Festuscato stayed in his prison cell for a month, waiting for Merovech to return from Soissons. Gaius came to visit every day. Childeric came almost every day, often with Gaius. Luckless took up with a nearby dwarf clan so he was not around much. Tulip and Waterborn were in love, so also no help whatsoever. Tulip and Waterborn visited now and then, but their minds were far, far away, in love, and young fairies, meaning less than five hundred years old or so, have a hard time staying focused as it is. To a human, it might have appeared like a whirlwind romance, but for fairies that was often the way it worked. The fairy world never made the horrible mess of love and relationships we humans made.
Fortunately, the young male fairies Ironwood and Clover, and the young female fee, Heather, were a great help and company. They often entertained Childeric when Festuscato and Father Gaius went into confession mode, and Festuscato had a lot to confess. But Festuscato had to keep one eye open during his confessions because Heather in her big form appeared to be about seventeen, and beautiful, as all fairies are, and he feared it might be too much for Childeric at almost fifteen, hormones raging as they undoubtedly were.
Gregor and Bran settled in at Felix’ place, and Dibs fit himself right in when he and his troop of thirty men, all sporting their dragon tunics, returned from the meeting with Aegidius, the new Magister Millitum of northern Gaul, which is to say, the chief General of the Roman province in the north. It looked for a while like Merovech, the king of the Salian Franks might settle in Cambrai for the winter, but come mid-November, when the last of the harvest came in, he returned to Tournai with some serious questions for his guest.
“Aegidius says I should keep you locked up and throw away the key,” Merovech said.
“I was not aware that cliché started this far in the past,” Festuscato mumbled before he spoke up. “But to the point, why? I am no threat to you. I am only here to help you.”
“That is what I am afraid of. We have had our fill of Roman help, all my life. My father got tired of it and rebelled. He got killed by Romans, not that many years ago. So why should I trust you?”
“You don’t have to trust me. You just have to prepare your men for the Hun hurricane. Attila has brought his victorious armies up from the border of the eastern empire and is even now preparing to explode on to the western stage. My spies tell me he intends to overrun Gaul, and don’t think he will let the Franks be at his back. I suspect he will take you down first before he ever meets a single Roman in battle.”
“But what evidence do you have? Only the word of these dragon flies.”
Festuscato smiled. “That is very good. The dragon and the fairies.”
Merovech grinned at his own wit, then he left Festuscato where he was, in jail.
Six weeks later, around the new year, word came that the Huns laid siege around Strasbourg. Merovech returned to hear what Festuscato had to say, or maybe to gloat.
“The Huns have entered Swabia. It is a great army, as you said. My report says ten thousand Huns and ten thousand others, Germans of all sorts, what the Romans call Auxiliary troops, like Bavarians, Goths and others. But Strasbourg is a quick route to the heart of Gaul. My men say from there he will surely fall on the Burgundians and pass us by.”
“Surely, he will not,” Festuscato responded. “I have it from Maywood, King of the fairies along the Rhine, that the Huns have a second army, the main army coming up from the south and headed right for Worms. Ellak, Attila’s eldest is leading the Huns, some fifteen thousand. Ardaric the King has ten thousand Gepids and Valamir the Ostrogoth has some ten thousand men as well. Keep in mind, these are battle tested and hardened troops that have defeated the legions of the east three times in the last several years. What is more, the Thuringians and your brother Cariaric with his Hessian Franks are waiting just north of Worms, near Mainz.”
“To fight and try to turn back the Huns?”
“No. To join the Huns, but sixty thousand troops is too much for the land to support, especially in February. I would guess Attila will divide his forces more evenly into two or three groups, and plan to rejoin them after the spring harvest is in, maybe around Paris. Exactly which direction they will head after they ruin Mainz is a guess, but they will have to take cities to steal the winter food store along with whatever loot they can pillage.”
“Why would Cariaric despoil Mainz? It is his own city.”
“My spies tell me the city fathers rejected him and closed their gate to him. I imagine he wants revenge for the insult.”
Merovech pulled on his beard. “Yes, that sounds like Cariaric.”
“He is the eldest brother, isn’t he?”
Merovech nodded before he turned toward the door. “My men say the Hun will turn on the Burgundians.”
“He is not going to leave you Franks like a big knife in his back,” Festuscato protested.
Merovech nodded again. “But I am listening,” he said, and left Festuscato in jail for another month.
When Merovech came back for the third time, he brought a chair to sit and face Festuscato, and he looked worried.
“As you predicted. Mainz has been burned.” Merovech threw his hands up and spouted his disbelief. “They surrendered. They gave no struggle. They turned over everything they had, and they still were killed and burned. The Huns are like wild dogs. How can we fight them?”
“Very carefully,” Festuscato said. “Go on.”
“Well, it looks like Attila will split his force in two, as you said. How did you know?”
“Common sense. Armies have to be fed, even in winter. Go on,” Festuscato encouraged him.
“Well, it is too soon to say which way they will turn, but I would guess one will head down the Moselle and the other will come here.” Merovech shook his head. “What can we do to stand against him?”