Winter in Orleans seemed long, but not too cold. Festuscato put Dibs and his men on horseback and put them through the ringer as he had his own men. Julius and the company housed in the city, were good for the most part, and soon enough he had his men and Dibs’ men working together. Marcellus and Dibs got along well, which seemed a big plus. It mostly involved Dibs looking up to Marcellus and his military background and experience. Dibs also accepted the authority of the Centurion Julius, since his own centurion decided to winter in Paris where his tribune claimed to be deathly ill.
Festuscato spent the cold months dreaming about Greta and Gerraint. At least it seemed like dreaming. Gerraint and Arthur made the lances, which meant Festuscato got limited on that score. He had taken his men about as far as they could go without interfering with history. That felt frustrating in a way. He preferred to dream about Greta tromping through the haunted woods. Somehow, though, he imagined Danna would not make it easy for him. It was not her place to protect the church, and her appearance might actually make matters worse. He would have to figure out how to bring the stupid and stubborn Lords of Britain, Wales and Cornwall together himself. And when he thought about that, he began to get anxious to go.
Early March brought rains to the area which busted up whatever ice and snow still wanted to cling to the land. By late March, everything turned to mud and Festuscato started to get itchy to move. By April first, 439, they were a year away from home, and still in Gaul.
“Well, he could not have anticipated being arrested,” Gaius said cheerfully over his glass of wine.
“Oh yes he could,” Mirowen corrected the Priest.
“That’s it.” Festuscato burst into the inn and called for a drink. He had a letter in his hand and smiled.
“But you would not be deserting,” Pinewood said as he came in a moment later, chasing after Dibs.
“What?” Gaius spoke up.
“Pinewood says Festus wants to leave and I should go with you. But that would be desertion, and my men would all be deserters. It would mean our life if I abandon my post, or if I let you go.” He threw his hands up in the air like a man faced with an impossible dilemma.
“But, your men can be reassigned. Lord Agitus has the authority, and you will still be serving the Empire.”
“Yes. The kind of technicality that is so often ignored by senior officers.” Dibs got a drink of his own. Marcellus and Julius came in, and wisely sat down beside Mirowen and Father Gaius. This was something Dibs would have to decide for himself.
“Ah, Dibs, my old buddy,” Festuscato said, and Gaius covered his grin.
“Why do I find the look on your face so frightening?” Dibs asked.
Festuscato shook off the implications. “I hold in my hand the answer to all our problems. It is a letter from the Magister Militum. It says…” He cleared his throat. “Winter is over. Why haven’t you had the good sense to escape? The Vandals are in Africa as you said, and threatening Carthage. I will be going to Italy to meet that threat. Meanwhile, Attila has made some alliances with the Vandals through marriage and so on. This is not good for the Empire. After you straighten out Britannia, you may have to come back and straighten out Italy. Before you do that, you never explained about your governess. This is later.”
There was silence for a minute before Gaius asked, “What does that mean?”
“Very simple,” Festuscato smiled. “Paper.” He looked at Father Felix who sat in the corner, watching, and who always had some velum and some ink handy. “Aetius.” Festuscato spoke as he wrote. “Both your centurion and your tribune have wintered in Paris, so they are not here to give their advice. I hope your tribune is feeling better, being as sick as he claimed. I am, in fact, ready to leave, but I thought to let you know I will be taking Sergeant Diboronicuous and his men with me. They were strictly charged to guard this notorious prisoner and the only way they can continue to do their duty is to come along and guard my person. As for my governess…”
“No. You can’t tell him that.”
“But I must keep my word.” Festuscato smiled for Mirowen as she looked away, embarrassed. “Mirowen is an elf, and she will continue to be young and beautiful long after we are dead and gone, even if we manage to survive long enough to die of old age. Godspeed in Africa. I know you wish the same for Britannia. Agitus.” He thought a minute before he added, “P. S. Watch out for Attila. My impression is he is as sly as a fox and a capable liar.” Festuscato rolled the letter and Felix handed him a bit of wax which he melted onto the edge to seal it. He set his ring in the seal and called for the horseman who brought the message. One gold coin and he yelled. “Free!” People laughed and everyone got a drink to celebrate, except Mirowen who decided she was not talking to Festuscato.
Once out of the city, Festuscato headed his six wagons, his seventy men and his passengers toward Amorica. “Not the coast?” Julius asked.
Festuscato shook his head. “Don’t expect Aetius to not change his mind. The sooner out of his territory, the better.” Julius nodded and kept things moving. They only stopped when they reached the border of Amorica. They found a small army blocking their way.
Festuscato, Julius, Pinewood and Father Gaius went forward with two of the four horsemen. Five hostile looking men came from the other side. Festuscato hardly let them dismount before he spoke.
“I am Senator Festuscato Cassius Agitus, the newly appointed Imperial Governor of Britannia. We will not be staying in Amorica. I was hoping to have a talk with your King Selyfan, before we cross the channel. I know you have good relations with Cornwall, Wales and Britain, and I thought you might have some more up-to-date information. The letters I have appealing to Rome for help are more than two years old.”
“Do not be put off by the armed men that travel with us,” Gaius interrupted. “His Holiness, the pope was concerned that Lord Agitus be protected on his long and hazardous journey.”
“That is, unless you have turned your back on Great Britain. I did hope that we would continue to be good trading partners for years to come.” Festuscato finished.
“My father is ill.” A man in his late forties stepped forward and the other Amorican’s seemed to take a step back.
“I take it I have the honor of addressing one of his two sons. May I ask which?”
“Aldrien. And I will be King after my father.”
“Pleased to meet you. I take it Constantine; the younger son is elsewhere.”
Aldrien looked at the priest before he glared at the centurion. “In Kernow. You seem well informed enough.”
Several of the men laughed and Aldrien got in Festuscato’s face. “Do you think I am a fool.”
“Not at all. Lady LeFleur,” He called, and the fairy appeared because she had no choice. She took a moment to get acclimated to her new location, but then curtsied in mid-air.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Your Majesty, this is Aldrien, the elder son.”
“Very pleased to meet you,” she said. “I only heard of you, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” She curtsied again for the prince.
“Thank you for your information. Apparently, what you told me is true, but I understand King Selyfan is ill.”
“Oh, I am sorry to hear that. I hope he gets well soon.” The queen’s concern sounded genuine.
“Now I need to talk to these men some more.”
“Of course. Only men may know how the minds and hearts of other men work. It is something which is quite beyond me.”
“Sorry to interrupt. Please go back to what you were doing.” Festuscato waved his hand and she disappeared.
“I don’t think I will ever get used to that,” Gaius said. He pointed to the Amorican noble who got so scared, he grabbed his horse and started riding away at full speed.
“So now, Aldrien. I understand you don’t like Romans very much.”
“But I assure you, I have no interest in Amorica other than as a friend to Britain. In fact, let me see if this helps you. I know the Vandals have invaded Africa at the far southern end of the empire. General Aetius is talking about returning to Rome to counter that threat, so there is no way he will be around Gaul to bother you, at least for a time.”
“You know this to be true?” A man asked, and Festuscato nodded.
“It is true. What Aetius will actually do, I cannot say. But at least you are not his present concern.”
“Good. Don’t be surprised if we send you your administrators and clerics. We have had enough of tribute and taxes.”
“Don’t send them to me. What do I want with a bunch of bureaucrats? Besides, I’ll be in Great Britain.”
“So Governor. Where is your legion?” a different man asked.
“Alas. What you see is as much legion as I have.” Festuscato waved back at his men who were patiently waiting.
The man laughed and the others got ready to join him when Aldrien cut them off. He seemed back to himself. “Your men wear the dragon.”
“I heard you faced down Thorismund, son of Theodoric the Visigoth and he took his two thousand men and ran away.”
“You could say that.”
“I heard you captured the King of the Huns and let him go, like a cat playing with a mouse.”
Aldrien looked again at Julius. “Your men don’t seem so tough.”
“They are men, but I do have friends if you know what I mean.” Festuscato answered for Julius.
Aldrien nodded. He saw one of those friends. “Wait here. I will go talk with my father and be back.”
“Wait for how long? Things are not getting better in Britain.”
Aldrien eyed Festuscato once more. “Couple of weeks,” he said, and with a nod to the Priest, he mounted and his nobles rode with him.