After the days of waiting, when both Vandals and Romans had been instructed about the terms of the agreement, the gates of Rome opened, and the invading army entered the city. It took all day to bring the Vandals inside and set their living accommodations for the next two weeks. Some tents were set up in various squares and open spaces around the city. Many more families were displaced so the soldiers could stay in people’s homes. Most of those families sought shelter in the churches of Saint Peter, Saint Johns, Saint Paul, and others.
When the army came in, Festuscato prepared to slip his small troop out of the gate to the Appian Way. He took Empress Licinia Eudoxia, and her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia, and disguised them as soldiers, complete with dragon tunics. They could ride well enough, so that was not a problem.
“We will know in two weeks if Geiseric keeps the agreement or not,” Festuscato said. The empress agreed, but looked away, a sad expression on her face.
“I know Valentinian set this up,” she said. “Eudocia is willing, even if it means marrying a barbarian. It was her father’s wish. Besides, she will be queen one day, and I have tried to raise her to do right.”
“Why are you fretting?
“It’s just, Africa is so far away. I hear they have wild men there, and barbarians rule the city. I fear for our safety in such a barbaric and strange place.”
“Hush,” Festuscato said. “When your father sent you to Rome to marry Valentinian, a stranger to you, in a strange land, you found the courage, and held your face up high, even in front of Valentinian’s mother.”
“Not very high in front of her,” the empress admitted. “That would not have been wise.”
“Mother-in-law.” Festuscato grinned. “But Carthage is not that different from Rome. Geiseric did not burn the city when he took it. He wanted to rule there, not ruin the city. It is full of Romans and a very Roman city. Why, it is one of the five greatest cities in all of Roman lands.”
“Five?” the empress asked.
“Rome and Constantinople are obvious,” Festuscato responded. “But Carthage and Alexandria in Egypt are close seconds.” He handed the Empress his handkerchief. She wept softly and wiped her eyes.
“And the fifth?”
“Jerusalem,” Festuscato admitted. “Though when I visited there, it was hardly a village. But the history…”
The empress nodded. She blew her nose and put on her smile. She kept a brave front for Eudocia and Placidia. Eudocia turned seventeen and well understood her part in the play. Placidia just turned thirteen and found it all exciting because everything was exciting at thirteen. “We should join the others.”
“Wait.” Festuscato said and had to frame his thoughts. He chided himself. His glib and loose tongue used to rattle things off without having to think first. “You and Eudocia are facing a secure future. Placidia is only facing uncertainty. Eudocia’s charm and beauty will serve her well. I have no doubt you will find a good place in Carthage and Geiseric’s court. But Placidia, though bright, is a bit of a tomboy, neither graceful nor beautiful. Her future in that environment will be risky and questionable.”
“What are you suggesting?”
Festuscato took a deep breath. “I could keep her here. She would be safe, and when she is of age, I can marry her to a good family. I know a few where she will be both safe and happy.”
The empress stood and changed the subject. “Would you consider taking the throne in the west?”
“Not me. Not ever. I hate politics.”
The empress nodded. “You are as wise as I always imagined you to be.” She went to join her daughters and Festuscato noticed she did not say no.
Godamer, Hawdic, and their three-fifty arrived outside the manor house and paused. The house appeared to have been fortified, though they saw no men manning the fortifications. All the same, Godamer thought to be careful even as he said, “This is the house.”
“We passed several wealthy houses to get here,” Hawdic said. “Why this house?”
“While you spent the last two days, fretting, I checked with some of the locals,” Godamer answered, and sent several men up in the orange trees that lined the road to see what they could see. “This is the house of Senator Agitus, reported to be one of the richest, if not the richest man in Rome. The man owns land all over Italy, and all that wealth comes here.” Hawdic did not respond, but he grinned and nodded.
“I see movement,” one man shouted down.
“I don’t see any people manning the walls,” another added, so the first man shouted down a suggestion.
“Maybe it is just chickens, or farm animals let loose. The people may have headed to the hills.”
Godamer growled. Maybe they took all their gold and silver into the hills with them. He had not thought of that.
“Maybe they escaped with their treasure,” Hawdic said it out loud. Godamer hit him. Hawdic thinking was not something to be encouraged.
“Let’s see,” Godamer said. He waved for the nearest group. Fifty men began to move slowly up the slight rise toward the house, wary of the newly constructed walls, even if they could not see any men at those walls. They got about half-way there. Suddenly men popped up from behind those walls and let loose dozens of arrows. The archers were amazingly accurate. Godamer’s men turned and ran back to the road, but only about half made it. The front yard of the house became littered with bodies, few of which lived long enough to moan and cry out.
Godamer would need to plan this out. “At least we know the people are still there,” he said.
“That means maybe the gold is still there,” Hawdic said, hopefully.
“Damn,” Meg said. She did not plan on the house being protected by the little spirits of the earth. They could be a problem. She dared not fully manifest.
Upstairs, Morgan gave her half-sister a hug. Macy was a half elf, married to the fairy, Ironwood. She was an excellent archer, but she did not like killing. She shot one arrow from their second-story window and probably killed the man. Now, she wanted to cry. Ironwood flew up, got big and took over the comforting role. Megan turned immediately to her elf handmaid.
“Sibelius, your thoughts?”
Sibelius lowered her own bow. “We may have to consider plan B. We should probably go downstairs, collect our parcels, and get ready to run the planned route to the tenant houses. From there, we can get lost in the woods and make for the hills to join the others already there.”
“I don’t like giving up my home so easily,” Morgan said.
“I count roughly three hundred Barbarians in the road. If their commander doesn’t care about his losses, a concerted charge could overrun the house in no time.”
“Compromise,” Morgan decided. “We will go downstairs and get our things but stay by the front windows to watch. We won’t run, unless we have to.”
“Lady,” Sibelius wanted to protest. “In your condition, you should get a head start on the running.”
Morgan did not answer her.