Festuscato waved good-bye to the shore, though no one stood there to wave back. Mirowen stayed beside him and Mousden shoved up between them, though he could hardly see over the railing. Mousden spent the past two weeks in Cornwall and Lyoness, clinging to Mirowen’s skirt. He felt afraid of humans, especially so many big ones, but he started learning and limiting his screams to more serious concerns.
Festuscato could at least imagine Heini waving. She seemed a fine young maid, hidden away in Weldig’s fort by the sea, and pleasant company over the last few, lonely days while they waited for the storm to pass in order to take ship for Ireland. He remembered the way she made the bed, and tucked everything in so perfectly. Mirowen took Mousden by the hand and walked him away when Father Gaius stepped up to the rail beside Festuscato. Festuscato just thought how Heini’s name suited her when Gaius coughed.
“Forgive me father for I have sinned.” Festuscato lost his smile. Gaius simply nodded and Festuscato thought to change the subject, quickly. “But, hey. I thought you were in a prayer marathon with Patrick.”
It became Gaius’ turn to look up with a bit of guilt on his face. “My knees can only take so much,” he said. “That Patrick is unstoppable.”
Gaius nodded, put his hand to his lower back and stretched backwards while Bran came up and snickered. No telling what Bran imagined might be going on, but Festuscato had begun to realize that the big man was bright, so he probably had a very good idea what made Gaius so stiff.
Gaius frowned and gave voice to his complaint. “Whoever decided that prayer had to be done on one’s knees?”
“Rome,” Bran offered, and it sounded like he thought it a silly idea.
“I thought prayer was inspired in a man’s heart,” Festuscato rubbed his chin. “I was not aware the heart had knees.” Before Gaius or Bran could answer, Mousden, in his pixie form, came flying up, screaming. He squeezed between Festuscato and the railing and clung with both hands and feet to Festucato’s robe. Mirowen came chasing after the boy, followed by Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve.
Mirowen got down to comfort the boy and the Captain apologized. “Lady, I am sorry. Gerens doesn’t know when to hold his tongue. He was just teasing.”
Festuscato turned his head while Gaius asked, “What happened?”
Treeve shrugged, but Captain Breok explained. “Gerens told the boy that the coiled ropes around the ship were really sleeping serpents that would wake and come out at night. It is from an old tale, but there is no truth in it.”
“I heard that tale,” Mousden wailed from Festuscato’s feet and Mirowen hushed him.
“Frankly, I think your young person scared Gerens worse. He has locked himself in my cabin, and I hate having to wrench it open.”
“Get big and go with Mirowen. She will protect you,” Festuscato insisted before he turned to face the Captain. “Children. You never know how they are going to react.”
“No offense meant,” the Captain responded. “But that is no child. Some of the men are going to wonder why we don’t throw the thing off the ship.”
“What’s the trouble?” Patrick came up from below. “Mousden, come here.” Mousden came slowly from the railing, looking again like a young boy. He held Mirowen’s hand until he saw Patrick hold out his arms. Then he ran and leapt into the Bishop’s hug. “I have spent these weeks in prayer, learning a great deal. You would be surprised. But above all I have learned that people come in all shapes and sizes, and I mean all shapes and sizes, and I have come to understand that the Almighty will not judge us on our outward appearance, but on the content of our hearts. This lad is a good and kind soul, and you dare to harm him at the risk of your own soul in the face of eternity.”
Festuscato spoke while Bran, Gaius and Mirowen stepped over beside Patrick and the boy. “That a man should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” He shook his head, because he did not get the voice right.
“Besides,” Bran spoke up with the slightest grin on his face. “You throw him overboard and he will just fly back to the ship.”
Mousden nodded his head and patted the big man on the shoulder before Mirowen took him from Patrick’s arms. Mousden honestly made more like a teenager in age and only appeared eight or nine in big form because pixies aged more slowly and lived longer than ordinary humans. But in his first real human contact, with Denzel and Elowen, he learned that he received better treatment when he acted as young as he looked; not that it would be hard for a pixie of whatever age to act like a child.
Mirowen took Mousden off to the cabin the Captain provided for the Lady and her son, as he had imagined them to be. Bran also wander up to the foredeck to find Dibs for a little martial practice. They were keeping each other in shape and teaching what they knew about their weapons. Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve stepped up to one side of Festuscato while Patrick and Gaius stepped up to the other side. Festuscato turned them to face the sea before the Captain spoke.
“So, your woman?” It was a question.
“But she is not a, whatever.” Captain Breok honestly did not know.
“She’s an elf,” Gaius said. “A house elf.”
“And as fine a woman as you will ever find this side of Heaven,” Patrick added.
“And I suppose that makes you?” It was another question.
“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Senator of Rome, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and Comes Britannia, and a normal, mortal human being who will one day grow old and die like any other human person.”
“But you don’t really die,” Gaius understood that much.
“No.” Festuscato frowned. “I feel all the pain and heartache of death, but I don’t get to the joy of Heaven part before I get shoved back into a new birth. I start all over again as a baby, but as I have confessed, I think I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not get it right. Patrick, don’t underestimate the power of sin in this broken old world.”
“I don’t,” Patrick confirmed. “And I confess, while I have every confidence in Mirowen and young Mousden, I still have my doubts about you.
“I do my job.”
“And what is your job?”
“Right now, it is delivering a stubborn Bishop alive, into the hands of a bunch of mad Irishmen. Then you will have your job to do, and I think it won’t be easy, and I don’t know if I can help you.”
“I think I should thank God you can’t help me.” Patrick said, with an honest smile and a friendly pat on Festuscato’s shoulder. “But I will pray for you.” He turned to go back to his place for prayer.
“I figured you were already doing that, hopeless cad that I am.”
Patrick said nothing, but Gaius thought to answer. “Only as needed,” he said. “Which for you is about every minute of every day.” Gaius also thought to give Festuscato an encouraging pat on the shoulder.
“Come along, Treeve,” the Captain spoke up as he turned from the railing. “Let’s go pry Gerens out of my cabin. I plan to sleep well tonight, and in my own bed.”
That evening, Treeve said he expected Mousden to sleep in the cabin, maybe upside down like a bat. Gaius thought he might prefer to sleep in the darkness down in the hold, but Mousden said it smelled too much of pine trees and strange animal droppings, and besides, he already caught the only rat on board for lunch. Festuscato kindly asked him to not go into the details. It turned out Mousden slept up in the nest at the top of the mast. He said it was a wonder to see all the stars overhead, and in its own way, not unlike the roof of a cavern, or being in a fairy circle. It reminded him of the many times his tribe roamed the meadows at night and danced and played in the circles of the moon.
“He probably won’t sleep much in any case,” Mirowen said, with a yawn. “Sorry. I find the sea much like a cradle. It really tires me out.”
The Captain and his mate both looked at Festuscato to explain. “Mousden is a night creature. Pixies in general prefer the darkness, or I should say the moon and stars. They live underground, in caves and caverns, and find the sun glaring bright. I’m surprised Mousden doesn’t have a headache from the sun shining off the surface of the sea all day.”
“He slept for much of the day,” Mirowen added before she excused herself and went to her cabin.
Everyone slept well that night, as is often the case at sea. Mousden stayed up top and observed the changes in watch through the night. Most of the time he simply looked at the unchanging sea, the horizon and counted the stars in the sky. When Colan, the skinny young man who had the morning watch climbed up to join him in the nest, Mousden casually mentioned that he noticed a sail on the horizon.
“I can’t see anything,” Colan said, as he squinted off into the dim light before dawn.
“Right there,” Mousden pointed, but Colan shook his head.
Mousden did not know. Growing up in caves allowed him no chance to learn how to judge distances in the great outdoors. They waited in the quiet, Colan squinting now and then until the sun seemed to burst above the horizon all at once and he saw a ship much closer than he imagined. It headed straight toward them and no doubt had seen their watch lights in the night.
“Ship off the port side,” Colan shouted. “And it is headed right for us.”