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.”
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.