who tried to keep a straight face but dared not speak for fear of digging himself deeper into the hole.  Thorismund took his horse and rode back to his men.  Scarface followed, but Heinrich had a last word for Festuscato. “You have ruined me, you know.  I think you made me an honest man.”

“Good thing. I would guess Thorismund could use an honest man.”

He nodded and Gotlieb said, “Good-bye,” so he actually got in the last word.

“Pinewood,” Festuscato spoke softly.  “A hundred fairies in the grass?  Elves of the marsh, and others?”

“I should check on May,” Pinewood, said and flew off.  Julius and Gaius shared a laugh.  Festuscato watched the fairy fly and thought of Gerraint who might need some fairies in the grass.

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

Next Monday:  Festuscato: To Orleans.  There are bumps on the road, but meanwhile…

*

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 2 of 3

Every few days they stopped to hunt or fish.  Most of the company had been made up of men from the Italian countryside, not from Rome itself.  Many of them were raised hunters and fishermen, where winters could be lean, even in sunny Italy.  A few of them were very good, like Tiberius who first picked up a bow and arrows at age seven, though he admitted he never saw anyone as good on the hunt or as good with a bow as Festuscato.

Early on morning, the sun just having cracked the horizon, Festuscato, Tiberius and Julius found themselves in the woods, on the trail of a deer.  Festuscato complained that he did not have a haunted woods, like Greta.  He wanted a haunted woods, but he did not explain himself at that time.  They came to an upland meadow full of spring flowers and Festuscato hushed his companions.  He saw the deer.  It turned out to be a small herd, contentedly munching away.  The others did not see them until a couple of them moved. Festuscato pointed to the two easy targets and got ready to take down a third.  It took a lot of food to feed fifty-seven people.

“Now,” Festuscato spoke softly.  His deer fell.  Tiberius crippled his and finished with a second arrow.  Julius shot a bit off.  The deer would die in time, but it could run.  Fortunately, Festuscato anticipated this and had a second arrow ready. The herd ran off, of course, but they had three good kills, and what they did not eat that day or the next, they could smoke and chew on all week.  “Good thing Mirowen has people out gathering greens, berries and tubers.  I would hate to have everyone down with scurvy, though I don’t mind Atkins so much.  Tiberius.”

“On my way,” Tiberius said.  He would go back to camp and bring men and horses to carry the meat, while Julius and Festuscato defended it.  He did not get very far.  A dozen rough looking men, Goths more than likely, moved up to surround them.  They were on horseback, and the obvious leader, a tall blond, triggered Festuscato’s mouth.

“Riders of Rohan. We have been tracking a party of orcs. They have two hobbits with them, little people.  They would look like children in your eyes.  Have you seen them?”  The blond and several others got down from their horses.  About half of the Goths remained mounted.

“Orcs?” the blond asked with a playful look.  He felt confident that he had the upper hand.

“What you would call goblins.  They will have gone to ground come daylight, but they can’t be far.”

“Goblins?” The man certainly knew the word, and he scoffed.

“Of course. This is the haunted forest, or about as good a one as you can get around here.”  Festuscato complained again.  A couple of Goths laughed, but the blond shot them a hard look.  He got tired of this foolishness.  “Just a minute,” Festuscato interrupted the idea of getting down to business.  “Pinewood,” he called.  Pinewood fluttered in, which made the Goths all take a big step back.  The fairy changed to his big size and went to one knee.

“Yes, Lord.”

“Please inform Mirowen that we may be a bit late for lunch, and remind Marcellus that he has passengers to defend.”

“Yes, Lord. I believe Dumdiddle and a number of locals are watching from the woods.  I am sorry, though.  The goblins did go to ground with the sunup.”

“Quite all right. I’ll catch up with them at a later time.”

“Very good, Lord.” Pinewood immediately got small again and flew off with some speed.

“Now, I believe you were about to tell me something.”

The blond Goth gave Festuscato a much closer look.  This did not appear to be your typical rich Roman, lost in the woods.  He spoke, but it came out loud and not without some fear in his voice.  “This is our hunting ground.”

“Excuse me,” Festuscato interrupted again.  He shouted. “Don’t kill them.  I’ll let you know if I need you to hurt them.” Festuscato noticed the eyes of Julius stayed steady as if the appearance of Pinewood in his fairy form simply confirmed what he guessed; or maybe Mirowen, or worse, Drucilla told him. Tiberius had his eyes as wide open as any Goth, but he held his tongue.  “I am Senator Festuscato Cassius Agitus.  My centurion is Julius and my archer here is Tiberius.  Do you have a name?”

“Heinrich,” The man said, while his eyes carefully scanned the trees.

“Good to meet you.”  Festuscato reached out and shook the man’s hand before Heinrich knew what was happening. “Now, I apologize.  We had no idea this was a claimed hunting preserve.  You are welcome to our kill, though one to share with my men would be very nice.”  He gave his warmest, friendliest smile.

Heinrich saw nothing in the trees.  He pulled his sword and the men on foot with him pulled theirs as well.  “What I want is your gold.”

Festuscato never lost his smile and he patted himself down.  He had taken to living in the armor of the Kairos because he said it made dressing in the morning so easy, and the fairy weave he wore beneath the leather could be cleaned and freshened with a thought.  “Sorry.  No gold with me.  But I’ll tell you what I can do.  Why don’t I hire you.  We are heading over the alps and could use a good guide.  Do you know the mountains?  It would be good if we avoided any highway robbers or brigands or that sort of thing, and I pay well.”

“Lord Agitus?” Julius did not like that idea, but Festuscato hushed him.

“Maybe you and your lieutenant.  I have a big enough troop as it is to try and keep fed.  But, as I said, your men are welcome to these deer.  Oh, but I don’t know if you can trust your men to keep things while you are away.  Still, it is a fair offer, I can pay in gold if you like and no one will follow after you to try and take your head, if you know what I mean.”

Heinrich clearly thought about it.  He stepped back to confer with his men, one in particular who Festuscato would remember by the scar down the man’s cheek.  When he turned, he smiled, but it looked a bit fake.  “Gotlieb and I will show you the way over the mountains,” he said. “Two,” he shouted to his men and they took two of the deer, mounted and rode off, Scarface last of all.  Heinrich and Gotlieb grabbed their horses while Julius helped Tiberius get the last deer up on his shoulders.  “Gotlieb was born and raised on the other side of the mountains and I know this side and the passes very well.”  Heinrich started exactly in the direction of the camp and said, “So where is this camp of yours?”

“Not far,” Festuscato said, as Pinewood met them at the edge of the meadow in his big form, to walk with them.

“Dumdiddle is happy things worked out, but he says he has a very disappointed ogre that didn’t get to pound anyone.”  Pinewood spoke freely, but he spoke in Greek assuming that the Goths did not speak Greek. Julius did.  Festuscato nodded, but did not respond.  Pinewood spoke again after a moment.  “The Lord under the Mountains says he will watch the camp in the night.”

“Very good.” Festuscato thought about it.  “But Julius, tell Marcellus he needs to set up a regular watch through the night.  At least four men per shift, three shifts in the twelve hours.  They need to guard the perimeter and keep at least one other in sight at all times. Maybe five men, middle shift, in the dark of the night.  They need to keep their eyes open for Goths that may be following.  This night watch needs to become routine, from now on, Goths or no Goths.”  Festuscato reverted to Old German so Heinrich was sure to understand.  “Oh, and Pinewood.  Please tell the Lord under the Mountains that his people are not to eat any Romans or any passengers as well.  What he does with outsiders is up to him to decide.”

“Very good, my Lord.”

Festuscato and Julius had no illusions and imagined that Scarface and the rest of Heinrich’s men would follow them, but they never came close enough to the camp to be a bother.  In part, that may have been because Festuscato and Julius halted the group everyplace they found level ground.  There, they spent a few days going through their lessons before moving on.  No telling how the company might perform in battle, but at least they were proficient enough at their tasks to be impressive to any observers.  “The chief object is to not have to fight,” Festuscato said, and Julius agreed.  Father Gaius added an Amen, just to be clear.

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 1 of 3

Festuscato spent six months at home, getting ready to travel, which moved the calendar into 438. Britannia would be a long way.  He bought horses and put the entire troop on horseback first thing.  He made them ride every day, and encouraged them with the notion that they did not want to have to walk to Britain.  He got every man a spear, and made them practice stabbing at targets from horseback. He also bought a wagon load of arrows, and long swords like the barbarians used.  They had to practice with those, too.  He made it as much fun as possible, kept it competitive, and felt relieved to see Julius at the top of the class with Marcellus.  It would not have done to have the officers lagging behind.

After twelve weeks of what he called basic training, he started to push them.  In the second twelve weeks, he taught the basics of judo and karate.  He talked a lot about the vulnerable points.  He gave them round shields with dragons painted on them for their left arm while on horseback.  The shield protected their center, could be used to knock away an enemy spear, and yet they were small enough not to impede their horsemanship, such as it was.  Then he got creative and made them learn to fire arrows from horseback.  Not everyone mastered that, but the result was, after six months he had forty men ready to conquer the alps, and just in time.

Spring came due, and Festuscato gave Mirowen April first as an absolute deadline, “No foolin’,” he said.  True, he had properties throughout the Italian peninsula that she had to get squared away.  She had to make sure she had accountants to collect rents and pay taxes and in general watch things without skimming off the top.  She found gnomes, and Festuscato said it could not be safer at Gringots. She didn’t ask.

Come April first, Festuscato started itching to leave, and so did the men, believing that once they hit the road they could get some rest.  Father Gaius came riding up at the last with two fellow priests, Lavius, a large fellow, and Felix, a shy scholar and a far cry from their old friend Felix, the smooth-talking silk salesman.

“The Pope sends his blessing,” Gaius said, and handed over some papers to that effect. “Privately, he said you will probably save everything or break everything, being the scoundrel that you are.”

“I may save a soul or two, but I save my breaking for hearts.  Don’t tell him I said that.”

“No problem,” Gaius said.  “We are going with you.”

“What? Mirowen,” Festuscato put just the right amount of whine in his voice.

“I heard. Hello Gaius.  If you would follow me.”

“Good fathers,” Julius came up.  “Problem?”

“No.  The Pope sends his blessing and three tag-alongs. I assume they are headed for Britain.”

“The road, being what it is these days, I don’t blame them for tagging along where there is some chance of protection.”

“Why do you think I beat you and your men so badly these last six months.  At least now I feel we have a chance of reaching our destination.”

Julius looked serious.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“Oh?”

“You beat the hell out of the men.”  Julius grinned.

Festuscato responded with a straight face.  “Well, that should make the priests happy,”

There were always four, on rotation, that scouted and served out front on the point, and four who also served in the rear-guard position.  Four more drove or rode with each of the four wagons, which counted for sixteen men.  The wagons were the bulk of what kept them at a slow and gentle pace.  Oxen would only move so fast.  The first wagon carried weapons, tools and spare wagon parts. The second got stuffed with food, though every wagon had some emergency food and a barrel of water.  The third wagon had tents, blankets and whatever else would be necessary to make camp.  The fourth wagon carried Mirowen’s stuff, though to be honest, it was not all fluff stuff.  Among other things, she remembered to pack a good medical kit.

There were six men who rode on each side of the column, and rode out from the column when they could, to protect the flanks.  One side got led by Sergeant Marcellus and the other by Tiberius the archer, though he was not really any more experienced than the others.  The final four men stayed with their commander, Julius, and they got followed by Festuscato’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Those were, in fact, four elves who volunteered to make the journey to Britannia.

The ten passengers, as Festuscato called them, rode in and around the wagons.  Besides the three clerics, there were five from the household.  Mister March, an old man, wanted to go home to die.  Mascen and Eselt were a middle-aged couple who claimed to have no ties in Italy, but said they had family in Britain.  The fact that Mascen was a wagon-master and Eselt was a great cook made including them a real plus.  Two were house elves, the maidens Sibelius and Drucilla.  Festuscato was not thrilled with putting them in danger, but the Four Horsemen liked the idea, and Festuscato really had no option.

“We came to keep Mirowen from going human,” Sibelius said, in all seriousness.

“You are a bad influence, you know,” Drucilla agreed.

“And you are not the first to say that,” Festuscato admitted, with a sigh.

The last two so-called passengers were a fairy couple who spent most of their daylight hours scouting ahead or doing who knew what, as Festuscato thought.  They were Pinewood and May.  May claimed to be from Gaul.  Pinewood said he had been raised in the alps.  Festuscato appreciated the scouting and whatever knowledge they might be able to provide concerning the areas ahead, but he mostly left them to their own devices.  He also said nothing about Gerraint and Pinewood’s days to come.

They made good time overall.  By Mayday, they were already up into the hills beneath the mountains.  Festuscato hoped to cross the continental divide in early July, to give them two whole summer months to make it down the other side. By September, he wanted to be solidly in Gaul. and on route to a place where they could comfortably winter.

R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 3 of 3

“Galla Placidia,” Festuscato made it a show.  “You are looking as lovely as I remember.”

“Your memory must be faulty,” the old woman said, but she held her hand out for Festuscato to kiss her ring.  “Your governess, though, has not aged a day since we last met.”

“Alas, her people do not show their age in the same way as us mere mortals,” he sighed. “And this lovely child beside you?”

“My sister,” Valentinian stated the obvious

“Justa Grata Honoria,” Galla Placidia said, flatly.

Festuscato took the girl’s hand and kissed the back of her hand.  “The pleasure is all mine.”  He turned the girl’s hand over and kissed her palm before he let go. “Honoria is a lovely name.”  The young woman blushed and looked tongue tied. “But here, I am taking up your valuable time with pleasantries.  I understand you have important business in mind.”  He turned again to Valentinian.  “I am yours to command.”  He bowed again.

“Mother.”

Galla Placidia had a small packet of letters in her lap.  She wasted no time.  “Your father served the Empire well for many years in Britannia before we withdrew our legions from that island.  It was hoped that the free people might continue to prosper, but that has not been the case.  Indeed, they have reverted to petty, tribal squabbling as bad as reported in the memoirs of Julius Caesar himself.  This would be no concern for us, but the church has appealed for help, and we have caught wind of the fact that the Huns are preparing an invasion.  Your friend, Bishop Guithelm has written to us and to the Pope, and the Pope himself has appealed to us to do something. Therefore, we have determined to send you, young Lord Agitus, in your father’s place, to see if there is anything that may be done to protect and defend the church there.  Personally, I believe my concerns about you have proved true. You are a cad and a bad seed.  But you are also a man of rank, Vir Illustris, and have been generous to the state.  Therefore, an acceptable solution is to send you as far away from here as you can be sent.”  She grinned, cruelly.  “And wish you Godspeed.”

Festuscato stared at the woman with an absolute straight face.  “And yet you know I am honest, and as trustworthy as the most loyal lapdog.  And you know I am bright, and no fool.  I can assure you, if there is a way to resolve the troubles in Britannia, I will find it.”

“Yes,” Galla Placidia sighed and held out the letters.  “This I also know.”

Valentinian did not entirely follow the exchange.  Neither did Honoria.  She looked too busy swallowing Festuscato with her eyes and ignored the whole exchange. Licinia Eudoxia may have understood some of the dynamics, but she looked too busy being pregnant and getting uncomfortable having to sit for so long.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus.”  Valentinian had been handed two scrolls by a counselor.  “Your imperial appointment is a two-edged sword.  I appoint you with the military rank of Comes Britanniarum. You may appoint whatever Dux Britannia or Dux Bellorum as you see fit.  I also appoint you Legatis Augusti pro Praetore for the free province of Britain. This is a consular appointment. You answer to no one but me.”

Festuscato took the two scrolls and thought a minute.  “I understand there is no commission to support these appointments. I will make this effort at my own expense, and gladly for your sake and for the Empire.  But between that and continuing to support you here, I ask that you go lightly on any new taxes you devise in my absence.”  He looked at Galla Placidia and she gave a slight nod of assurance.  “I also understand there are no legions to be spared, nor do I ask for any.  The people of Britain will need to find their own path to peace and a show of force from Rome might be the worst option.  But, the alps and certain parts of Gaul, despite Lord Aetius’ valiant efforts, remain treacherous.  May I take the Centurion Julius and his company of misfits to guard the way?”

“Please.  Be my guest.” Valentinian said, a bit quickly, but a glance at his mother assured him she had no objections.  “I only wish there was more we could do.”

“My Emperor,” Festuscato made another quick bow before his countenance changed and his words softened.  “My good friend.  I will endeavor to always bring honor to your name.”  He turned, and Mirowen turned with him.  Julius gave another salute and fell in behind before Valentinian bounded from the throne.

“Wait a moment.” They waited and Valentinian took Festuscato’s elbow and pulled him aside.  He whispered.  “What did you mean when you said your governess’ people don’t show age the way we mortals do?”

Festuscato glanced back, as if to be sure they were not overheard.  “She is an elf.  A house elf to be more precise.”

“No. Really?  No.”  Valentinian did not know what to say.

“Rule well. And love that baby girl.  I think your wife may need to stand up for a while.”

“Eh?” Valentinian looked.  “You may be right.”  He backed off and waved.

That evening, a messenger came for Festuscato.  The lady Honoria requested his presence to explain how he hoped to bring peace in such a faraway land.  Fortunately, Mirowen got busy repacking the wagon that barely got unpacked, so she was not there to stop him.  In the morning, Festuscato said he really had to go while it was still dark. Honoria reached for the back of his head and smiled, like she was not about to let him go.

“When times are hard on this road I travel, it is the memory of your smile that will help me carry on.”

“Mother was right,” she said.  “You are a cad.”

“Cad Illustris, first class,” he admitted.

“Oh, shut-up and kiss me again.”  And she pulled his head down to her on the bed while he covered them again with her blanket and thought he might never get betrothed, if he could help it.

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Next Monday:  Festuscato, Over the Alps.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 2 of 3

Festuscato cut the centurion off and put his hand out for the papers.  The man handed them over, and then Festuscato had to gently slap Mirowen’s hand and hunch over to keep Gaius from reading over his shoulder. He read quickly and handed Mirowen the papers.

“It seems we have an audience with the Emperor.  It suggests we may be sent to Britain, though I cannot imagine why.  So, tell me, when Mother says jump, does my old buddy Valentinian still ask, how high?”

The centurion smiled, but wisely did not answer that question.  Fortunately, food and drink started to arrive.

“Ah, good.” Festuscato said.  He helped set the trays down so the girls could scamper off to fetch more.  “You should bring your century up on to the property.  I suspect we will be a while, packing.”  He nodded toward Mirowen and winked.  The centurion understood.  Mirowen simply returned the gentle slap on Festuscato’s hand.  Festuscato ignored her and continued talking.  “Besides, I want to see the expression on Velleius Fulvia’s face when he sees I have my own century.  I bet he runs right out to get one.”

“It is a game they play,” Mirowen said, as she handed the papers to Gaius.

“I call it, neighbor see, neighbor do.”  Festuscato called, “Mister March.”

“Sir.”  The old man came out from the corner where he had been hiding in the shadows, listening to every word.

“See if you can open a keg of that special ale when the century gets settled.”

“Very good sir.”

Gaius handed back the papers.  “It definitely suggests Britain.”

“We will have to see who among the tenants and such might want to go home.”

Mirowen spoke plainly to the centurion.  “It will take at least a month to close up our affairs here and pack for the journey.”

The centurion nodded.  “The former regent suggested you might need two months.”

“Don’t say it.” Festuscato was not fast enough.

“Too late,” Gaius confirmed, and Mirowen took the full two months to get ready.

Festuscato spent the time getting to know Julius and his Sergeant Marcellus, usually in a martial way.  They had practice swords, rode with spears where they stabbed at targets, wrestled in the Greek style, and practiced with their bows.  Julius needed the work-outs.  He was in danger of becoming a lazy officer.  Marcellus seemed fairly young for a sergeant, in his early thirties, but a proficient soldier who privately appreciated Festuscato getting his centurion in shape.

Marcellus was short and broad-chested.  The men said he always won at wrestling.  Festuscato ended the man’s winning streak with a couple of judo throws and holds, and just enough aikido to keep the bear hug at bay.  With the sword and spear, they were all on more even ground, but Festuscato could ride like he became part of the horse, and the horse would respond and do things that some said they never saw a horse do before.

It started roughly six years earlier, at age sixteen.  Festuscato suddenly found the idea of hunting exciting.  He found his horse responsive to him in a way it had never responded before.  And he found his ability with a bow and arrow unequalled among men.  Mirowen said he even surpassed her, though he disagreed. He never saw anyone as good as her.

Festuscato pondered his sudden near superhuman abilities for a long time, until he remembered Diogenes and the Princess were what he called genetic reflections.  He understood that every life he lived had a genetic reflection somewhere in history, and he concluded that his female reflection must have been gifted, possibly by the goddess Diana herself, somewhere in the deep past when she turned sixteen.  He marveled at what he could do, and he was just reflecting her gifts. He could not imagine what she must have been able to do.  He tried to find her in the time stream, but she seemed cut off from him at present. That felt typical.  Out of more than one hundred and forty lifetimes, Storyteller’s estimate, he would probably only remember twenty or thirty in his lifetime.

The century had a man, Tiberius, who had been best with a bow.  Festuscato fired an arrow which knocked Tiberius’ arrow aside in mid-air. With hardly a breath, he shot a second arrow which struck the bull’s-eye dead center.  To be sure, Festuscato spent most of those two months working with the century, on their skills and getting them in shape.  Those forty men, hardly a century, claimed to be misfits and leftovers.  They weren’t by the time they marched into Ravena.

Festuscato got called to an audience with the Emperor as soon as he arrived.  Julius and Mirowen went with him, though Mirowen complained at not being allowed to unpack.  Julius saluted and introduced them.  Mirowen curtsied and stayed down until invited to rise.  Festuscato looked straight into the scowling face of the Emperor and defied etiquette as he spoke before spoken to.

“Valentinian, my old friend, how have you been?  I see you have grown well, and married, I understand.  Good or you.”

Valentinian’s face turned from scowling to curiosity.  “We have met before?”

“Of course. In the Curia in Rome.  I was nine and you were almost seven.  I remember that.  Almost seven.”  Mirowen’s hand reached up and pinched Festuscato in his side to get him to shut-up. In that moment, the scowl moved to Galla Placidia’s face, one step down from the throne, but the light came to Valentinian’s face.

“Festuscato. I knew that I knew the name Agitus.” He glanced at his mother as he stood. “Good to see you again.  Did you marry?  Is this your wife?  Please rise.” Mirowen stood and the scowl on Galla Placidia’s face got temporarily interrupted by a gasp.

“Alas,” Festuscato shook the Emperor’s hand.  “Mirowen remains my governess, though these days she prefers the name, housekeeper. She really spends most of her time trying to keep me on the straight and narrow.”  He winked at the Emperor.  “Not married,” he sighed.  “I’m afraid no young woman in Rome will have me.”  He turned to whisper.  “Though I have had a share of them.”  He returned to a normal voice.  “And this must be your wife.”  He went to the obvious seat at the right hand of the throne where a young woman fidgeted.

“Licinia Eudoxia,” Valentinian showed her off.

“Festuscato,” he introduced himself and offered a slight bow before he noticed she was seriously pregnant.  “But wait. Don’t tell me.”  He put one hand out and made noises that would make a carnival owner proud.  “I see. I see a little girl.”  He smiled.

“Are you a seer?” Licinia asked, with genuine interest.

“Sadly, I am a guesser, but I have a fifty-fifty chance of being right.”

Valentinian smiled and leaned over to his wife.  “If I remember right, I think Festuscato sees more than just about anyone.”

“Speaking of which, I must give my greetings to your mother.”  Festuscato looked at the Emperor who had a question in his eyes. “Must be polite,” he said, and Valentinian acquiesced.  Festuscato saw Mirowen with the former Regent.  Galla Placidia appeared to have tears in her eyes.  The young woman, obviously Valentinian’s older sister, comforted her, as did Mirowen.  Valentinian stood back to watch, expecting fireworks.

R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 1 of 3

In 438, the Emperor of the East, Theodosius published a work which said, this is what Roman law is, like it or lump it.  It read full of morals.  In 438, with only minor incidents, most recently concerning young women, Festuscato turned twenty-two and Mirowen, who had not aged a bit, said he no longer needed a governess, he needed a conscience.  She knew he was a good boy, but he liked to push the boundaries.  She said he never got over being a rebellious eight, quick to wrestle in the mud and come home smelling of stolen oranges.

In 438, Festuscato headed north into Gaul where the western empire started falling apart, despite the great work of General Aetius.  The how and why of that actually began in mid-summer, 437 with a message from Ravena.

Over twelve years, neither Festuscato nor Mirowen heard a thing from Ravena, the capital, where Galla Placidia ruled over her son and everybody else.  Festuscato sometimes thought about General Aetius and his several, brilliant victories, and his even more brilliant decision to stay in Gaul and not get involved in Roman politics.  Aetius and his Hun friends had backed Joannes, the loser, but he was not the sort of man to repeat a mistake.

Sometimes Festuscato thought about Bishop Guithelm up in Londinium.  The British folk called it Londugnum.  He wanted to go there.  Between Mirowen and what British house servants he still had left, he became fascinated with the whole notion of Britain, what Rome called Britannia.  He called it Gerraint land.

“So, tell me, Julia.  How many Britons does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” Julia squeaked and slipped down beneath the covers.

Mirowen stomped in, no knocking, no warning.  “Rise and shine,” she said and drew back the curtains.

“Is it noon already?”  Festuscato squinted at the influx of light.

“No.  It’s morning.  You remember morning, don’t you?”

“Oh yes, the bright time,” Festuscato said, and drew the covers over his head.  Julia giggled.

“Hey.  You have a message from the capital, and Gaius is here to visit.”  Mirowen pulled the covers part way back.  She did not pull them further because she did not want to see.

“I’ll be right down,” Festuscato squeaked this time, and thought how glad he was that he had not been betrothed to some Roman.

An hour later, Festuscato sauntered down the stairs.  “I think this one can go out the front door for a change.”  He held his hand out in front of his chest.  “She has such nice, big—”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Mirowen pointed.  Gaius stood in his clerical garb.

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned.”

“So, what else is new?” Gaius responded.

“I will never get over you being a priest,” Festuscato said.  “Felix took up the mercantile business.  Lowest priced silk in the west.  And Dibs, poor fellow, took up the honorable profession of killing people. I hope General Aetius gave him a plum assignment.  But you…”

“Comes from Princess Mirowen forcing us to learn our letters, in Latin and Greek.  It was the only way to get you to learn,” Gaius said. “By the way, your philandering has reached the pope’s ears.  Every time he passes me in the hall, he just looks and shakes his head.”

“Glad to give the old fellow something to do besides count.  I mean, Xystus the Third?  He should be Xystus the Sixth, or maybe Tertius the Third.”

“Not funny, Festus,” Gaius said.  “But good try.”

“Ahem,” Mirowen coughed in her special way that got both boys quiet and listening. “Senator.  Your messenger is waiting.”  She pointed to the central court in the house.  Festuscato and Gaius moved along, but Festuscato could not help whispering.

“Probably a summons from the senate for missing too many meetings, or maybe for double parking.”

The messenger, a soldier, a centurion by rank, did not seem the normal messenger the senate would send, unless they were getting creative.  The man stood straight up and said, “Lord Agitus?”

“My, you look tired and hungry, I bet.  Sibelius. Drucilla.”  Festuscato called, and two remarkably young and beautiful women came immediately.

“Yes, Lord.” They dropped their eyes.

“Our guest has been kind enough to wait while I attended to business.”  Mirowen, Gaius and both girls stared at him.  “Well, bring him something refreshing to drink, and maybe some of those little ham sandwiches I showed you how to make.  Er, you aren’t Jewish, are you?  No?  Fine. Maybe whip up some scrambled eggs and sausage for me.  Business always makes me hungry, and try not to burn the toast.”  He turned to the centurion.  “I don’t know why they always have to burn the toast.  Now, you were saying?”

The centurion appreciated the females, and especially had one eye on Drucilla, which Mirowen noticed.  “Lord Agitus,” he began again.

“Oh, but I bet you were riding all morning,” Festuscato interrupted.  “Do have a seat.  We have few formalities in this house.  Sit.  Sit. That’s right.”  There were simple chairs, and a table with an umbrella for the outdoors which Festuscato had specially made.

“Lord Agitus.”

Festuscato took a breath to speak again, but Gaius touched his arm.  “Let the man speak,” he said.

Festuscato nodded. “I was having fun.  But I always listen to my priest, after my housekeeper, that is.  She is the scary one.”

“Like you ever listened to me,” Mirowen said and sat with the group.  “You have a name?”

“Julius, mum,” he said, with a smile for Mirowen before he turned to Festuscato with determination on his face.  “Lord. You are summoned to Ravena.  My century is here to provide safe escort.”

R5 Festuscato: Wild and Dangerous, part 3 of 3

After a while, Mirowen spoke to Festuscato, softly.

“Diogenes or no Diogenes, you are still too young.  Let Atias and Roan deal with Castinus.”

“I am young,” Festuscato admitted.  “Let them handle it,” he decided, but when he thought of his mother and father, he wanted to take it back.  He wanted to change his mind, but he didn’t.

MIrowen, whom Mister March and the others sometimes called Princess, took over the running of the household in Festuscato’s name.  She brought in some of her own people to fill the gaps left by those who died in the assault.  Of course, she made sure they maintained glamours at all times to appear as human as possible, and while the remaining British servants found them odd, they got along well enough.

Festuscato turned nine the following year and in October received the letter intended for his father.  He got commanded to attend a special meeting of the Senate where Valentinian III and his mother Galla Placidia would be present and introduced to the Vir Illustris as Emperor and Regent.

“But it will be nothing but long winded speeches and boring stuff,” Festuscato complained.  Mirowen made him dress all the same and stay clean all morning.  They rode to the Senate building, guarded by four men dressed as house guards.  Festuscato did not ask what kind of men they were.  To be honest, he did not want to know.

When they arrived at the Curia, the long-winded speeches had already begun.  The great bronze doors opened, and as they walked in, Festuscato hoped he could find a comfortable place at the back where he could take a snooze.  No such luck. The man on the floor paused while a man at the back announced him.

“Bring him here,” a woman at the front insisted, and Festuscato got ushered to where he stood in plain sight of everyone present.  “I heard about your father,” the woman said.  “I was not aware he had a son, but I am pleased you are here. And you have brought a companion, I see.”

“My governess,” Festuscato said, as Mirowen touched him and he offered a slight bow. Mirowen curtsied and spoke.

“I am Mirowen, daughter of Macreedy, King of the Long March hard on Wales and the Isle of Man in Britannia, and I am pleased to present Festuscato Cassius Agitus, son of Lucius Agitus, a fervent supporter of yourself and your son.  After Lord Lucius was so cruelly murdered, under the direction of Lord Festuscato, we did our best to continue to support you with whatever small contribution we could make.”  She stood demurely, eyes down, but Festuscato saw Galla Placidia raise her eyebrows.  The contributions had not been so small.

“We are grateful for your support, young Agitus, and you may count yourself in our favor. Come and sit yourself beside my son so we may have the two young men together.  And let your governess sit beside you, there.”  The woman pointed.  It was down one step, but an unparalleled honor.  Festuscato felt obligated to say something and hoped he did not say too much.

“You are gracious to your humble servant,” Festuscato offered another slight bow. “I am honored also to be in the company of so many illustrious men.  I will endeavor to keep my eyes and ears open for the impartation of wisdom, though at my age it will not be easy, isn’t that right?”  He looked straight at Valentinian who nodded vigorously before he looked at his mother.  Galla Placidia frowned on top of her smile as Festuscato and Mirowen took their seats, and Mirowen pinched Festuscato.  He knew better than to yelp, but the Regent saw and nodded, satisfied.

“Gentlemen. We will dispense with further acclamations and words of support for the moment out of deference to the young.  I will gladly receive your written words on behalf of my son, but presently we have business to which we must attend.” A man came to the Regent’s side and handed her some papers.  The next hour got taken up extolling the virtues and military prowess of one Flavius Aetius.  The man came in, flanked by two of the strangest looking men Festuscato had ever seen. They were Huns, but Festuscato did not know that at the time.

Aetius got honored and commissioned to be Magister Militum per Gallius; essentially, commander in chief of the Roman army in Gaul.  Festuscato had no idea who the governor of the province might be.  He never got mentioned.  But such were the times that only the military mattered, and specifically one who could defend the border.  Aetius would have to work well with plenty of German Fedoratti, some of whom did not like each other, and the border pressure would not stop.  Just fifteen years earlier Rome had been burned by the Visigoths, and that was not something anyone wanted to see repeated.

Festuscato tried really hard to keep his eyes open so Mirowen would stop pinching him. Valentinian noticed, and he stayed awake primarily by watching Festuscato droop his head and get pinched. Valentinian winced, but grinned every time it happened.  Finally Aetius with papers in hand, brought forth another man, one dressed in the robes of the church.

“Bishop Guithelm, Archbishop of Londinium, newly appointed.”  Aetius introduced the man, and they waited while the man came forward.

“Regent,” the cleric bowed his head and turned.  “Emperor,” he bowed again, and it all came with too much formality for Festuscato, who stuck his elbows on his knees to prop his chin up with his hands. “Lord Agitus.”  The man shouted and hurried over to hug the boy. Festuscato felt surprised for a second before he recognized the man.  He knew the man as the cleric from the house whose life he presumably saved. The Bishop told the whole story right there in front of everyone, and Festuscato turned as red from embarrassment as Mirowen’s ears turned when she got angry.

Aetius came to collect the Bishop, but took a long look at Festuscato.  “Come and see me when you are older,” he whispered.  “I can always use a good man.”

“Well, young Agitus,” Galla Placidia also looked again at Festuscato, but it seemed hard to read the expression on her face.  “And how old, in fact are you?”

“Nine,” Festuscato said, honestly enough.

“I’m seven,” Valentinian blurted out, but amended that with a look from his mother. “Nearly seven.”

“Quite the accomplished young man,” Galla Placidia’s words sounded a bit cold. “Perhaps we can call upon your wisdom to decide what to do about our other business.”  She waved a hand and a man got brought forward in what Festuscato could only call a fifth century straight jacket.  The guards who dragged him to the front let him drop to his knees and he cried out, unintelligible sounds of torment and tears.

“Help me,” the man shouted.  “They come in the night.  They come in the day.  Always accusing, invisible monsters, horrors, terrors, on the edge of my eyes, accusing, always accusing.  Murderer!” He screamed and spouted more unintelligible sounds before he quieted in his tears.

“Castinus.” Galla Placidia still had her eyes on Festuscato.  “He ordered the murder of your parents among others.  What do you say we should do with him?”

Festuscato felt horrified to look at the man whose mind had been utterly broken by madness. Surely, the furies themselves could not have done a more thorough job.  Festuscato looked once at Mirowen, but she would not look at him.  The Huns with Aetius appeared to be grinning beneath their hands.  Aetius looked curious at what the young man might say.  The Bishop appeared willing to wait.  Valentinian had his mouth open, staring.

“Put him out of his misery,” Festuscato fairly shouted, and looked at the Regent, tears in his own eyes.  “When a horse breaks a leg, you do not force it to suffer.  Why should we show less compassion on a man whose mind is clearly broken beyond repair?”  The Bishop nodded, satisfied with the verdict.  Aetius looked again, like this might have been an angle he had not considered. The Huns stopped grinning and nodded. Galla Placidia said nothing.  She waved her hand and the prisoner got escorted out of the Curia.

“General Aetius.” The Regent sought to change the subject. “You will provide safe escort for the Bishop.”

Aetius, the politician, responded.  “I so pledge to bring him safely to the channel in the far north.  However, after that, he will be on his own.  We have no presence in the free province of Britannia, nor can anyone guarantee his safety.”

“That will be more than gracious,” the Bishop said.  “And no one is on his own when Christ walks beside him.”

“Of course,” Aetius let out a small smile and gave a slight bow.

After that, it took a couple more hours of blither and blather, while Festuscato went back to fighting sleep.

When it was all over, Festuscato got invited to supper with Galla Placidia and Valentinian. It felt like more formalities, but the Regent appeared to want to talk with Mirowen, and that let Festuscato breathe. He tried to be good, but Valentinian seemed taken with him so he could not exactly escape.  He did not have anything against the boy, but Valentinian was not so bright, or maybe he lived so sheltered a life it became impossible to tell if he was bright or not.  Then, there was three years of difference, which probably would not mean much when they were thirty or thirty-three, but it felt like a big gap at six and nine.

Mirowen and their four guards found a place in town for the night.  Festuscato practically went to sleep before he hit the bed.  In the morning, they moved quietly out of town, Festuscato and Mirowen side by side and the four that Festuscato started calling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse right behind.

“What on earth did you talk about with that woman?” Festuscato asked.

“About children, mostly.  She seemed impressed that you were learning your letters and both Greek and Brythonic.”

“I’m learning Greek?”

“As soon as we get home.”

“Buggers,” Festuscato adjusted his thinking.  He decided having an elf for a governess had no advantages.  “Did she say anything nice about me?”

“She said you seemed too wild and rebellious for her son.  A bad influence, and maybe dangerous besides.”

“Well.  I’m glad she liked me.”  Festuscato closed his mouth.

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Next Monday:  Festuscato, The Cad in Ravena    Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: Wild and Dangerous, part 2 of 3

Festuscato had no idea what year it was and honestly did not care.  Living just south of Rome in a time of warming, he did well to know what season it was.  Mirowen began to correct that, first by teaching him her British tongue, which he already knew some from it being spoken around the house, then eventually by making him sit and learn to read and write, not only in his native Latin, but in Greek.  When he got older, she forced him to converse in continental Gallic and Old German as well.

It turned to 423, a year when they apparently had a civil war going on.  Castinus, the bad guy, forced the appointment of a man named Joannes to be the new Western Roman Emperor.  Father wrote to the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius, and persuaded him to appoint someone else.  He appointed Valentinian III, a child, and his mother, Galla Placidia as regent until he came of age.  So, they had war between the west and the east, and Mirowen took local matters into her own hands.  She taught Festuscato and his friends how to shoot a bow and hit a target.  She taught them how to wield a knife and defend themselves.  Most of all, she taught them how to escape and hide when the odds were against them, so they could come back and fight another day.

Festuscato turned eight in 424, and the summer turned long and hot.  That was the summer Castinus, the bad guy, decided to eliminate his enemies in the senate, which was anyone who secretly supported Valentinian with money.  How he made his list, no one knew, but it appeared to be accurate; though some, like Festuscato’s father, were obvious.  Festuscato felt surprised when his mother made no objection to the boys learning to defend themselves.  Six months later, Festuscato’s father talked about moving the family to their estates by Ravena which sat well within Valentinian’s territory.  Sadly, he did not move soon enough.

A balmy afternoon arrived.  Festuscato and the boys lounged around the woods just down from the house, at the side of the house where the tenant houses could just be made out in the distance. The woods separated the lands and fields of Lord Agitus from his neighbor, Velleius Fulvia who was Senatorial rank, second class, Vir Spectabilis, and who said that was sufficient because he preferred the quiet life and had no serious interest in politics. Besides that, he was reported to be a miser who had no intention of buying a first-class invitation to the Curia.

Festuscato had met his neighbor several times, generally when he messed around in the man’s garden, and once when he painted “F C Rocks” on the man’s barn.  Of course, he had not done any such thing since Mirowen arrived.  He could not lose her, much as he tried.  She stayed, always there, somewhere, in the background, virtually invisible, watching. On the other hand, as he had thought, there were compensations.

“Gaius needs target practice,” he shouted into the wind.

“I do not,” Gaius said.

“Yes you do,” Dibs responded as Mirowen showed up from somewhere.  She had a scroll in her hand from the extensive Agitus library collection.  She had been reading all about Julius Caesar, and King Bodanagus, the better to know the human race, she often told Festuscato.

“I imagined you boys were going to laze away the whole day,” she said.  “Come.  The target is already up.  Let us get your bows and begin.”

“When do we get to practice on a moving target?” Festuscato asked quietly.

“Not this time,” Mirowen said, but she smiled because certainly a still target would only be good for the basics.

“Hey!” Felix noticed first and pointed.

“Velleius Fulvia,” Festuscato named the man who rode up to the front gate with several other men in tow.  “What’s up?”

“They look like clerics,” Gaius said.  Festuscato shook his head.  His father was a Christian, certainly, but he was not exactly a pious man.

“Maybe they are collecting for the poor,” Felix suggested.

“Not from Velleius Fulvia,” Festuscato and Dibs said at the same time.

“He’s a Humbug,” Festuscato explained.  “You know, a Scrooge.”  No one understood what he was talking about, but then he did not either, exactly.  They got their bows and plenty of arrows.

Festuscato and the boys mostly hit the target with their arrows.  Festuscato pushed himself to be the best, but Dibs got pretty good, too. Felix was not bad.  Gaius needed work, but Mirowen seemed wonderfully patient.

Suddenly, forty more men appeared on the road, and these looked like ruffians and brigands. They came to the house like an invading army.  The front gate and the front door proved no obstacles, and soon there were shouts and screams from inside the house.

“Boys,” Mirowen said sharply.  “Bring the bows and arrows.  Come!” She made it a command, and she took the boys back toward the edge of the little woods that edged the property on that side. Someone inside the house must have been watching, because shortly, twenty men came out of the side door and started toward the boys.

“Get all of the boys,” one man said.  “That way we are sure to get the son.”  They spread out and zeroed in on the trees, some with bows ready, but mostly with swords drawn.

“Stop!” Mirowen stepped out when they were still some distance away, but she was able to make herself heard.  “These boys are under my protection.”

The men stopped, but only briefly to laugh before they yelled and shouted and charged. They began to go down, one arrow per customer.  Then two other archers joined Mirowen and in almost no time, every man except one had died, and that one, mortally wounded, moaned on the ground.

Festuscato stepped up beside Mirowen and took her hand.  She had put away her bow, but had her long knife out in her other hand. The boys were a bit slower, but they followed along while the two men who had mysteriously appeared questioned the one man still living.  “Castinus,” the man freely admitted before he died.  Then the two men went into the house to finish the rest.

Dibs stepped up to Mirowen’s other side and complained.  “I didn’t even get to fire my arrow.”

Mirowen squatted, though Dibs stood tall for an eight-year-old.  “And pray you never need to,” she said.

“Those are an elf and a fairy.”  Festuscato watched the men.

“Lord Atias and Lord Roan,” Mirowen admitted.

“Wait.” Festuscato heard a scream come from the upstairs and ran after the men.  Mirowen and the others kept up, but inside the house it seemed all chaos.  A good dozen ruffians carried swords and drawn knives, and some of the sharp weapons had blood on them.  Festuscato was not put off by the blood, because he no longer stood there. Diogenes of Pella took his place, and he came dressed in the armor of the Kairos and had Defender, his long knife in his hand.  Excalibur, the sword, stayed on his back.

Diogenes called and knew his voice would be heard no matter the yelling and screaming in the house.  Atias and Roan attended him.  He sent Roan in one direction.  He sent Atias in the other, and he took the center and the open courtyard.  He killed a man in the foyer, and pulled his sword when he reached the court.

A man, a cleric came stumbling into the courtyard from a back room where he had been hiding. Two ugly fellows followed, clearly with murder on their minds.  Diogenes let Defender fly straight into the chest of one of the men.  The man fell, shock and surprise on his face, but his fellow saw something and swung his sword down toward the cleric and Diogenes, like he could not make up his mind.  It proved a wild swing which Diogenes easily parried, and Excalibur cut across the man’s belly all in the same motion.  The man collapsed and his insides greeted the tile flooring.

An arrow came from the upstairs balcony that overlooked the courtyard.  It bounced off the armor of Hephaestus and would not even leave a bruise, but it got Diogenes to look up and growl, a pure Macedonian growl. The man took a big step back before Mister March shoved the man off the balcony.  The man screamed, but it became a short-lived scream.

Diogenes called to Defender, and it vacated the man’s chest, shook itself clean of blood in mid-air and raced back to Diogenes’ hand.  Excalibur flew into the air, cleaned itself and sheathed itself across Diogenes’ back.

“All clear.” Diogenes heard the call from Atias and saw the man wave from the balcony opposite Mister March.

“Done,” Lord Roan added from some back room where he could not be seen.

“Festus,” Mirowen called, but it sounded like a searching call, not a cry for help call. Diogenes nodded and went away. Festuscato returned in his own clothes, with his own bow in one hand, but he held tight to Defender with his other hand.  He stepped up to the cleric.

“You okay?”

The cleric looked up, a handkerchief in his hand full of sweat from his brow.  “Yes, yes.  Where is the young man who fought so bravely?”  He looked around for Diogenes.

“This was the young man,” Lord Atias said as he came to the courtyard and put a hand on Festuscato’s shoulder.  “Young Agitus himself.”

“It was an exercise of great courage on the part of one so young,” Lord Roan said, as he appeared in their midst.

“More like an exercise of great stupidity,” Mirowen said, as she marched from the back followed by three boys who gawked at the dead.  “Mister March,” she called.

“Oh no,” Festuscato whined.  “You’re not going to spank me.  Aren’t I getting too old for that?”

“Son, you saved my life,” the cleric spoke and reached out to Festuscato for a hug. Festuscato took a good look for the first time at the dead men around him, and he thought to say something to the cleric.

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.”  The cleric just laughed and hugged Festuscato all the harder as the tenant farmers came pouring into the house.  They carried knives, cleavers, axes or whatever sharp farm implement they could carry and were prepared to do battle.  They were not slaves, more like serfs, but Lord Agitus had been good to them and they knew if they lost their bread and butter, they had nowhere else to go.

“Hold it!” Mirowen shouted, and the men paused. “Get your muddy, filthy shoes off the tiles and carpets.  You need to take the dead outside for burial, and be quick about it, before they stink up the house.  I’m going to have to get this house scrubbed from top to bottom.”  She put her hands on her hips and frowned.  The men looked to Mister March, but he knew what was what.

“You heard the Princess.  Get your shoes off and start collecting the dead.”  The men nodded and some tipped their hats.

Festuscato suddenly broke free of his hug.  “Mother? Father?”  He started to ask, but Mister March grabbed him and hugged him.

“Hush,” he said and shook his head over Festuscato’s shoulder.  Mirowen took over, and Festuscato began to cry.

Velleius Fulvia took that moment to come out of a cupboard.  “Is it safe?” he asked.  The cleric and the boys all laughed, loud.

R5 Festuscato: Wild and Dangerous, part 1 of 3

She appeared much too beautiful to be human.  Her black hair fell full but straight, and no doubt long beneath her red cloak and hood. Her features looked sharp, but her tears suggested a softness in her heart.  Behind those tears, she had the hint of eyes as blue and bright as the sky on a sunny day.  Her dress looked like silk, a soft pink held fast by a clasp of gold that sparkled with flashes of red in the sun, a splash of jewels to match the ruby on her ring. Mostly, she looked young, perhaps twenty-one, but that made the picture altogether curious and somehow wrong. There was no way such a rich and beautiful young woman should be walking, much less walking alone on the Appian Way.

Festuscato, all of seven, covered in mud and presently sitting in an orange tree by the side of the road, pondered this vision as well as a seven-year-old can ponder such things.  This girl should have had a dozen guards, and several servants and handmaids besides. And they should have been on horseback, if she was not in a carriage.  After all, it was just thirteen years gone since Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Rome.  And worse, father said Emperor Honorius recently died and he got angry because Castinus, the bad guy, was going to cause riots in the streets.  Festuscato did not follow all of that, but he believed his father.

Festuscato held his breath.  The young woman came over to the side of the road and sat quietly on the grass, in the shade, right beneath his tree.  Festuscato thought it was too perfect.  He quietly plucked a ripe orange, stretched his arm out and aimed as well as he could. Then he thought he ought to give fair warning.

“Bombs away,” he yelled and let the orange drop.  He missed by a good foot to the girl’s left, but the girl reached out with super speed and snatched the orange before it touched the ground.

“Thank you,” the girl said.  “I was a bit hungry.”

“Hey!” Festuscato wanted to protest, but he hardly knew what to say.  He scrambled down the tree and she stood to face him.  “How did you do that?” he asked.

“Magic,” the girl said with a grin, which suggested she might be having fun with him. She had the orange peeled in no time and offered one piece to him.  Festuscato shook his head.

“I am sick of oranges,” he said honestly enough, as a thought occurred to him and came bounding out of his mouth.  “Are you running away from home?”

The girl smiled. “I am a long way from home.  My name is Mirowen.  Do you have a name or should I just call you grubby?”

“I’m Festus. I’m an orphan and I’ve run away from home, too.  Like Greta, I’m going to have an adventure and save the world.”  Festuscato returned the girl’s smile, but on his face, it did not appear nearly as convincing.

Mirowen paused in her orange eating to look serious for a moment.  “How can you run away from home if you are an orphan who has no home?  I think you are going to have to work on your lying, not that I am recommending it.”

“Hey, Festus.” A boy down the street called and waved. There were three boys, all about the same age as Festuscato, and all just about as dirty.

“Hey!” Festuscato waved back.  “Come and meet my friends.”  He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not hesitate to give it to him, even if it meant being dragged down the street.  “Hey guys.  I want you to meet my girlfriend, Mirowen.”

Three boys stopped still and looked stunned.

“This is Felix, Gaius and Dibs.  Say hello, fellas.”

“Awe,” Felix mouthed and threw his hands out.   “How can you have a girlfriend?  You’re only seven.  I thought maybe it was your new nurse.”

“Nurse?  I don’t need a nurse.”  Festuscato protested.

“He’s had three so far,” Gaius said.  “He ran one off, got one to beg to be released from the duty, and one died, mysteriously.”

“I ate her,” Festuscato said, with a straight face.

“Awe,” Felix repeated the word and the gesture.  “Don’t listen to him.  He just likes to give Dibs nightmares.”

“I see,” Mirowen said with a glance at Festuscato.  She let go of the boy’s hand and smiled her warmest smile.  “Maybe you can help me.  I am looking for the home of Senator Lucius Agitus.  Do you know where that might be?”

“Why that’s – ow!” Festuscato stomped on Felix’s foot.

“I know where it is.  I can take you there,” Festuscato spoke quickly.  “But I have to warn you, the lady of the house is a witch in disguise, and the Senator likes to yell all the time, and loud.”

“I’ll be extra careful,” Mirowen said, and this time she took his hand.  “You boys coming?”  The three fell in behind, though they did not appear happy about it.

The house, truly a Roman mansion, was not far.  It sat up on top of a small rise and overlooked the Appian way for a good distance in both directions, though it was far enough in the countryside to be out of sight from the city.  Some of the tenant houses could be seen in the distance, out by the fields, and the house had one great meadow nearby where horses grazed lazily in the sun. Everything about the place said money, lots of money.

“Wait.” Festuscato stopped them outside the main gate.  “Let me check your ears.”

“My ears?” Mirowen sounded curious, but bent down a little toward the boy.  He pushed her luxurious hair back just far enough to touch the tips of her ears before he spoke.

“Just want to be sure your glamour is good.  Can’t have an undisguised elf about the place.”  Mirowen said nothing.  Her eyes got big and then very narrow as she stared at Festuscato.  “Oh, I know an elf when I see one,” he said.  “You are much too beautiful for a human.”  Mirowen heard the compliment, but it felt confusing. She turned to look at the boys following, but they merely shrugged, like this was not even close to the first time Festuscato said something strange.

Mister March came to the door and took one look at Festuscato, mud and all, before he remarked. “You are a brave fellow.”

“Most of the staff is Celtic,” Festuscato ignored the man and talked to Mirowen.  “Mostly from Britain.”

Mirowen looked up and spoke in some strange language.  Mister March answered, and they began a spirited conversation. Festuscato stayed quiet, but he tried to follow what he could by the words he knew and the hand gestures.  It did him no good, but they were shortly interrupted in any case by a woman’s voice.

“March, what is it?”  At the sound of that voice, Festuscato inched over to hide behind Mirowen.

“A young lady come all the way from Britain to speak to Lord Lucius,” March said.  As the woman came to the door, she took one look at Festuscato and shouted.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus!”  That was enough to scold the boy.  “Take your sandals off and try not to touch anything.”

“I found him hiding up an orange tree and thought you might like to have him back,” Mirowen smiled.

The woman gave Mirowen the once over and apparently approved of her dress and deportment, sure signs of wealth and good breeding.  Then she spoke over Mirowen’s head, it being two steps up to the door. “You boys better go home.  I am sure your mothers will not be pleased.”

“Yes, mum. Thank you.  Mum.”  The boys spouted and ran off as quick as they could toward the tenant houses.

“You are from Britain?” The woman asked.

“Mirowen,” Mirowen gave her name and a slight curtsey which seemed the most graceful thing Festuscato had ever seen.  “My father, King Macreedy sent me with a troop for my protection, but we were set upon by Goths just outside of Rome.  I alone escaped.  What you see is all that is left of my small fortune, that and a word for Senator Agitus, though my letters are stolen and I cannot say what my father may have written.”

Festuscato closed his mouth.  The lie was masterful, and the woman, Festuscato’s mother, responded perfectly. “Oh my poor dear, do come in.”

“I found her all alone, crying.”  Festuscato said the truth, but Mirowen’s look urged him to be quiet and his mother snapped at him.

“You need to strip and get in the bath this instant,” she said, before she added in a very soft voice.  “Come and tell my husband all about it.  He spent many years in Britain in service to Rome.  I am sure we can arrange to help you out.”

Festuscato barely got clean and out to dry himself when Mirowen came in and announced she was his new governess.  “I told them my father sent me away for my safety and it might mean my life to return home.  On the other hand, I have a younger brother I have watched, my own mother being gone, and I would not mind watching you.”  She came to dry his hair and whispered.  “I am a house elf, you know.”

Festuscato nodded, but he would have to think about it.  He would never be able to sneak off again.  She would hear his every move.  Then again, there might be some advantages to having a house elf as a governess, not the least in the way she might be able to teach him to lie expertly.