R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 1 of 3

After only a few days, Patrick made a decision. He had good people in Father Teigh and Father Aon, even if they were married.  He was not needed in MacNeill’s land, now that MacNeill had turned to the Lord and things were going well, so he would take his work inland.  “No offence,” he told Festuscato.  “But I hope to get far enough away from you to where I can find some peace.  You are like the whirlwind.  Nothing around you ever keeps still.”

“It has always been thus,” Festuscato confessed. “After five thousand years, you would think things would settle down, but no.”

“How long?”

“I was firstborn when that butthole Nimrod built that stupid tower.  I figured it would not last.  Not enough straw in the bricks.”

“That long?”  Patrick patted his shoulder.  “Hard to imagine, but you have my prayers.”

“And you have mine, for what they are worth.  We got lucky to find MacNeill, a man willing to let you work for the sake of his grudge against Leinster.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Patrick said.

“Even so, Ireland is like a wild dog.  It might trot along for a while as long as it is getting fed, but it might also turn on you at any moment and on the least provocation.”

“I understand.”

“Then why don’t I leave and let you work,” Festuscato suggested.

“Indeed.  And I am sure the Lord will lead you to wherever you are needed next.”  They stood in silence for a moment on the wall of MacNeill’s fort, looking over to where the town was rebuilding after the Saxon raid.  The new tavern looked ready for the tourists.  “I think I am finally getting an idea of what your job really is,” Patrick added.  “I don’t envy you.”

“I’ll be taking Dibs, Bran, Gaius, Mirowen and Mousden,” Festuscato responded.  “That is going to leave you pretty isolated.”

“Take Seamus,” Patrick insisted.  “I am assigning him to you.  All he wants to do is tell exciting stories, but he doesn’t know any, so he mopes.  We are in prayer and he lets out a moan that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.”

“What?  Making friends with a dragon and fighting off pirates and Saxon raiders not exciting enough for him?”

Patrick shook his head.  “He says he was too close to it all, and the important parts went by too fast and were too confusing.  I suspect it is always like that, but I figure some time with you and he will get his fill of exciting stories.  He is young.  Send him back when he matures.”

“I can’t promise he will come back,” Festuscato said, honestly enough, but Patrick nodded.

“The gods don’t make promises.  I heard.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I don’t envy you, and I say that from experience.”

“Eh?  You carried the gospel into hostile territory?”  Festuscato thought of the church in late twentieth century America and rolled his eyes at the church lady horror stories.  Patrick gave him another encouraging pat on the shoulder.  “I better go pray.”

Festuscato watched the Bishop walk out the back door of the fort and head for the hill.  He would climb to the top and spend the next several hours in prayer and contemplation.  Festuscato thought the man ought to be successful, if nothing else for his shear dedication.  Festuscato still stood there ten minutes later when Mirowen found him and stepped up alongside him.

“Captain Breok said it will be at least a day before we can sail.  Treeve suggested two would be better; something about bringing enough feed down from the highland farms.”  Festuscato finally looked like he paid attention, so she said, “Sheep in the hold,” and held her nose.

Festuscato rolled his eyes again.  He also had news.  “We get to take Seamus.  Patrick says he is a young man in search of an exciting adventure.  I don’t know why Patrick thinks Seamus will get an exciting adventure going with me.”

Mirowen started to laugh.  It took twenty minutes to get her to stop.


An hour later, Festuscato, Bran and Dibs were helping Hugh, Cary and young Donogh rebuild the tavern when they saw a sight to remember.  Patrick came down from the hill, walking with his shepherd’s crook, being followed by dozens of snakes of all kinds, and they were all poisonous.

“That’s not right,” Festuscato said.  “Ireland is supposed to be snake free.”

“That’s what I heard,” Dibs confirmed.

They left their work and followed with the rest of the crowd, and stopped when Patrick stopped on the edge of the docks. “Go on,” Patrick said.  He stepped back and watched as the snakes took the plunge, sank into the sea, and never came back up.

“What happened?” Gaius asked from the other side of the crowd.

“I was in prayer,” Patrick looked up at Gaius and turned to Festuscato.  “These snakes surrounded me and would not leave me alone.  I could not focus.  I got angry. Forgive me.”

“No, no.  Quite all right.  Nothing wrong with some righteous indignation,” Festuscato responded.

Patrick looked down as he spoke.  It sounded like a confession.  “I got up to walk away.  Anger is not the answer.  I wanted to get away so I could refocus my heart on faith, but they followed me. Strange as it sounds, they kept their distance, but they would not go away.  It came to me, like the Holy Spirit speaking in my heart that the sea was the answer.  I felt led to this place, and now they are gone.”  Patrick shrugged.  He looked a little dazed, like a man living in a fog.

Festuscato felt certain there was magic afoot. Snakes in Ireland shouted as much. He knew his little ones were not responsible, and according to the Storyteller’s estimate, the Other Earth, the source of the magic, went out of phase with our Earth some sixty or seventy years ago.  There should not be any natural, human magic for the next couple hundred years at least. That suggested a power, perhaps one that should have gone over to the other side, and that was not a good thought. But what power would care if Patrick moved inland?  What difference would it make to a greater or lesser spirit if the people stayed pagan or turned Christian?

“What say we all go look at your hill,” Festuscato suggested.

“I thought you might want to look,” Patrick agreed.  They walked in silence, Dibs, Bran and Gaius following.

The hill itself appeared nothing special.  It had a clearing at the top, with enough trees to shade but not enough to block the view of the distant valley.  Dibs noticed.

“With a view like this, I can understand why you might want to move inland.”

“Not a productive valley,” Bran objected. “Looks more like fields of clover on the moor.  Maybe bogs down there in places.”

“It looks to me like the great unknown,” Gaius said.

“It looks like a ripe field, ready to harvest,” Patrick said, and they stood there for a long minute before Dibs spoke again.

“Hey, where did Festuscato go?”  They had to look to find a golden-brown-haired girl going down the far side.  They might have overlooked her if she had not been wearing Festuscato’s armor. “Hey!”  Dibs yelled.  Everyone yelled and she stopped and waited for them to catch up.

“Princess,” the young woman introduced herself.  “I’m following the trail of the snakes back to their lair.  Maybe we can find out who is behind this.”

“We, we are coming with you,” Dibs insisted.

“No you must not.  Patrick, this is where you want to go.”  She paused.  She stood no small girl, being five-foot seven, but she looked up at Bran and gave him her flower-growing smile.  “And Bran. I suppose I won’t get rid of you easily. But Dibs, you need to go back and hold the boat, and Gaius, you need to get all of our things on board, including Seamus.  He is now one of our things.”

“But, if Seamus is going with us, with you, maybe I can stay here with Patrick,” Gaius looked hopeful.  The Princess looked at Patrick before she spoke.

“No.  You need to report back to Guithelm.  Do I have to change back to Festuscato to order you?  I will, even if you won’t listen.  You know, Princes is not just a pet name.”  The Princess put her hands to her hips and stared Gaius down.  Dibs commented.

“And you look like such a fun-loving girl.”

“I am,” she said, and gave Dibs a curtsey before she shouted.  “Now go away. Be off with you, you rapscallions, you scaly-wags.  We are working here.”  She bit her tongue.  She even sounded like Festuscato.

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