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.
“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…