The gate to the fort got closed and locked when the last of the villagers straggled in. They knew Sean Fen was MacNeill’s cousin, so he and his men were not there to loot and pillage, apart from stealing whatever brew they had; but they were pirates, and it was generally not safe to be around pirates, especially for young women. The courtyard of the fort presently teemed with young women and Festuscato could not help pausing and admiring a few. He turned to look outside the fort when he heard Sean Fen’s voice.
“Roman. It would save us both a lot of trouble if you just came out and gave yourself up to the sword.”
“Give me some time to think about it,” Festuscato said, as he looked around. The sun looked nearly set and Sean Fen’s men started lighting torches, as did some of the men in the fort.
Sean Fen looked like he might be thinking. “I will give you until the sun is fully gone, and that is more than generous, and only because I don’t want the bother of having to fetch you.”
Festuscato said nothing when a strange, Asian looking man stepped up beside him. Mirowen noticed and curtsied for the man. Festuscato frowned. “Yin Mo,” he said.
“Macreedy sent you, didn’t he?”
“As you say.”
“This has got to stop. The knights have no business being here, of all places.”
“Yes, Lord. But the Knights of the Lance might send your enemies to various places around the island without actually injuring them. I had thought an end to the trouble that avoided shedding blood might be preferable.”
“There is that.” Festuscato thought about it while the druid shouted up to the wall.
“Crooked heads, come down. It will be my privilege to remove the crookedness from the land by taking your heads from your bodies.”
“Tell him those that are with us are more than those that are against us,” Festuscato offered, and Patrick repeated the words before responding to Festuscato.
“What? So now you are Elijah?”
“I don’t remember. Was it him or Elisha who said that? Anyway, just watch.” He turned to Yin Mo and gave his okay and Yin Mo waved his arm. As Festuscato figured, well more than a hundred Knights of the Lance appeared just outside, at the base of the castle wall. They charged. Most of Sean Fen’s men had the good sense to run for their lives, not that it did them any good. Every man vanished as soon as he got touched by a lance, and the knight vanished as well. The knights did not stop, however, until they got to the docks. Where Sean Fen’s three ships went was anyone’s guess.
When the action finished, an action very hard to see and follow unless you had night vision like a goblin, or Mousden, Yin Mo also vanished and Festuscato spoke again. “I would have told him no more than in Greta’s day, like Gerraint told him, but he snuck about five or eight hundred into that battle.
“Oh, about a hundred years in the future.”
“As you say.” Patrick had picked up the phrase.
Sean Fen and the druid were the last two still out front, but men with torches came from the village and MacNeill and his men came out of the fort so there seemed nowhere the two could run. It got hard to hear the yelling that went on when they met, but Mirowen likely heard with her good elf ears. It also got hard to see exactly what happened, but at some point MacNeill pulled his sword and chopped off the druid’s head. He later explained.
“I knew the man. He would have devised some poison or some ambush, and he would not give up until the deed was done. Removing his head simply removed my headache.” MacNeill headed them back inside to salvage what was left of the meal. “I hear in Britannia, the one they are calling the Pendragon has forbidden the killing of priests.”
“That includes druid priests,” Festuscato said.
MacNeill shrugged. “Well, maybe starting now.” The man smiled for his mother. “But who would kill the druids there? I am told the Christian God is all about love and peace.”
“Never fear,” Patrick said. “The church has its share of militant priests.”
“Really?” MacNeill smiled. “There may be something to this faith of yours after all.” Festuscato just laughed and prepared himself to answer questions about the Knights of the Lance. Those questions did not come, but from that day, all over Ireland, scattered here and there, pirates appeared and told about a man named Patrick and the power and the miraculous army of his God.
At the end of the second month, Clugh started taking to the air in anticipation of his visitors. He found the fire pit fairy quickly, and on scattering it, he almost set the fens on fire, wet though the swamp was. The men had to build a new pit out behind the tavern, and then with MacNeill’s permission, in the courtyard of the fort itself. He had men dig out a great underground chamber, lined with stones and with a great bed of stones and broken and rusty spears and swords, plows and axes for the dragon’s bed.
Clugh actually arrived only two days after the construction finished. Some were not sure he would come into the midst of so many humans, but Clugh had become accustomed to his brothers and his one sister, and he showed that perhaps humans were not the enemy. Whether or not he considered humans to be edibles remained to be seen.
Festuscato figured it would only be a matter of time once Clugh went airborne. He kept day-old, burnt meat in the nest, and he called it a nest for Clugh when he arrived. The dragon slithered in and squealed, flamed the walls and roared, which made MacNeill and most of his people doubt the wisdom of making a home for the beast.
“It is frightening,” MacNeill admitted.
“Nonsense,” Festuscato responded. “All that fuss just means he likes the new nest. Just think what the other Lords around will say when they realize you have your own personal dragon guarding the place. Why, I bet Leinster will get so jealous, he will run out and try to get one of his own.”
That made MacNeill grin.
Clugh settled in for about two weeks. MacNeill lost a couple of good hunting dogs, and he had to move the stables further away. He also took back his old barn from Patrick, though Patrick did not mind because of the church they were building. Overall, Clugh stayed good, and Donogh was there every day to play with his brother and keep him somewhat contained. By then, Clugh knew how to say “Donogh”, though it came out more like “Dalnaw.” For his part, Donogh learned a reasonable amount of dragon words. He learned to say come and stay and stop and no and Bran suggested the boy was learning parenting skills.
After two weeks, Festuscato knew it would not work. As much as the people might be willing to give it a try, and as good as Clugh could be, eventually the dragon would get big enough and old enough to where he could not be contained. Given the circumstances and the regular feedings, he imagined Clugh might stay good for another fifty or so years, or at least as long as Donogh remained alive. But there would be incidents, no doubt including some crispy people along the way, but after two weeks, circumstances changed.
Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius sat in the tavern, reminiscing, when the Saxon long boats were spotted, headed for the port. They had little time to evacuate the village before the Saxons landed and began burning and looting everything in sight. People crowded into the fort, but left a wide area empty around Clugh’s home. Donogh and Seamus went down into the dragon’s lair and tried to keep the beast calm, but it was not easy given the air of excitement and distress all around.
It did not take long for the Saxons to gather outside the fort. Mirowen counted about two hundred which seemed quite a sizeable group for a raiding party. Festuscato knew that Saxon raiders were much like the Vikings that were to come centuries in the future. They tended to avoid direct conflict with large groups of armed men and avoided forts, unless they had something to gain. Raiders, like pirates, struck hard and fast, took what they wanted, and left before any serious opposition could be raised. In this case, though, the Saxons looked like they had something in mind.
Festuscato, MacNeill, Cormac and Murdoch went out to meet the Saxon leaders before hostilities erupted. It turned out Festuscato and the Saxon knew each other. It turned out to be Gorund, the chief who wanted the Cornish gold that did not exist.
“Take what you want from the village, but leave my people alone and you can go in peace,” MacNeill said.
“But what I want isn’t in the village,” a big fellow named Herslaw countered. “We have been very well paid to come here and do a job, and when we bring back some heads, we will receive the other half of the payment.” Gorund simply watched and kept his eye on Festuscato.
“Leinster.” Cormac spit.
Gorund grinned. “I am thinking you don’t want to fight any more than we do. You can send this Dragon and his priests out to us and we can go away, and nobody needs to get hurt.”
MacNeill folded his arms and looked at Festuscato. Festuscato took that as permission to speak. “Listen, Gorund, Coleslaw. The problem with the priests is they have been declared off limits for killing by Lord MacNeill here, and as for myself, the one some call the dragon, you see, there is an actual dragon, a real dragon behind the fort wall ready to defend the people here. The real dragon came from Rome, burned his way across Gaul and has been terrorizing the Fens for some forty years, until we made peace with the beast. Leinster wants you to get the real dragon. I am sure you don’t want to get involved in that, though I see where you might have been confused.”
Gorund did not budge. “I heard a rumor about a real dragon, but I figured it was just you. I heard you only have two men with you, and that seems a small price to pay for a village.” He turned and saw the smoke rising near the docks. “What is left of it, anyway.”
An uncomfortable silence followed for a moment as MacNeill thought through a number of options before he spoke. “Nope. You have already done your damage to the town. There isn’t much more you can do unless you want to waste your men attacking the fort. As my friend said, the priests are off limits, and as for the dragon, now I am talking about the man, I figure he has a few tricks up his sleeve that none of us can imagine, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got and you can go back to Leinster and tell him you changed your mind.
“Ah, but I can’t do that, you see,” Gorund responded with a wave of his hand. There was movement in the Saxon line until ten men appeared out of thin air around the group, and each man had a bow with an arrow pointed right at Gorund. “Hold it,” Gorund shouted for his life. “No tricks. We do this the proper way.”
Festuscato and MacNeill walked casually back to the fort. Cormac snickered and Murdoch nodded in agreement.