In the morning, Festuscato quietly left the girl sleeping. He found Gaius and Mirowen downstairs frowning. “Hey,” he said. “I’ll probably go to prison for a long time. I needed something to remember on those cold winter nights.” Gaius just shook his head and Mirowen rolled her eyes like she tired of the excuses.
Dibs stood there with four men. “Sent to collect you,” he said.
“After breakfast was the deal.” Festuscato yawned and waved the four men in close. “Sit,” he ordered. “I’m buying, so you might as well get some descent food while you can.” The men looked at Dibs, who nodded, and they happily filled a nearby table.
Festuscato saw all four of his Horsemen present, so he thought to introduce them. “Death, Pestilence, Plague and, oh yes, Famine is checking on breakfast.”
“Mostly,” Dibs added, and turned to ask Gaius about being a priest. “For myself,” Dibs said. “It would have been impossible not to stand out after all the training the Lady Mirowen put us through.”
It became a good breakfast. Festuscato felt sort of sad that he left without an appearance by his maid. Then again, he did not need a scene.
Dibs and his friend from the night before led the way on horseback. Festuscato, Mirowen, and Gaius also rode, followed by the four horsemen. The rest of the soldiers, and Festuscato counted twenty, marched. It would be a long way to Orleans. When they reached the army camp, the tribune was not around. No surprise there, but a centurion got livid to see that the prisoner had not been bound and allowed to ride besides.
“Hey, Bozous,” Festuscato named the man. “You have the word of a roman senator that he will go peacefully to Orleans to see my friend Aetius. I will not try to escape. Be content with that.”
Mirowen spoke while the centurion thought about it. “You are sure Aetius will be there?”
“A logical guess,” he said, as he dismounted and stretched while the centurion marched off. Festuscato had plenty of time to ride and dismount and stretch over the month it took them to crawl to Orleans. Once again, it became the wagons and supplies that took so long.
“Come in,” Aetius sat in a tent and not in the town. He had a desk set up and looked over some papers. Festuscato entered with Mirowen and Gaius, and his ever-present guard, Dibs. Mirowen said they were in this together and she would not let him face things alone, even if he was guilty.
“You wanted to see me?” Festuscato asked, like a man who just happened to be in the neighborhood.
“Yes,” Aetius looked up. “I have conflicting reports and have not decided what to do with you, yet.” He came out from behind the desk and invited them to sit, which they did. Festuscato insisted Mirowen take the chair while he and Gaius took the stools. Dibs remained on his feet. Aetius looked for a long time at Mirowen before he said, “I remember your mother back in the Curia, the day I was commissioned.”
“I remember,” Mirowen said.
Aetius raised his eyebrows. “You can’t be. You have not aged one bit.”
“I’ll explain it later,” Festuscato said. “Go on. You have reports?”
“Yes,” Aetius said, but paused to call out. “Aegidius.” He said, “My second in command.” A young man entered.
“Aegidius,” Festuscato stood and repeated the name. “Good to meet you.” He shook the man’s hand. Aegidius responded but gave Aetius a curious look. Aetius merely smiled.
“As I remembered you,” Aetius said. “Glib and distracting.” He picked up his papers. “Galla Placidia, the regent wrote some terrible, scandalous things about you.”
“Gee. And I’ve always been nice to her,” Festuscato said. He took his seat and rubbed his chin, as if in thought.
Aetius kept the smile. “She tells me the Princess Honoria confessed that you came to her in the night and made wild, passionate love to her. The Regent says you despoiled the poor innocent child.”
“That’s a lie!” Festuscato jumped to his feet. “That child was despoiled long before I found her. And besides, it wasn’t that passionate.” He sat back down.
“The regent wants you crucified,” Aetius said, with a straight face. “But then I got a letter from Valentinian saying I should let you proceed to your work because his eternal soul is tied up with the church and your work and blah, blah. He says, “tell him henceforth, Honoria has taken a vow of Christian chastity and tell him henceforth our friendship is at an end.”
“I am sorry to lose a friend, but I answer only to the Emperor. It is written in my papers, which you can read for yourself. The regent has no say in my assignment, crucifixion or otherwise.” Festuscato became thoughtful again. “And as an aside, Honoria will keep that chastity thing about ten minutes. She demanded I attend her, if you are interested, and attacked me. Of course, gentleman that I am, I felt obliged to accommodate the lady.”
Aegidius laughed nervously. Mirowen spouted, “You are not helping your case.”
Gaius had a different thought. “You should have heard the confession.”
Aetius looked unmoved. He spoke when things quieted. “I crossed that woman once and paid the price. I am not inclined to cross her again. I thought long about crucifixion.”
“I am not worthy,” Festuscato said humbly to his priest.
“But then I got a letter from the Pope. It said the church is well aware of your many indiscretions, and it seems no indiscretion is too base for you, nevertheless… and he gives all kinds of Biblical and theological reasons why God sometimes chooses your sort of man… blah, blah… and he concludes with something to the effect if I stand in your way or harm you it is God Almighty I am fighting.”
“Something to consider,” Festuscato straightened his face and shook his head. “I have a serious burden in Britannia. It will not be easy getting all those warring tribes to work together, but you know something about that sort of work.” Aetius nodded. Festuscato again looked thoughtful as he spoke. “Meanwhile, I understand the Vandals have invaded Africa. A little Hun told me.”
“Attila. Do you know him?”
Aetius frowned. “I know him. If he told you, his information is probably correct, and if the Vandals threaten Carthage, that may cause a serious change of plans here.”
“I tell you what. With some reasonable accommodations, access to my governess, my priest, a chance to exercise, I will give you my word that I will stay in Orleans this winter while you decide what must be done. I will expect to hear from you in the spring, whatever you decide.”
“Like house arrest?”
“If you like. You can post guards if you want.”
“I could just chop your head off and be done with it.”
“Yes. I know Galla Placidia is a hard woman, but you would piss off the emperor and the pope, if you want to do that.”
“Your word you won’t try to escape?”
“In the winter?”
“Yes.” Festuscato paused at the door. “I would guess you have a special kind of relationship with the Huns.”
Aetius looked up. “I was a captive, under house arrest you might say, with the Huns for several years when I was young.” He added something to the mix. “So you know, Megla, a Hun Chieftain is raising men to invade Britannia. Now we are even.” He went back to his papers.
Next Monday: Festuscato, Cadbury Which is actually in Britain… Happy Reading