Festuscato looked at the half-elf and waited for her to explain, but the young woman with the brown hair and fascinating Margueritte-like hazel eyes spoke up. “Macy is the eldest.” she pointed at the half-elf who seemed tongue tied in Festuscato’s presence. Mother was pregnant with her when she married my father. It didn’t matter. As soon as Macy was born with her pointed ears, it was clear that my father was not her father. But my father tried to raise her like his own.” Macy nodded to say that was so. “At least until she was six.”
“And your name?”
“Morgan, and I am twenty-one and all alone in the world apart from my sisters.” Morgan looked into Festuscato’s eyes and batted her own, just a little. Festuscato wanted the rest of the story. He frowned before he saw the tears in the corners of Morgan’s eyes and chastised himself for thinking his crude thoughts.
“So, what happened to your father and mother?” Festuscato asked, tenderly.
“My father got killed by Huns when I was three. Macy was six. Mother and Mercedes’ father survived when the Visigoths counterattacked. They say it was a terrible battle, but after life settled down again, mother was lucky to remarry, and she had another girl. Mother died of the plague when Mercedes was five. I was nine and Macy was twelve. Poor Father Flavius, Mercedes’ father, and Lucas at sixteen had three girls to take care of, and Lucas was kind of slow, if you know what I mean. We all thought life would be better when we got to Arles. We sold our home, and the deal was going to be secured when Mercedes married. Father Flavius promised to find us husbands when we got to Arles, but now we have no hope.
Morgan began to cry softy, and Festuscato hugged her to comfort her. She did not resist him. Macy held Mercedes in very much the same way, and Heather stood right there, in her big size, crying along with everyone else. Festuscato noticed Clover came back to comfort Heather, but since he said nothing, Festuscato figured the immediate area had to be Hun free.
After a moment, Festuscato separated from Morgan and Morgan wiped her eyes. He had decided something and felt he needed some space, though he kept his hands on Morgan’s shoulders. He called the head gnome that helped him steal one of Theodoric’s horses. The gnome thought a minute without saying a word and Festuscato nodded. Suddenly, there were twenty gnomes in that little part of the forest. Morgan looked delighted. Mercedes looked scared again, but Macy smiled, except she began to cry again.
Heather reached out for Mercedes, and the girl moved to be close to Heather and Clover who were both in their big size and looking like ordinary people. At least Mercedes did not scream when the gnomes got to work.
They found the wagon, and the oxen that had wandered off. They hitched up the beasts and packed the tents and everything neatly in the wagon. Two fetched Festuscato’s horse and red cloak. Festuscato sent the red cloak back to Avalon the moment he saw it. He tried to do it without being noticed, but Morgan saw and kept her thoughts to herself. The gnomes also dug two graves. They were shallow, but sufficient when the gnomes piled stones on top. They seemed to have a knack for pulling mostly buried stones right out of the soil.
When they were done, it became noon and they had not moved an inch. Festuscato made two crosses out of sticks, and the gnomes did something to make them root in the soil. Then he did not know what to say, so he assured the women they would find a priest and say a mass for the dead.
Festuscato turned to his gnomes and thanked them all for their good help. “I owe you,” he said.
“Nothing,” the chief gnome spoke up. “You have already given us everything through the centuries, since the day you first made us out of those wild imps. You owe us nothing. We were glad to be allowed to help, and would do it again, anytime.”
Festuscato glanced at Morgan who absorbed all of this like a sponge. He knew there was no doing this quietly. He clapped his hands, and the gnomes all disappeared, and he felt an explanation might be necessary.
“I sent them home.”
“And a lovely home it is, I am sure,” she said, smiled a lovely smile, and slipped into his arms for more hugging. “Thank you for your kindness,” she whispered, and snuggled in a way that woke Festuscato right up, before she took a step back and a curious look crossed her face. “But I don’t know anything about you, or your name other than you said you were the dragon, whoever that is.”
“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, knight errant for the duration while I deliver you to Arles.”
“Festuscato I caught,” she said. “And I accept the offer of escorting us to Arles, but you will have to explain the rest, and all of the things you haven’t explained. I never heard of Huns running away.”
“We should start moving first,” Festuscato suggested, and she collected her sisters while he tied his horse to the back of the wagon and Clover and Heather stepped out front to get the oxen moving.
Festuscato looked at Morgan and felt the smile in his stomach. She looked at him and smiled outwardly in return, and Festuscato realized that nothing less that the whole truth would do for this one. She seemed bright enough to understand and not one who would be willing to accept half measures. In that moment, he felt like he very much wanted to explain it all, like it became a great burden on his soul. Sadly, they barely started when Ironwood came racing back.
“Lord, the Huns have moved on to the road to the shore, but that Visigoth captain and his troop are on the road, coming back, and they almost got by me.”
Festuscato looked up as Macy said, “Men coming.” She pointed, and Festuscato barely had time to say, excuse me, before he traded paces with Gerraint who came back in his armor, complete with helmet and swords in the right places. Morgan squeaked like a cute little mouse. Mercedes tried not to look. Macy began to cry again. Ironwood got big and stepped up to keep the girls quiet.
When the captain called his troop to a halt, Clover and Heather halted as well. The Captain recognized the armor and got suspicious as to why a lone soldier would be out on the road.
“Soldier. What are you doing in this wilderness?”
“Escorting this family to Arles. As you can see, it is a most peasant duty for an old soldier.” He removed his helmet and showed the gray hair of age. He smiled for the captain and the captain softened his expression. He asked about the red-haired man and the dapple-gray horse, but Gerraint could only say he saw no such man. Morgan covered her mouth to stifle her giggle.
“Take care, old man,” the captain said. “I heard rumors of Huns on the road.”
“I heard we crushed the Huns up north and sent them scurrying back across the border to lick their wounds.”
“We did,” the captain said as several of the men nodded, like they were there.
“Well good luck to you. I hope you catch your man.”
The captain shook his head. “This was an unlikely direction. The rest of his party all went to Narbonne and by now they have probably taken ship for Rome or unknown places. We ride.” The captain and his men rode out and Gerraint turned to Morgan.
“How do you like my disguise?”