They had two soldiers there to row, and the centurion insisted on coming.
“Poemon,” Festuscato called, though he thought the sprite’s name should have been Pokemon. A gelatinous blob that looked otherwise like a gingerbread man came up out of the water. “Can you make a bridge so Dibs and I and the four horsemen can walk across the river?”
“Who is the boat?” Poemon asked in a sweet voice.
“Pope Leo, meet Poemon the water sprite, Prince of the Po River.” The pope stared.
“Hello, your holiness,” The water sprite waved. “Wonderful to meet you. Sure, we can make a bridge, but only if the four horsemen behave. They are very scary.”
The boat started out, and Festuscato stepped on the water with complete confidence. He took Dibs by the arm and brought him along. The horsemen followed. Gaius looked over and objected, because it looked like Festuscato walked on the water.
“Not,” Festuscato answered. “I am just using the natural gifts that God almighty has placed in my hands. There is no magic or witchery or any such thing here. Anyone can do this, if the spirits are willing.
Pope Leo remained calm about it. He talked to Gaius. “Apparently, the maker of heaven and earth made more things than I ever knew about.”
“There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Festuscato shouted. “Those words were written by a playwright that will be born about eleven hundred years in the future.”
“Like I said,” Gaius spoke to the pope. “Sometimes you just have to ignore him when he says things like that. He has been doing that since he was a child, or at least since I was three and my father moved us from Tivoli.”
By the time they reached the other side of the river, a great crowd had gathered on the shore. Attila stood there, surrounded by his generals and his shaman. Attila looked old, his face covered in wrinkles of age and worry. He looked stressed, and Festuscato wondered if the man’s left eye was perhaps a bit crooked.
“Dragon,” Attila said. “I knew it was you. Only you would have the audacity to walk across the water.”
Festuscato smiled. “I am not the messenger this time.”
“You haven’t come to offer me my own life for a third and final time?” Attila pulled a necklace from beneath his breastplate. It had two rings on it, one big ruby and one diamond.
“Not this time,” Festuscato said. “But in keeping with tradition,” he said as he pulled a ring off his finger. It had a gaudy emerald in it. “For your losses.” he handed it over and stepped back as the Pope finally got up the embankment. Festuscato did the introductions. “May I present his holiness, Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome and primate of the catholic church. Attila the Hun.”
Both men looked at each other for a long time before Attila broke. “So, what do you have to say, holy one?”
“I am here to tell you to leave Rome alone. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the city.”
“And I should listen to an unarmed old man in a robe?” Attila laughed.
“Rome has been claimed by the one, eternal, ever living God as a holy city and his own possession. Do not desecrate the holy city with the spilling of blood or your blood may be required of you.”
“Are you threatening me? I have been threatened by the very best and they all fill their graves, but two.” Attila looked down at the emerald ring in his hand.
“I am not threatening you. I am calling you to give up your pagan ways and recognize the one God who made heaven and earth. It is to him that we will all have to answer in the end, whether we are destined for Heaven or for Hell. Take care what you do, lest you end up where you do not wish to go.
Attila looked up and his eyes got big. He saw something, and Festuscato had nothing to do with it. “Your Peter and Paul,” Attila said. “The one above wields the sword.” Attila put his face in his hands and wept, and Festuscato, Gaius and Dibs knew enough to turn his holiness back to the boat, even if the centurion did not understand what was happening.
Festuscato whispered in Pope Leo’s ear. “You are supposed to bang your staff and say, you shall not pass. Next time.” Then he let Gaius hand the pope to Father Falius.
Attila turned away from the riverbank, but Dengizic caught up with Festuscato before they left. Gaius still stood on the shore with Dibs, and they listened in.
“Father is seeing things that are not there,” Dengizic said.
“I give him about a year, tops,” Festuscato said. “You can waste your men on the walls of Rome where Aetius is dug in, or you can prepare for the future.”
“I can see why father fears you,” Dengizic said. “You speak sense, and you speak truth, and he does not know how to handle that. Plus, you see things that other men cannot see.”
“Sometimes men don’t want to see,” Festuscato said, and he shoved off the boat.
Dengizic nodded and left as Gaius protested missing the boat. “Walk with me,” Festuscato said. “Poemon, one more for the return journey.”
“Right you are.” The water sprite head stuck up from the water, but nothing else. “A pleasure to take the cardinal.” The head burst back into water.
“There is no telling what Attila saw,” Festuscato said as he gently took Gaius’ arm. “It may have been his sickness. It may have been real. But, you know, even if it was his sickness, it was mighty well timed.” Festuscato took the first step.
“It feels squishy,” Dibs warned Gaius, and Gaius stepped out, but he looked down at his feet, expecting to fall through any minute. He later castigated himself for his lack of faith.
Festuscato cried two years later when Aetius got murdered right in front of Emperor Vaentinian. He cried again a year later when Vaentinian got murdered by Hun friends of Aetius. That happened in 455, the year the Vandals sailed into Rome and sacked the city. Festuscato tried to stay out of it and avoided the Vandal King Geiseric, but for the two times.
In truth, he avoided Ricimer, who became the general in chief in the west after Aetius. He avoided all the subsequent western Roman emperors, as they came and went almost too quickly to keep up. And he avoided the church, but that became difficult, because Hillarius became pope after Leo and Festuscato laughed and laughed. Then Gaius had the bad sense to take the position and chose the name Simpicius.
“Simplify, simplify,” Festuscato told him, but he groused, because Hillarius spent all his time worrying about controlling the church, like who was bishop here and who was in control over there. In Gaius’ mind, that was not what was important.
“Petty bureaucrat,” Festuscato called the man.
“He missed the forest for the trees,” Gaius explained with one of Festuscato’s expressions.
“I prefer, Lord, what fools these mortals be, these days. That was penned by the same playwright fellow who will be born one thousand and eighty years from now. My, how time flies.”
“But seriously. All the Germans, the Vandals, Goths and even the Franks are Arian heretics. And in the east, there are Monophysites heretics, and they all want to take over and ruin the true faith.”
“Not even poly-physites?”
“Be serious. The true faith is at stake. Chalcedon is in the scales.”
“A fish scale. I was at Nicaea, I think. I’m not sure if I was at Chalcedon.”
Gaius nodded, ignored Festuscato, and continued on his thought. “There are some Arians and Monophysites among the cardinals. The only good thing is they hate each other worse than they hate us Catholics. “
“You got Childeric,” Festuscato pointed out. “I remember how excited you got when you showed me the letter. That young fellow in Reims, the one you recommended for bishop despite his youth.”
“I worked with Childeric and his family during all those years we were waiting for you to show up.”
“Yes, well, wait long enough and maybe your heretic cardinals will die off.”
“I should live so long.”
“My wife keeps me young,” Festuscato said, as Morgan came in and sat beside him. She just turned fifty and Festuscato thought she was as lovely as ever.
“It isn’t fair, you know,” she said. “Sibelius looks as young as the day I first met her.”
“I remember the way you looked the day I first met you, with your knife, ready for action, and the sweat on your brow.” Festuscato made a couple of stabs at the curtain with his empty hand.
“And you. I thought, here is an arrogant fellow.”
“Cad,” Festuscato said. “Arrogant cad.”
“If you’ll excuse me,” Gaius said and stood. “I must be getting back to work. Thanks for straightening out that little misunderstanding.”
Festuscato heard, but as he looked at his wife, he already had other thoughts in mind. Morgan caught the look. “We have a daughter and four sons. Isn’t that enough?” She was past the point of having children, but that did not deter Festuscato one bit from trying anyway.
We move about sixty years into the future for the final tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin in the days of King Arthur. It will post over the next six weeks. To tide you over until Monday, have a Dragon Tunic, worn by Festuscato and all Pendragons everywhere.