Festuscato called a halt to their progress before they reached the first house.
“Lord?” Mousden asked as he flitted back and forth between the trees.
“I was thinking,” he said. “It is one thing to parade through the halls of a king, but quite another to have you traipsing through the countryside with the plain folk of this world. A party like ours is bound to attract a lot of attention.”
“This is a bad thing?” Gregor asked with a smile.
Festuscato nodded. “The sightings of little ones is becoming a rare and special event, something relegated to the ancient days.”
“And that is how it should be,” Bran spoke up
“Indeed,” Seamus added. “Rare enough that I hardly know what to put in the journal. Who would believe me?”
“Mousden, get big,” Festuscato commanded.
Mousden looked clearly reluctant. He flew in a circle before he settled down and landed beside the horses. He did not look at his Lord, but took a deep breath and changed. His wings vanished and he stood around three feet tall, his mottled skin turned into a ruddy complexion, with a few freckles. For all practical purposes, he looked like a nine or ten-year-old boy, and he growled when Gregor laughed and let down a hand to take him on as a passenger.
Mirowen did not need to be told. She effected glamour to make herself appear like a mortal woman and Luckless as a more ordinary little person, and in this way, they would walk among the people of the land, still a strange enough group, but not one beyond the pale. Ingut said nothing while they took on their disguises, but when they were set, he led them into the village.
All day, they had traveled the inland road, which Ingut said would be faster. It was not faster, of course, but everyone knew he wanted to keep Festuscato away from his daughter, Inga. Festuscato felt sorry about that. That young woman had a real future on the rescue squad.
In this village, there were wild, unverifiable rumors about the monster that haunted the halls of Hrothgar. Some thought it was the ghost of a man seeking revenge on the house of Hrothgar, and they could name several dead men that fit the bill. Some, however, imagined it as a troll, or an ogre as Mirowen had guessed at first; but then a few thought it might be something worse, something which they would only identify with a whisper.
Festuscato stopped listening after a while. He would get no real information there, or probably in any of the places they might stop along the way. He would have to wait until they arrived to hear the truth, and maybe see with his own eyes, if he could figure out how to do so safely.
By evening, Festuscato got back to being his normal, slightly impish self. When the chief of the hall apologized profusely for not having any bard or singers to entertain his guests, Festuscato volunteered his crew to provide the entertainment, and in this way, they paid their way, so to speak, all the way to the Danish capitol.
Festuscato told the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well, Mirowen translating perfectly. It seemed a little awkward waiting for two sets of laughter, but even Luckless laughed more than once, and he had heard the story countless times. Bran twice told the story of King David cutting the tassel from King Saul’s robe, and both the Jutes, and later the Danes were very impressed with David. They judged him a king worth following. Luckless once tried to sing the dwarf work song, the song often heard in the deeps, but it sounded so strange and alien to human ears, he chose not to sing it again. Mousden, on the other hand, had a sweet tenor, and delighted the people with his rendition of the cradle song.
When they came to their first Danish village, the reception felt less warm at first, until they discovered Hrugen as one of their own. After that, their reception turned very welcoming, until they found out who Hrugen’s father was. The chief of the village became quietly angry to the point where the crew began to fear for their companion. The chief had been friends with one of Hrugen’s uncles, and he still bore a grudge against Hrugen’s father who, all these years later, remained under a cloud of suspicion of having killed both of his brothers. Though the chief had a poet and myth-teller in the hall, and a very good one, Mirowen herself stepped up that evening.
All of the eyes of the men remained on the elf, that is, the woman, wherever she went. The glamour she wore did nothing to diminish her beauty, so it became no hard thing for her to gather everyone’s attention as she stepped to the center of the room. The harp from nowhere came to her hand, and she stroked the strings like a mother might caress her child. Everyone, Dane and Britain, understood her every word without the need for translation as both the words and melodies contained great magic. She sang the tragedy of the lovers, and everyone in the hall cried, bitterly. She sang the comedy of Raven’s Fall, and everyone laughed so hard, they began to cry again from the laughter. Last, she sang the elfish lullaby so well-known and imitated, but never duplicated by the bards of the British Isles, and everyone in the hall, but Festuscato himself, fell into a deep, peaceful sleep. Without a word, Mirowen laid down on one side of Hrugen, and Festuscato laid on the other side. Thus, they slept well until morning.
With the light, they quickly went on their way to avoid any trouble. Festuscato even relaxed a little, knowing that Bran ahead, Gregor behind, and Mousden overhead kept a sharp eye out against being followed and for any signs of treachery until they were well out of that territory.
When at last they came to the sea and the edge of the city which would one day be called Copenhagen, Ingut began to make noises that he had to be going home. His job was done. He said the king would expect his ship and payment was not yet due. He said he should not enter the city because there was still a year and a day before the agreement concluded. At last, he pointed to a gate, instructed Mirowen in some way, and wheeled around and rode off at some speed.
“I wonder what’s the matter with him?” Festuscato mused out loud.
Mousden, who had been agitated during the whole journey, and not simply for being made to get big, chose that moment to finally speak what was on his mind. “Do the words “bite sized pieces” mean anything to you?” he shouted.
Festuscato laughed. “I did not say we were going to stay. Just have a look.” Of course, he had every intention of staying. He had read the book several times in the future, and if things worked out, he should be seeing the young Beowulf within the week.
“Halt.” They were stopped at the gate. “What business have you in the city of the Danes?” The guard at the gate looked sharp enough. Festuscato responded in a straightforward way.
“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Rome,” he said and let Mirowen translate. “And these are my traveling companions. Gregor One-eye of the Saxons, Bran the Sword of Britannia, Seamus the Cleric from Eire’s emerald shore, Luckless the Tinker of Wales, young Mousden of Cornwall in the West, the Lady Mirowen from the heather highlands, and Hrugen the Dane, son of Unferth. As a member of the Imperial Senate of Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, I have come to pay my respects to your king.”
With that little speech, the guard at the gate no longer looked as sharp. It seemed as if he had some difficulty trying to make all of that information fit inside his brain. Fortunately, a well-dressed gentleman stepped out of the guard house and he appeared to have no such difficulty. He ate a piece of fruit, and took a moment to look carefully at everyone.
“I am Aschere, counselor to king Hrothgar.” The man said, in very imperfect Latin. “We have been expecting you. Indeed, I have been waiting all morning. Where is Ingut?”
“He mumbled something about the ship not being ready yet and left.” Festuscato said in all honesty, not even attempting to disguise his thoughts.
The normally stoic Bran got blatant about it. “Coward,” he said. Gregor chuckled.
Aschere shared the chuckle. “Yes, he is,” he said. “But I take it you are not.” Bran shrugged ever so slightly. Festuscato could see Gregor was dying to say something, but his Latin was not nearly good enough. Then all eyes turned as two men rode up quickly to the gate. They dismounted, and Festuscato took the cue, dismounting himself, and his crew followed his lead.