Everyone ran to the railing to look. “Picts,” the Captain described their visitors. “And their ship is much faster than ours and more heavily armed.”
“What will they do?” Gaius asked what jumped into everyone’s minds.
“Probably get mad that we don’t have any cargo to steal. The Picts generally just steal the cargo and let the ship go. The Irish would steal the cargo and take any young ones for slaves. the Saxons would steal the cargo and kill everybody, and then sink the ship. I suppose the Picts aren’t so bad when you think about it.”
“No telling what they will do when they don’t find any cargo,” Treeve repeated the first thought as the captain got the crew to take down the sail and practice begging for their lives. Festuscato dressed his people up at the stern, in front of the rudder, like they were preparing for a family photo. By the time they were ready and quiet, the Picts were alongside and coming on board.
Captain Breok profusely apologized for the lack of a worthwhile cargo but suggested they were carrying some rich passengers whom the Picts were welcome to rob. He did not exactly betray them, just accommodating to the circumstances. The Pictish captain stepped up to look Festuscato in the eye. The Pict wore a leather jerkin studded with bronze circles that looked like rivets. He had a long sword at his side and no doubt had various other sharp things hidden around his person.
“And you are?” Festuscato spoke first, his voice calm and clear.
“Captain Keravear,” the man said. “And you?” He grinned.
Festuscato reached out and shook the man’s hand before the man could react. “Festuscato Cassius Agitus, an ordinary mortal human who will grow old and die like any other human.” Captain Keravear grinned again, but did not know how to take that. He glanced back at the half dozen men who were one step behind him, and the men with their knives drawn who were holding Captain Breok’s crew.
The Captain put on his mean face and spouted. “Whether you grow old or not remains to be seen.”
Festuscato looked down at himself and looked embarrassed. “Oh, but I see I haven’t properly dressed.” He called out for his armor, and it fit him perfectly, Wyrd his sword and Defender his long knife fitted to his back, and overall, he wore the tunic that sported the dragon. “Some have called me the dragon, but I really hope Constantine will own that name.” Several of Captain Keravear’s men took a step back on seeing the change, and the rest stepped back because they heard stories of the Dragon of Britain. “Now, if you don’t mind,” Festuscato borrowed Gerraint’s thought. “I have pledged to take these holy men safely to the Irish shore and I don’t appreciate the interruption.”
Captain Keravear smiled again in an attempt to regain the upper hand. “Then give me all your money and your gold and we will let you go on your way. Oh, but I think I will take your woman as well.”
“Not even if Hell froze over,” Festuscato responded and lifted his arm. The glamour that covered Mirowen fell away and her true elf form looked unmistakable, complete with her cute pointed ears. Mousden also reverted to his pixie form just in time for Mirowen to put him in Gaius’ arms. She pulled a bow and arrows from her usual nowhere. Dibs and Bran meanwhile slipped into their own dragon tunics and drew their swords. This time Captain Keravear took one step back. He had to think if it would be worth it. He had no doubt at least some of his men would die, and given the reputation of the dragon, he was not sure if all of his men might die.
“Gentlemen,” Patrick stepped up and waved his hands like a referee calling for a time out. “Surely this can be settled without the need for bloodshed.”
“That remains to be seen,” Festuscato turned his head and Captain Keravear pulled a small knife. Before he got it all the way out from his Jerkin, Festuscato had Defender at his throat, and without missing a beat. “We will see if Captain Keravear has a brain or not.” He turned to the Captain and spoke again. “This ship is under God’s almighty hand. You need to leave before you get yourself in eternal trouble.”
“Which god are your speaking of?” Captain Keravear said and took another step back to get away from the blade at his throat. “I met Mannanon the sea god, one dark and stormy night by his isle of Man. He guided us to a safe harbor until the storm passed, and I like to think of him as our protector.”
Festuscato kept a straight face when he spoke. “It was a dark and stormy night. He is a good son who does good for people now and then. But I was speaking of Mannanon’s God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
“Don’t start stealing Patrick’s lines,” Gaius whispered from behind.
“We aren’t in Ireland yet,” Festuscato responded with more volume.
Patrick would have stepped between the two men, but Festuscato held his arm out and would not let him. Still, he spoke. “What would it take to satisfy things so you leave us in peace?”
“All your money and gold. I’ll forego the woman.”
“Kind of you,” Festuscato shook his head as a great wave struck the ship and everyone had to spread their arms and legs to keep from falling over. The wave splashed up on both sides of the ship and formed into several hundred little blobs of gelatin looking creatures with heads, arms and legs, about a foot tall each, with mean looks on their faces, if cute little gingerbread men-like blobs could be said to have mean faces.
“Lord Steran,” Festuscato called. He knew who it was, the king of the water sprites of the Irish sea. “Please refrain from drowning these people. We are trying to work out an equitable arrangement.”
“Lord.” The water sprite offered Festuscato a regal bow and spoke in the cutest baby voice while Mousden clapped his hands and let out an excited shout.
“Mousden,” Festuscato called. “Bring the little bag.”
“Lord?” Mousden used the term Mirowen used and now Steran confirmed, though he knew well enough that it was the right term. He brought the bag and hovered while Festuscato counted out fifteen pieces of gold. “Fifteen pieces!” Mousden felt more concerned with missing the gold than he felt with the pirates. He screamed once in the face of the pirates, but the loss of the coins made him want to howl.
“Fifteen pieces of gold for your trouble,” Festuscato said. “But I suggest you be on your way or I cannot guarantee your safety.”
Captain Keravear ran out of arguments and knew when his luck was done. Most of his men had deserted his back and were already on their ship. The Picts wasted no time casting off, and soon enough would dip below the horizon.
“Thank you Lord Steran,” Festuscato said, and could not help the smile as Steran offered a wave not unlike a salute, and he and his people jumped back over the side to blend into the sea.
“Bye. Bye,” many of the water babies said, and more than one hardened sailor returned a wave and a sweet goodbye before they went back to work getting the sail up and the ship underway.
Festuscato turned and scolded Patrick. “What did you think you were doing? You need to let me do my job without interference.”
“What is your job?” he shot back.
“To deliver you in one piece.” Festuscato swallowed much of what he wanted to say before he deflected the question about his job. “If pirates think they have the upper hand, you are dead. You don’t bargain with pirates.”
Mousden shrieked. “I’ll say. You didn’t bargain at all. You just handed them fifteen pieces of gold. Fifteen!”
Festuscato and Patrick looked at the young man hovering beside them. Festuscato laughed. “It’s only money,” he said. Patrick just nodded and laughed.
The ship pulled into the docks at Wicklow and Captain Breok wished them all well. “Leinster is as fair a trading partner as you can find among the Irish,” he told them. They all thanked the captain for the journey, but then Festuscato took the man and his mate, Treeve aside. They would be picking up some lumber, mostly pine in Lyoness, and be back in two weeks to ten days, depending on the weather.
“You are not going with them?” Patrick asked, having discerned that something was happening.
“No,” Festuscato admitted. “But I have arranged for passage, and meanwhile I promise to get out of your way.”
They found some Christians in the port and Patrick wasted no time bringing them together and sharing the gospel. He held Mass in a grove by the river every morning and spent every afternoon teaching about the people of God and the life of Christ. He invited his few disciples, the remnants of the work of Palladius, to bring in their family and friends, but found few converts. Most of the people resisted his message.
Festuscato, Dibs and Bran stayed the next ten days in a tavern by the port. Gaius spent most of his time with Patrick and occasionally Bran joined him; less often Dibs. Festuscato, good to his word, stayed out of it. He paced and drank and ate enough for three people, but he kept his mouth closed.
Mirowen and Mousden went out into the wilderness on the first day and stayed gone that whole time. Mirowen said she went looking for family, elves related to the clan of Macreedy, though the clan originally came from further north, from Ulster. Festuscato recalled that Mirowen was in fact an elf Princess, and her father Macreedy had been a king among the elves. Mousden said he did not want to be left alone with so many clunky humans, so they disappeared, and Festuscato would have been very bored if he did not find a couple of young women to keep him in the night. Keela, a tall and slim Celt, inspired him to bad poetry. Aideen was a short, buxom redhead who Festuscato called little fire.
“She squeals,” Festuscato said. “Like when the hot iron is doused in the cool water.”
“I’ve heard,” Dibs responded and knocked on the thin wall. “And I don’t want to hear about it.”
After ten days, Festuscato began to worry that his ship might not return. That felt troublesome, because a dozen rough men, soldiers to look at them, came riding into town under orders from the King of Leinster, the self-styled King of all Ireland. They said they had enough of this Christian business with Palladius. To their credit, they first listened, and one of them remarked it was hard to believe it was the same message. Patrick taught about the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Palladius had put much more emphasis on hellfire and brimstone.
At that same time, Festuscato went looking for Keela. He had ruined another potential poem, so he imagined she might be out back by the cooking fire, ruining another roast. That would have only been fair. She was a beauty, but she could not cook any better than Greta. He found her cauldron bubbling over the fire and her cooking utensils laid out on a table next to the fire. He found baskets full of herbs and spices, but no Keela. He started rubbing his chin when he heard her off in the bushes, screaming.