Two days later, Festuscato, Heinz, Bran and Tulip sat on the edge of a short cliff, looking down on three Hun scouts who were camped in the valley. They appeared to be taking only minimal precautions against being found. Either they thought they were in Hun land, or they thought Saxony was well under their thumb, or both. Yet they were scouts, so they were looking for something.
“They are too close to the village,” Heinz whispered. “If we take them here and men come to look for them, they will surely find us.”
Festuscato grinned. Heinz had started learning. Sadly, not everyone did.
“There are other men down there,” Tulip said, quietly, and pointed, not that anyone could follow her little finger.
“Morons,” Bran used Festuscato’s word.
“Hey. No.” Heinz tried to stand and shout, but Festuscato put his hand over the man’s mouth and they waited. Six Saxons surprised three Huns and the final score was Saxons three, Huns two, though when Greta examined one of the Saxons back in the main camp, she pronounced the score three to three. The man did not live two days.
“And that was taking them by surprise,” Festuscato said calmly.
“You idiots.” Heinz did not sound so calm. “Now when the Huns send out a whole troop to look for them, how will we avoid being found?”
“Morons,” Bran repeated.
“I like that word,” Festuscato said.
“Morons,” Heinz repeated. “And I don’t even know what it means, but you are it.”
They got the Hun camp cleaned up and brought the bodies in with the horses and all the equipment. Festuscato had an idea, but he waited until Gregor got back that evening. Gregor came in smiling, his whole troop intact. Luckless got down and spoke first.
“Didn’t hardly need to sniff out the boy,” he said.
“We caught them unprepared,” Gregor boasted. “The terrors of the wilderness, and we caught them flat footed. Let me tell you, it was fierce.”
A young man stepped up. “I went to relieve myself at the edge of the camp. There were only two guards.”
“We snatched him up and ran,” Luckless finished the story.
Gregor stared at the two with his one eye and made an expression like they were no fun. “But it was fierce running,” he said.
“Okay! Listen up! Here’s the plan.” Festuscato got everyone’s attention, and after two days of fairies and miracles, the Saxons learned to listen, even if he was a Roman. “Gregor. You need to leave Egbert in charge here so you can go with us.”
“Etheldrood,” Etheldrood corrected.
“But I like Egbert,” Gregor said with a laugh.
“Etheldrood. You need to take these people to the new site. We know the Huns have scouted all in that area, so you should be safe for a time. You need to get word to all the other people, the ones in hiding and the ones still at home. Don’t trust anyone with your location but tell them to be ready to turn out when the Huns pull out to go to war. I’m guessing a year. Tell them they will also be going to war and joining Roman and other allies to kill the Huns. Anybody want to kill some Huns?”
“Yea. Aye. Aye.” At least some of the men were ready.
“Heinz. You know what to do with the bodies. Are you up for it?”
“I will do my best for my king,” he said. “Even though it cost me my life.”
“Not me,” Gregor said. “I’m retired. I would move to Florida if I knew where that was. Lord Agitus says it is a warm, sandy beach and has scantily clad women who bring you drinks while you relax in the sun. Sounds to me like that place, Heaven, that those Christians talk about.”
“Retired?” Etheldrood got stuck on the word.
“It means you get to be king with all the headaches now and I get to go play and have fun.” Gregor said more quietly, and Etheldrood thought that was still strange. “It’s the least you could do for your old man.”
“All right,” Festuscato took back the conversation. “So Etheldrood, you know what to do. Make sure they are ready when the call comes. And Heinz, you have your assignment.”
“And what will you be doing?” Heinz asked.
“Gregor, Bran, Luckless, Tulip and I will be talking to Merovech, King of the Salian Franks about that alliance, and if the Ripuarian Franks want to join with us in going after the Huns,” Festuscato shrugged.
“You are a scoundrel,” Heinz said.
“He doesn’t like to leave things to chance,” Gregor said and poked his son in the chest with a big finger. “A trait you would do well to learn.”
“Every little bit helps,” Tulip gave it a positive spin.
“He doesn’t start the trouble,” Luckless chimed in. “But he is good at ending it.”
“Cad,” Festuscato said, and when Bran looked at him, he said, “I’m a cad, not a scoundrel.” Bran nodded.
Two days later, Heinz of the Saxons with four men rode somberly into the Hun camp. They had three dead Huns on their horses, and the Huns were not pleased to see them.
“What is this? What is this?” Dengizic, Attila’s second son came racing out of his tent while the Huns grabbed and threatened the Saxons.
“We found them and thought you might like them back. A kindness,” Heinz said. Dengizic took a moment before he waved off the men who were holding the Saxons. Those men only backed up one step.
“What happened?” Dengizic asked.
“Ripuarian Franks. They crossed the river in the night and attacked us, looking for easy loot. I guess they heard we were hiding from the terrible Huns and they figured we took our loot with us.” Heinz grinned a very Festuscato grin. “They must have found your men. They carried off their dead and wounded from the attack so as not to leave evidence, but they had to be the same Franks who attacked us.”
“So, you bring them here with this tale and think we will believe you?”
“With this message. Not everyone supports Etheldrood. There are many of us who hate the Romans and are willing to fight, but you need to give us time to convince Etheldrood or remove him.”
Dengizic would have to think about that. He considered his dead men. “Thank you for returning our men. You will have some time, I think. We will be busy for a time paying the Franks a visit.”
Heinz nodded. “I am Heinz. I will see you again,” he said, and he and his men mounted, rode out, and tried hard to keep their horses at a steady pace and not look like they were running away, because, as Festuscato said, the dog will not attack until you turn your back to run.
Festuscato rode into the city of Tournai, the capital of the Salian Franks with all eyes watching him. Luckless the dwarf could be seen as a short man with too much beard. Gregor the Saxon looked like a Saxon, and while he might have gotten mixed reviews from the people, he was not an uncommon sight. Bran the Sword, also not an unusual sight, apart from his size. The Salian Franks had a good trade with Britain. But Festuscato not only looked like a Roman, he looked like a rich Roman, and whenever such a man showed up it inevitably meant trouble and annoyance for the people. When Tulip abandoned the horse’s mane to hide in Festuscato’s hair and sit on his shoulder, the people looked twice.
“Here we are. Home at last,” Festuscato shouted when he came to a tavern and got down from his horse. “The Dragon Inn.” Festuscato read the sign and added, “Go out in the street and drag ‘em in.” No one understood a word since he said that in twenty-first century English, but they joined him on his feet. “Tie them off and let’s see if the ale is dragon strong.”
“Gotta be better than the last place,” Gregor said, and nodded when Luckless added his note.
“About time you got here,” someone spoke from the porch. Festuscato took a close look before he shouted.
“Felix. What brings you here? You are about the last person I expected to see. Still trading in wool and silk?”
“No, no. I own this place.”
“Hope the ale is better than the last place,” Gregor said.
“Piss water,” Luckless added.
Bran followed them in but Festuscato turned to his childhood friend. “So, any word from Father Gaius or Dibs? I seem to recall telling them I would meet them here. I suppose I’ve taken longer than planned.”
“About nine years longer,” Felix said, before he amended his statement. “Make that ten years. Anyway, a bit more than the three years you said.” Felix grinned, like he had several jokes prepared, but an interruption came bursting out the door. Father Gaius grabbed Festuscato in a big hug and Festuscato responded with a serious face and a word.
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”
“I look forward to hearing all about it,” Gaius said, and he and Felix brought Festuscato into the inn.
“Lord Agitus,” Luckless spoke right up. “Dibs is apparently with his troop down around Soissons.”
“Where is Tulip?”
Bran pointed up while Gregor spoke. “Can’t get the little lady to come down from the rafters.”
Festuscato sat and thought about it while Felix brought a mug of ale. He tried it and protested. “Felix. This is good. I know there is no way you made it, Roman that you are.”
“Murgen’s recipe,” Felix confessed. “The Brit has his brewery out back, and in case you forgot, most of my neighbors back home were Brits as well.”
“True,” Gaius agreed.
“So, what is the next step?” Gregor sounded impatient, but not complaining. He may have been uncomfortable being the lone Saxon in the midst of all the Franks. Then again, Festuscato was not sure that was right because he could not remember ever seeing Gregor uncomfortable. Festuscato nodded.
“All right,” he said, and thought a second. “We find Merovech, king of the Salian Franks”
“That’s easy. He went with Dibs to Soissons to meet with the new Magister Millitum, Aegidius,” Felix said.
“Now wait. I know that name.” Festuscato was still thinking. “Wasn’t Aegidius General Aetius’ aid de camp?”
“He was,” Gaius confirmed. “But what of it?”
“I have to write some letters. Too bad Seamus isn’t around. He always had parchment and ink handy.”
“Thorismund of the Visigoths, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans down in Orleans. You remember him from our time there. Let’s see. Aetius in Italy, and I guess Aegidius in Soissons or Paris or wherever he ends up. Then I need to write to Merovech and his brothers, wherever they are. We need to gather what men we can, and then the hard part will be holding them back until the opportune time. When Attila is ready, he will strike hard and fast and cities are going to burn, maybe this city. We need to gather, to be ready to strike when the time is right and not spread ourselves out trying to defend every city. If we spread out like that, Attila will have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
“That will be hard for the Franks,” Gregor said. “They are not known for patience. They will defend their crops and homes, and you won’t be able to stop them.”
“They will get themselves killed and not stop the Huns,” Bran decided.
“We will see,” Festuscato said. “A lot will depend on the Visigoths and Aetius and what they come up with and are willing to risk. I can see Theodoric sticking to his own border and maybe trying to buy off Attila. That would be like trying to buy off a lion with a steak. The steak, once eaten, might just whet the lion’s appetite.”