Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome
After 416 AD Gaul, Kairos 96
“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus, Comes Britannia, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and chief cook and bottle washer, at your service.” Festuscato bowed low and smiled. This had to work better than it did for Margueritte. She got tied and gagged.
“We don’t like Romans in our land,” the big man growled from his horse, and had a dozen men to back him up. His Latin did not sound bad, but clearly the big man did not understand most of what Festuscato said.
“I don’t blame you. I don’t like many Romans either, although I would not mind another tussle in bed with Honoria. That girl knew more like a hundred shades of gray.”
“The emperor’s sister?” One man asked and looked shocked, but Festuscato figured these Saxons did not know many Romans by name. Honoria’s name got bandied about lately, and it had something to do with the Huns.
“The very same. Ah, Bran.” Bran stepped from the woods into the small clearing where the company camped. He looked wary and fingered his belt where his big sword waited, but Festuscato remained friendly, and Bran took his cue from that. Festuscato introduced his big British friend. “Bran the Sword meet—” He could not finish the sentence and looked to the original speaker for a clue.
“Heinz,” the man said. “Chief of my village.”
“Heinz,” Festuscato repeated. “I was just about to invite Heinz and his men to join us. A hundred pounds of deer meat is more than even Luckless can eat.”
“We might just take the deer,” Heinz said. “We don’t like Brits either and don’t like strangers hunting on our land.”
“Got any gold?” One man asked. “We might not kill you if you have enough gold.”
“No one ever has enough gold,” a voice spoke from the woods before Luckless the dwarf made his appearance. “I found some spice.” He added it to the pot and totally ignored the tension in the air. “Are your friends ever going to get down off their high horses and join us for supper?”
On sight of a real, live dwarf, Heinz and his men looked hesitant.
“Heinz, chief of your village, please, you and your men join us. I want to ask you about your village, because the last two villages we found were burned and uninhabited. I hope it wasn’t Romans. I would hate to have to crucify some over eager centurion.”
Heinz got down slowly but waved to keep his men up. “You could do that?”
“As a Roman Senator and Imperial Governor, Lord Agitus can do pretty much what he wants,” Bran said. It was more than he said in days.
“Maybe you could be a ransom.” Heinz started thinking.
“Maybe,” Festuscato nodded. “But I would rather be friends and find out about the villages. Maybe I can do something about that, and that might be worth more than ransom.”
“What can you do about the Huns?” Heinz asked.
“We drove them out of Britain,” Bran said.
Festuscato paused and looked Heinz in the eye. “Threw them right off my island.”
“Your Island? Britain?” Men doubted.
Heinz quieted them. “I heard about Meglas’ humiliation. I heard Attila cut the man’s head off.”
“My island.” Festuscato nodded. “I tied him up like a pig for slaughter and sent him back, but I take no responsibility for what happened after he got back to this shore.” He took a moment to apply his sauce to the deer. “Probably poison,” he said to Bran. Bran touched it with his finger and licked it.
“Tastes okay to me,” he said.
“Me too. I’m starving,” Luckless said.
“You’re always starving,” Festuscato countered, and then paused while he watched Heinz stick out his finger to try it. Heinz clearly approved as he turned and yelled at his men to gather around. The Saxons tied off their horses and came clinking and clanging in their armor and dragged up lumber for chairs.
“Nice horses,” one man said in halting Latin as he examined the company’s horses.
“Danish,” Bran said.
“A gift from Wulfgar of the Danes,” Festuscato added. “After leaving the Eastern Empire and traveling back through the Germanies, we stopped in Copenhagen again to see how things were going before finally heading west, and he insisted.”
“I heard the Danes are beset by a terrible monster,” one man started, friendly enough, but paused when he looked at the dwarf. He thought it best not to offend.
“They were,” Luckless said. “Let me just say, the Danes were grateful.”
“Big monster, too,” Festuscato added. “So, tell me about the Huns.”
Heinz finally sat and looked hard at his three prisoners, as he imagined them to be. Then again, he was not sure what to think. “You are like a dog with a bone,” he said at last.
“I am,” Festuscato agreed. “Last time I talked to Attila, that was more than fourteen years ago, it sounded like he had big plans. What is it now, four-forty-nine, four-fifty AD? I want to know what he is doing in case I have to stop him.”
“How do you propose to stop anything Attila does?” Heinz asked.
“You are not a superstitious man, are you? Attila is a superstitious man, but you aren’t, are you?” Heinz shook his head. “Good,” Festuscato smiled and looked up a tree. “Tulip. You can come down now. These are not bad men. They are husbands and fathers and good sons concerned about their homes and families, as they should be. Miss Tulip, please come to my shoulder.” Something fluttered in the leaves before a streak of light raced to Festuscato’s shoulder to hide in his hair.
“I am asking,” Heinz said, as he and several of his men tried to get a glimpse of what it was.
“A bird?” one man wondered.
Tulip stuck her little face out from Festuscato’s red strands and shouted. “I am not a bird.” She disappeared again and tickled Festuscato’s ear.
“What? Oh. She says if you try to hurt any of us she will get her big brother to beat you up.” Festuscato smiled and reached over to give Heinz a friendly pat on the shoulder.
Heinz laughed. “Never fear, Miss Tulip? I mean your friends no harm.” Most of the men were smiling by then, but it all stopped when they heard a voice in the distance.
“Yahoo! Wait until you see what I found.” Gregor one eye came riding up pulling a mule with two kegs of ale balanced over its back. Gregor paused when he saw they had company, and Heinz and his men stood and stared until Heinz spoke.
“Heinz, isn’t it? You are all grown up. After all these years, I can see I have some catching up to do.”
“Lord Agitus. Are these young boys bothering you?” Wait.” Gregor got down from his horse and stopped a few feet from the fire. “Where is my little lady?”
“Hiding,” Festuscato said, and at the same time Tulip stuck her head out and gave Gregor the raspberries. That set Gregor to laughing, and he slapped one of the Saxons hard on the shoulder. The man had to catch himself to keep from falling. He resumed his seat with a look of pain on his face and rubbed his shoulder.
Luckless walked to the mule and interrupted. “Human ale. It’s better than piss water, but not by much.”
Bran finally asked. “Lord Gregor?”
Gregor sat by the fire. “I went back to check out something in that last village we came through. I was right. The mule and the ale were just a bonus.”
“Right about what?” Tulip could be heard if not seen.
“Well, little lady, there was the mark of one of Attila’s sons left as a warning for others to find. What game is Attila playing?”
“That is what I keep asking,” Festuscato admitted, and he stared at Heinz who appeared uncomfortable with the turn of events. He sat and opened up.
“The talk is of war, and the Huns want to force all the Germans to fight for them. They have cowed some of the tribes, but some are holding out. I think they plan to invade Gaul. They have it on good authority that General Aetius is in Italy and the one he left in charge in Gaul has just three legions available, and maybe half that in Auxiliary troops. That is about twenty thousand men. Attila can bring thirty thousand men by himself, maybe more, and if they can get that many Germans from the various tribes, they can go into the province with perhaps three times the Roman numbers. But many of us are resisting.”
“My son?” Gregor asked.
Silence followed, for a moment, before Heinz pleaded. “Forgive us, Lord. Your son is a prisoner of Attila, a hostage, but when he was taken, he ordered us to resist, and we have resisted, though it has cost us in our homes.”
“Lord Agitus?” Gregor did not hesitate to turn to Festuscato.
“Well, we will just have to get him back. Tulip?”
“Maywood is my uncle and a king not far from here,” she said.
“There are two things we need to do right away,” Festuscato said. “Maywood.” He called in the right way, and the fairy king appeared out of thin air. After a second to get his bearings, he approached Tulip and bowed in mid-air to Festuscato.
“Lord,” he said.
“Maywood. I do not want you to put any of your people in danger. We just need information. If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you would send out fliers to all of the Hun camps. Anything they overhear about war objectives and Gaul would be helpful, but mostly I would like to know where Lord Gregor’s son is being held prisoner. After that, I may need you and yours to carry some messages for me, to Thorismund, to some of the tribes that I know are not friends with the Huns, like the Samartians and Scythians, the Alans and so on, and Aldrien in Amorica. I assume he is king now.”
“Aldrien passed away after ruling for twelve years,” Maywood said. “His son, Budic is king now for these last two years.”
“Time has gotten away from me,” Festuscato admitted, and added quickly. “That means fourteen years ago I was a brash youth who confronted the old king and took his younger brother on an adventure to Britannia. Fourteen years.” He repeated and shook his head until Tulip tugged on his hair and protested.
“And fifteen years since I have been in Saxony,” Gregor mused.
“Only about ten since you found me in Wales,” Luckless said as he struggled to open one keg. “Most of that has been spent here, on the continent though, among the Jutes and Danes, Goths of all sorts and Germans of more types than can be counted.”
“You forgot all the different Iranian types and the Slavs,” Bran noted. “And I was thinking when we left the Holy Land to return to the west, we might get back to civilized lands soon.”
“What is the second thing?” Heinz asked. “You said there are two things we need to do right away.”
“Enjoy this venison, the veggie pot and the ale. We can’t make good plans on an empty stomach.”
“Ha!” Gregor agreed.