By the first of April, Cologne, Tournai and Trier were sacked as expected and Cambrai and Metz were in flames, ruined by the two fists of Attila. The Huns were headed for the edge of Frankish territory and would soon enter Roman Gaul. There, Festuscato expected at least Amiens and Reims would fall. After that, he thought Attila and his fist might head for Troyes while the northern fist under his eldest son, Ellak, who commanded his fist under the seasoned hand of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, headed for Paris. When he originally thought this through, he imagined the Huns might reunite their armies at Paris, but Orleans would do around May or June, and from there they could face the Visigoths, either to invade Visigoth land or negotiate a Roman style treaty of non-aggression. Now, Festuscato wondered if they would even get that far.
It seemed a long way, when late in the afternoon, Chlodebaud, King of the Ripuarian Franks, came into the command tent spitting mad about something. He usually stayed mad about something, and he regularly reminded them how Attila’s son, Dengizic, brought his Huns across the Rhine last fall and despoiled all the land around Nijmegen. His men were the worst about being patient. Of course, Festuscato, Bran, Heinz and Gregor had the good sense not to tell Chlodebaud why the Huns did what they did.
Merovech’s brother Adalbert, Duke of Moselle, looked up at his brother Chlodebaud, but said nothing. He generally kept quiet and went along with whatever the others decided, but his men were good fighters, and proved it in the few little skirmishes they had thus far had with Ardaric’s rear guard. Merovech himself sat with Gregor and Dibs, sipping ale and laughing. Etheldrood, alias Egbert the Saxon sat there too, looking sour, but he responded.
Chlodebaud spit again. “I heard when the Hun came in the front door, you Saxons with the Jutes and Angles snuck out the back door and ran away to Britain.”
Etheldrood looked angry for a second before he softened and admitted, “Yes, some have done that,”
Heinz, chief of his village, thought to add a word. He often sat beside King Etheldrood and kept the man under control, as Lord Gregor instructed. “But in this case, if we were to jump to the attack, the whole Hun army would turn on us, and we do not have the strength yet to stand up to them. Once we get to Paris, that will be another story.”
Chlodebaud and Etheldrood both gave Heinz the same unhappy look, even as Marcellus came to the door. Marcellus had arrived from Britain in March. He brought a hundred Amoricans, all dressed in dragon tunics, who after twelve years defending the Pendragon, and now with Constantine gone and Constans taking over, decided they wanted to go home.
“Lack of patience can get you killed,” Dibs spoke up.
“There will be plenty of time for action,” Gregor said. “But you must learn to relax when you can. Not to stop being vigilant, mind you, but relax, like my friend Merovech is learning.” Merovech looked a moment at his drink and nodded.
“Lord Festuscato will pounce like a great cat in the wilderness, but not before we are ready and only when we have the greatest chance for success,” Marcellus spoke up. “I have seen him play this game with the Huns before, and in the end, he kicked them right off his island.”
Chlodebaud took a seat and looked at Etheldrood. They would be good and wait.
At that same time, Festuscato, Bran, Luckless, Ironwood, Lord Birch, the fairy lord from the Atlantique province, Strongarm, a local elf lord, and the ever quiet four elf horsemen that Festuscato called his four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were questioning three captured Hun scouts. The Huns were down on their knees, but not tied.
“So Ellak the coward and Ardaric the senile old man ran away,” Festuscato tested them. One young Hun started to stand to give answer to the insult, but Bran’s hand on his shoulder quickly dissuaded him. The other two old warriors hardly flinched, and one spoke in a calm voice.
“We escaped your trap where you would have crushed us against the Romans in Paris. Now Lord Ellak and the great king Ardaric are lost in the wilderness and you have only guesses. For all you know, they may be circling around behind you. And we will not tell you where they have gone. We are prepared to die.”
Festuscato let out a little chuckle. “Ironwood,” he said.
“They are headed toward Orleans. They will meet Attila along the way which will put all sixty-thousand together for the assault.”
“Yes, Lord. The Alans around Orleans are prepared to fight, but King Sangiban appears to be undecided. Attila has offered to leave him the city if he opens the gates, but King Budic of Amorica will get there first and he and his men may put some backbone into the old king.”
“You see?” Festuscato spoke frankly. “I need no information. That is not why you were captured, alive. I have spared you because I want you to take a message to Attila. Tell him, if he takes his army and goes back across the Rhine, I will spare his life a second time, and give him this ring as a sign.” Festuscato took a gaudy, diamond studded ring from his finger and gave it to the old Hun who spoke. “Fail to give the message and I will know it and nowhere on earth will be safe for you to hide. But if you give him the message, be warned. The last man I sent to Attila with a message lost his head.”
“Megla,” Festuscato said, and clearly all three Huns had heard the story.
“You are the dragon?” the old Hun asked.
“I am, so please give him my message and my ring.” Festuscato and Bran stepped back. “You are free to go.” Festuscato waved and three elves brought up the Huns horses. The Huns stepped warily to the horses and mounted. The older scout who said and did nothing during the interview, turned on Festuscato the moment he got hold of his spear. Festuscato did not flinch as the man became a pincushion of elf arrows. The horse bolted but settled down after a few yards and the dead body slid out of the saddle.
“Such a shame,” Festuscato said, as the other two Huns rode off without looking back.
General Aetius has come up from Rome and is trying to raise the men and keep the Burgundians and Visigoths pointed in the right direction. The Alans in Orleans may be pressed for a time. Everyone hopes King Budic can arrive in time to help. Bran the Brit calls it a daft plan, but if the men arrive it just might work. Gaul is in the Balance. Until Monday: