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