Shortly, a new target got brought into the room and a Jute stood up with two spears in hand.
Gregor leapt at the chance. “Gods I love this,” he said. He really enjoyed the sport, like a football addict with seats on the fifty-yard line.
The man holding the spears looked at his king as if wondering if it would really be fair to contest with a one-eyed man. The king merely sat back, shrugged and nibbled on a piece of fat from the deer set before him.
The Jute went first, and like the huntsman, he made a fair throw that landed in the target, not on, but near the center. Gregor picked up the other spear and examined it as if he was not sure how to hold it. He fingered the point and winced as if it felt really sharp. “Forgive an old man.” He said, luckless translating for him. “With one eye my aim isn’t what it used to be.” He waggled the spear like practice throws all around the room. Men ducked for their lives until he lost it. He started laughing, loud, and some joined his laughter when they realized he was just having fun, until he suddenly turned deadly serious. He bellowed a Saxon war cry and heaved the spear toward the target. It hit dead center and split the target in two where the boards had been fitted together. The rest of the target splintered and fell apart, and Gregor started to laugh again, paused on his return to the table to slap a Jute hard on the back.
King Hroden who had sat straight up and stopped chewing, squinted at the end of the room. “Can’t tell where it hit, exactly. Another draw,” he decided. Again, Festuscato did not argue, but the Swede began to laugh, embarrassingly for the king.
“No magic.” The king reminded the contestants of the rule.
Luckless looked at his opponent. “Won’t need any,” he announced. He threw first, and his throw proved as perfect as the arrows of Mirowen and Gregor’s spear. The axe man of the Jutes just stared for a minute, and then angrily hit the dwarf on the head with the butt of his axe. Luckless went down.
Festuscato leapt out of his seat and over the table before most people knew what happened. He reached out to the second heaven and called to his armor, cloak, helmet, sword and long knife and he became instantly clothed as one ready for war. The sword called Fate jumped to his hand, and he slid on his knees to Luckless’ side. Mirowen stood on the table, another arrow at the ready.
Everyone in the room came to their feet, and two angry looking Jutes stepped forward to defend their Axe man, but discovered nothing they could do about Mousden.
Mousden flew around the axe man fifteen or twenty times before the axe man could turn a quarter turn. But Mousden just built up steam. In the next moment, the axe man rose a few inches off the ground and started spinning uncontrollably to the point of throwing up, carried along by his own little tornado. He slammed into the wall, hard, and slid to a seat, unable to hold anything in his stomach.
The other two men came at Festuscato and the dwarf, but the first hit a wet spot and slipped, his arms flailed in the air as he fell back and banged his head, hard on the edge of the table. It would have killed him, surely, if his head had not been harder than the wood.
“Perpetual!” Gregor’s gleeful voice rang out from behind.
The last angry Jute drew his sword as Luckless shook his head and came back to his senses. Most men backed up. Festuscato grabbed Fate’s hilt with both hands and when the two swords met, though the Jute’s sword looked much bigger and meaner, it shattered like a piece of rotten wood against a grinder. Festuscato then stood and slapped Fate sharply against the stunned Jute’s shoulders. Immediately, the Jute’s chain and leather harness slipped to the floor and Festuscato pressed Fate hard against the Jute’s nearly naked heart. The Jute looked to his king to plead for his life, and the king responded.
“Halt,” he shouted, nodded to Mirowen slightly before she got tempted to shoot one of those illusion arrows at one of his people. “I told the Roman we have no quarrel with Rome. That goes for his people, too. Is that understood?” He did not really ask. “Roman, you are my honored guest.” The king pointed to the seat beside himself. “And I have a proposition.”
Festuscato sheathed his sword and with everyone watching, brought his comfortable clothes back from the second heavens and sent his war suit home. He deliberately took his time returning to sit between Mirowen and the king.
“Neat trick, that,” the king said. “Though I would have gotten a better look at that sword of yours.”
“A gift of the gods,” Festuscato said. That was all he intended to say.
“Made by the gods?” He got that much. “And how did you come by it?” he asked.
“It was a going away present,” Festuscato said. “I’ve had it for about four hundred and some seventy years.”
Hroden looked serious, but only for a minute. He decided Festuscato was joking and had a good laugh. “You are everything friend Ingut declared you to be,” he said. “And I think there is something I would discuss.”
Festuscato became all ears, but both his and the king’s eyes were where the gold had been. The king looked away, thinking someone had snitched it in the confusion. Festuscato felt pretty sure Mousden had taken it back, or at least that the Pixie would get it back.
“It is the monster,” King Hroden said, to get his guest’s attention. After all, the Roman won the competition fairly, even if it was one point to none. “Grendel is the name, and he has been like a plague on the Danes for these past twelve years. The ranks of their brave and strong have been decimated by the beast who they say is stronger than ten men and who cannot be cut by any blade forged by men.”
Festuscato nodded. The sword of the gods had not been made by men, but he decided for the moment to just listen.
The king downed his drink, but when he heard no response, he continued. “You live with monsters, begging the good Lady’s pardon, eh?”
“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, quietly.
“Still, I have a feeling about you. You know about these things. I can tell. If anyone can help the hapless Danes, I believe you and your strange crew can do it.”
Festuscato finished his own drink and turned to stare. “And why would you worry about the poor Danes?” he asked, flatly.
King Hroden slammed his open hand on the table. “Because they are weak.” He shouted and got some attention from the room. “Surely you, a Roman, understand that. Isn’t that the Roman way?”
“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, still flat in his voice. “Rome understands when her enemies are weak, but she always finds an ally, a local people who have a grudge against the weak ones and Rome moves in to help. Once the help is given and the weak one is easily overwhelmed, Rome never moves out, and the result is invariably two kingdoms for the price of one. This is the way empires are built.”
King Hroden looked grim for a minute and then laughed. “And here is Olaf, the Swede.” He announced before he suddenly lost his laugh and turned his grim look on the hapless Swede, who shrunk in his chair.
“I will go south,” Festuscato announced to regain the king’s attention. “For a comfortable stay for me and my people this evening and good care taken of my horses. If in the morning, we are well fed and well rested, I will go.”
“Good, good.” King Hroden said. He put his hand on Festuscato’s shoulder.
“Of course, after Ingut’s daughter, it will be rather hard to sleep without some distraction,” Festuscato added.
“What? You?” He looked at the shipbuilder who was fortunately just out of earshot, and back again at the Roman before he laughed at last, like Gregor, while Mirowen’s pointed ears turned deep red.
The the Hall of Heorot. Ingut the shipbuilder gets roped in for further duty, to guide the Roman and his crew to hall of the king of the Danes, where the monster haunts the night. Until Monday, Happy Reading.