Aschere’s thin lips curled a little. “Wulfgar.” He introduced the man who was every bit as big as Bran. “The king’s herald.” He gave the title.
“Mirowen.” Festuscato said, and she stepped to the fore and in perfect Danish, introduced the group. Wulfgar took it all in and only asked one question before he signaled them to follow. Soldiers kept their horses.
The walk to the Hall of Heorot proved not far from that gate. Indeed, the hall did not appear to be far from any gate, as it dominated the city more like a palace than a simple hall such as they found in the countryside. They were told to wait in the entrance-way while Wulfgar went in alone. They did not wait long, before the double doors swung open and they were invited to an audience with the king. Mirowen stayed close to Festuscato’s ear and only just told him Wulfgar’s comment by the gate.
“He said he hoped Hrugen and his father might become reconciled, but he doubted it.”
“Come.” The clear, but old voice rang out from the podium. “Welcome. Let me see.” The man said, and he squinted hard as the crew walked within view. “Yes. I see the midget and the boy. Yes, she is a remarkable beauty, isn’t she?” Several voices quietly agreed while the king went on. “I am Hrothgar, king of the Danes. What brings you to my hall?” He got direct.
Festuscato bowed. “We are admittedly a strange crew, but we were bound for the Germanic shore when a terrible storm arose. Our ship was wrecked off the shore near the place of Ingut the shipwright. He sheltered us and guided us to this place, and told us of the great generosity of the king and how he does good for strangers and wayfarers in the land”
“Those belly boats of the British are useless on the real sea,” Wulfgar interrupted. “You were bound to wreck.”
“No, it was taking the woman on the ship.” Another man spoke up. “There’s a real curse for you.”
Festuscato merely smiled. “Would you leave her behind?” he asked, knowing all eyes were on her. Mirowen’s ears turned red as she translated the words, and purple when, after a pause to consider and some little laughter, the man conceded the point.
“And the boy?” The king asked, staring like he saw something more than the boy.
“My cabin boy.” Festuscato designated him with a title unfamiliar to that day and age. “A whiz with numbers. Better than a dwarf. The keeper of my accounts and something like a son to me.”
“Aw. What do you know,” a man said, rudely, and staggered to his feet. “Who are these fools? I thought we were done with the days of fools daring to face the Grendel. I get tired of hearing screams in the night. A man can’t sleep. Say, who are you?” The rudeness of the man at the very feet of the king startled Festuscato a little. He had been raised, thanks to Mirowen, to maintain proper respect wherever and whenever possible, but the king said nothing. He had his head in his hand as if struggling against a terrible headache. Wulfgar looked disgusted with the man, but said nothing. Aschere appeared ready to explain, but gave way when Mirowen took a half step forward. She repeated the introductions given at the gate, word for word, until she mentioned Hrugen, son of Unferth and the man’s eyes grew wide and turned wild.
“Hrugen?” The man shouted and struggled mightily against the alcohol that flowed so liberally through his veins. “That no good, runaway, coward.” He reached the table and found a sword which he pulled and spun around almost too fast. “Where is he?”
Hrugen stood in the back, trembling for fear of the moment.
“Now, Unferth,” Wulfgar stepped between the drunk and the crew, but Aschere pulled him back. He wanted to see what would happen. No other man in the hall moved, and even the king seemed transfixed by the scene, alternately squinting and rubbing his eyes.
“Boy!” Unferth shouted again and brandished his sword. “Did you come home with a wife to care for me in my age? Did you bring children? Did you get gold? Treasure? I better not find you an empty-handed loser!”
Unferth struggled to focus himself and could not seem to find his son who stayed mostly hidden behind Gregor and Bran.
“He brought something more precious than all of those things,” Festuscato spoke and gained the man’s attention with Mirowen practically shouting the translation.
“What! What?” Unferth said.
“Friends.” Seamus responded and Festuscato took a step toward the drunk who unknowingly took a step back from the confrontation. Gregor smiled and stepped forward with Bran beside him. Seamus pocketed his quill for once and joined them, though the cleric proved rather useless in a fight. Luckless came up. No one noticed where he got his axe, but they all noticed how well he cradled it in his arms. With a little judicious staring, Unferth dropped his sword which clattered to the ground, but then, in a moment of stubbornness, he pushed forward.
“My son,” he said and squeezed between Festuscato and the Saxon who did not stop him, now that he went unarmed.
Hrugen did not tremble anymore. He looked at his father, and the man looked back at him.
“Loser.” Unferth said and raised his hand to strike his son, but Hrugen shoved him and the man fell to the floor.
“Drunk,” he said. “Sober up if you want to talk to me, otherwise I have nothing to say to you.” Hrugen stepped to a table on the opposite side of the room from where his father drank, and he sat, and after a moment, all but Mirowen and Festuscato joined him.
“No.” The king pushed away some tonic that a young man tried to force on him. The king knocked the drink with his hand, though accidentally due to his eyesight. “I have had enough of treatments and medicines,” he said, while the cup fell to the ground and spilled its’ contents. “Ragnard, get back to the kitchen,” he commanded the young man, who looked embarrassed, like all in the hall were watching him, and laughing, while he retrieved the fallen cup and retreated from the hall.
“Now dear. You must take your remedy.” An elderly woman spoke from a back door as she entered the room.
“Queen Wealtheow,” Wulfgar announced, and every man in the room stood briefly to pay their respects. The old woman walked up beside the king and leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but she did not actually touch her husband except with the sentiment as he waved her off and grumbled. Then he raised his head to look at the Roman.
“Have you come to try your luck against the monster?” he asked outright.
“Gods forbid!” Mousden squeaked from the table, and not too quietly. A few men laughed lightly.
“We have only just heard of the plague on your magnificent hall,” Festuscato said. “If it was in my power. I will do all that I can, but alas, my ragtag crew would hardly be a match for this beast as I have heard tell of him.”
“Cowards, all.” Unferth said, having resumed his seat and his drink.
“On the contrary,” Festuscato responded. “Rome has always been practical about such matters. Rushing headlong with promises is folly, and I am no fool. I will wait until the opportune moment, until the time is ripe.”
“Wisely spoken,” the queen said, and Festuscato nodded his head as a slight bow to her well-aged beauty.
Festuscato and his crew figure out what it is, and have an encounter with the monster. Until then, Happy Reading’