Hywel made most of the introductions and the Welsh were cordial, but one man from the north of Wales had something to say. “I don’t know exactly why I am here. The Irish have been quiet these last few years.”
“But they won’t always stay quiet,” Festuscato said. “And won’t it be good to have the British and Cornish to back you up?”
“We can handle a few Irish pirates,” he said gruffly, though one man quietly differed.
“Speak for yourself.”
“And the Picts?” Festuscato smiled for the man. “I understand they are getting to be a regular nuisance.”
“The thing is, Eudof,” he called the man by name having caught it in the conversation earlier. “We band together and take on one thing at a time. Megla made an incursion into Wales last summer to test the waters. You can be sure he will be back if he isn’t stopped. But after we take care of the Hun, we can then deal with Wanius and his Picts. Make sense?”
Eudof slowly nodded, and then stepped aside to reveal his druid. There came a moment of tension in the room among those who knew Festuscato’s rule, but Festuscato surprised them all. “A druid. Welcome.” He reached for the man’s hand. “You have a name?”
“Cadwalder.” The druid shook hands, but looked like he expected treachery.
“Cadwalder,” Festuscato repeated the name. “Now listen, everyone. Your attention please.” The room quieted. “No killing the priests includes druid priests. Listen up. Constantine, you explain.”
Constantine got startled, but then rubbed his beard. “Well. It is as I told you. It is not my place to decide what can and cannot be taught to the people. A man has to make up his own mind what he believes.” He looked straight at Eudof. “Hardly can be called a man if he doesn’t.” Eudof nodded agreement. King Ban laughed and placed a hand on Constantine’s shoulder.
“You have been spending too much time with the Roman.”
Festuscato underlined his words with a look to the Fathers Gaius, Felix, and Lavius. “You understand. No militant bishops.”
“Well understood,” Gaius said, and made a point of stepping over and shaking the druid’s hand. The poor druid did not know what to say.
“All right.” Festuscato moved on. “Cador, the Lion of Cornwall. I love it.” All of the men of Cornwall had lions on their tunics.
“The dragon was already taken,” Cador said, and shook hands before he introduced his men. Weldig was High Chief of Lyoness. Baldwin was the Lord Mayor of Exeter, but he looked ready for war. Dynod was from Glastonbury and building a fort on the Tor. “And you remember Gildas, my cousin from Tintangle.”
“Of course. Gildas. You ready to kill the bastards?” Gildas grinned in a way that said he was ready.
“Constans,” Constantine called his son. Constans was over with the women, speaking to a very animated young woman. “Constans.”
“Come here, son. You will be in Cadbury after I am gone. You better figure out how it all works right from the beginning.” The high chiefs sat around one long table where they had wine decanted, and glasses. There were three other tables in the Great Hall, and Festuscato made men move and mingle, because otherwise there would be a Cornish table, a Welsh table and a British table. Julius, who came in two nights earlier, sat beside Festuscato. Marcellus took one table, Tiberius took the second, and Dibs took the third, just to watch and keep things cordial. When everyone got seated, Festuscato waited for Constantine to sit at the head of the table before he sat beside him, across from Constans and King Ban. Cador asked why he didn’t take the top spot.
“You are the Imperial Governor, and Comes Britannarium.”
“I am an observer, mostly, and one who looks forward to one day going home.” Festuscato stood again to talk. “You are the people of Great Britain, and I am giving you a high chief for the whole island to help you sort out your differences. Call him the head dragon. In Welsh that would be Pendragon. I have given you a place of Sanctuary where you can come and argue your case, and be heard by your peers who are seated all around this room. And the lords of Greater Britain can decide, case by case, what must be. The fact that Constantine is native Amorican is important. He is not invested in your many troubles. He is invested in peace. But remember, he is not a king. Every man here is equal, and can sit face to face, I hope in friendship.” Festuscato saw Mirowen appear at the door and she nodded. “Constantine is a man invested in peace, but when it comes to war, I am appointing him Dux Bellorum, the leader in battles. When he sends out the call to arms, you will bring your men here, or wherever they are needed. And the Irish, the Picts, the Saxons and the Huns better beware.” Festuscato picked up his glass of wine that Julius just poured, and he saluted Constantine before he downed it. Then he made a face. “We got any ale?”
Mirowen rolled her eyes, but nodded, and many of the men laughed, and a few cheered. “Before we get down to business on this fine day. Let us feast as good neighbors should.” He sat down. Servants started to bring in great trays of all sorts of food. It was not fairy food, but the cooks had been practicing the art of cooking for several hundred years and were pretty good at it.
“Lord Constantine,” Ban said after a while. “If I had your cooks I would weigh a hundred stone.” That sentiment seemed fairly universal.
“Hey! None of that!” Dibs shouted. Two men at his table were about to go at each other. Constantine stood, urged by Festuscato.
“What is the trouble?”
“They both want the last Pig’s ear,” Dibs said and several men laughed. “And they are about to cut each other.”
Mirowen, in the room, frowned and snorted the word, “Boys,” which got all of their attention. She stepped to the back table where she cut off a pig’s ear. She came back to Dib’s table where she cut the other ear, every eye following her the whole way. She handed one to each of the men and said, “Sit.” It was a command, and they sat. “Children,” she said, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe one’s mouth like a mother might wipe her four-year-old. “Now behave or next time it will be worse for you.” She stomped out of the room and many of the men tried not to laugh. Constantine raised his voice.
“All you had to do was ask.” People stopped to listen. “The answer might be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.” He sat and sipped his drink before he spoke more softly. “Remarkable woman, that Mirowen.”
Festuscato nodded, and King Ban spoke up.
“Speaking of which, that was a fine looking young woman you were speaking to earlier,” he said to Constans. “She seemed taken with you.”
Constans gulped. “Do you think? She is beautiful. Ivy. That’s her name. Father, don’t you think that is a beautiful name?” Constantine looked at his son who appeared lost in his own thoughts.
Ban leaned over the young man. “My daughter,” he said. “So do we plan for a summer wedding or wait until fall?”
Constantine appeared to think a minute while Constans’ face grew redder and redder. “If we have both the Hun and the Picts to deal with, I think fall will be best. What do you think?” He turned to Festuscato.
“I think when I was nine, Mirowen used to wipe my face like that. It can hurt.”
“No,” Ban said, and turned his head briefly to look for her. “She is much too young.” No one responded to what he said.
Next Monday: R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House. Don’t miss it. Until then…