M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 3 of 3

After two weeks, it became clear Festuscato would be there for a long time.  He spoke with Thorismund once; more of an interview where Festuscato hardly got to say anything.  He figured Thorismund felt the need to justify his actions and did not want to hear anything contrary.

After a week, he figured his troop should be in Narbonne, contracting with a ship and safe.  The Visigoth kingdom did not claim Provence or Septimania, so they had no access to the Mediterranean and could not follow Gaius, Dibs and Felix.  With that worry off his mind, Festuscato came up with a daft plan, as the Brits would call it.

Fangs the goblin enjoyed his time chasing all the bats, rats and spiders when Festuscato slept.  Heather could hardy bring herself to look at him at first, and Clover did his best to hold and comfort her, which was all she really wanted.  Ironwood stood up to the goblin, but even he did not look too steady, and it made Fangs chuckle.  The goblin seemed really a nice person, who for once did not mind being called a goblin.  Unlike so many others, he did not insist on the term dark elf in mixed company.

“So, what do you think?” Margueritte said, as she adjusted the fairy weave apron to be a little longer and then turned slowly around.  Heather kept her eyes on Margueritte but smiled at her handiwork in shaping and coloring the dress to just the right sort of drab.

“You look the very image of a Gallo-Roman washer woman,” Fangs encouraged her.

“You are still too young and pretty,” Ironwood said as he flew once around her in the opposite direction.  He showed what he meant with his hands before he said, “And too shapely for the sorry old women who clean around the castle.”

“Maybe a small glamour,” Clover suggested.

“No, not now,” Margueritte responded.  “I’ll think about it.  Right now, I have to practice.”  She screamed, frowned, and tried again.  She tried several more times but stopped when they heard a loud bang on the door.

“What is going on in there?” Gormand shouted through the door.  He caught a glimpse of the goblin one time and never opened the window in the door again.  He slipped the food through the hinged board at the bottom of the door, but never looked.  Fangs enjoyed the slop, so Gormand always got the tray back with the food eaten, and that was all he needed to know.  Festuscato, of course, dined well on the goodies the fairies pinched from the kitchens.

Margueritte made no effort to disguise her voice.  “I’m practicing, what did you think?”

“Well, you better straighten up,” Gormand said, apparently not batting an eye at the evident female voice.  “I got word Euric, the younger son wants to see you.”

“Now?”  Margueritte asked.

“Here they come.” Gormand banged once more on the door and everyone had to move fast.  Clover and Ironwood had to get the bucket and scrub brushes to place strategically when they got the word.  Heather had to get the gnomes to check on the horses.  Fangs had to walk through the walls and think directions for the fairies, though they would wait until the return trip to set the trap.  Margueritte had to go away so Festuscato could come back in his comfortable clothes and be waiting.

The door opened.

Two soldiers came in to fetch him.  Two others stayed outside with Gormand, of course, who wanted nothing to do with what went on inside that cell, even if everything looked perfectly normal at the moment.

“Lead the way,” Festuscato said, kindly.  “I haven’t met Euric.  I am looking forward to it.”

The soldiers were prepared to bring him roughly, if necessary, but his eagerness to see Euric made their job easy.  They walked, two soldiers out front and two behind, with Gormand following in the rear.  They passed through any number of halls before reaching Euric’s quarters.  They passed several of the cleaning crew on the way as well, so everything seemed set.

Young Euric tried to be sly in his pleasant conversation.  He thought he was so smart.  Festuscato stayed frustratingly pleasant and offered no information at all until the end.  When he got dismissed, he looked at the younger son and stated, “Right now you don’t have the political or military skill to succeed.  You could learn a lot from Aetius.  You won’t learn it from me because I am going home to eat oranges.  Just one word of advice.  Don’t move until you are ready.”  Euric stood with his mouth open.  He tried to be so cunning, but Festuscato showed that he had been utterly transparent.  He had no answer when Festuscato left.

Festuscato caught sight of the bucket in the middle of the hall.  When they came alongside the bucket, he did a quick bob and weave, instantly traded places with Margueritte dressed in her washer woman garb and she screamed.  The bucket got tipped over, the soldiers shouted, and she flung herself into the arms of the two soldiers who were following and paying a modicum of attention.

“What a rude man!” she shouted.  Her eyes pointed in the direction opposite the way she would be going.

“Where did he go?” the men all shouted.  Gormand said nothing.  Perhaps he recognized the scream.

One of the soldiers grabbed Margueritte roughly and shook her.  “Where did he go?  Margueritte pointed in the direction she had been looking, and the soldier threw her roughly to the floor.  “Come on.”  The soldiers raced off down the hall.  Gormand put his hand out and helped Margueritte to her feet.

“Don’t mind them,” Gormand said, with a grin that appeared almost distasteful.  Truly she was too young and shapely, as Ironwood said, but she counted on the soldiers not giving her a good look.

Margueritte took a step back and smiled for the man.  She gave him a most graceful curtsey, a sign of her good breeding and something no real washer woman could imitate.  Then she picked up her now empty bucket and scrub brush and walked away from the way the soldiers went.  Gormand might have said something but choked when two fairies flew up.

“Clover, please go check and see what horse Heather picked out,” Margueritte said.  “Ironwood, you may sit on my shoulder.”

“Yes, Lady,” both fairies responded before doing what she asked.  At the same time, they heard Gormand running away as fast as he could.

************************

MONDAY

Getting out of the dungeon is not getting home. There is trouble on the road, and maybe a little romance.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 2 of 3

Their time in Tours proved brief.  The bishop greeted Gaius with all the pomp of a visiting bishop and gave Festuscato a brief smile.  Festuscato heard Gaius referred to as the apostle to the Franks and as the Bishop of Tournai, though Festuscato knew of nothing official in that direction.  Certainly, Gaius never said anything.

The abbot of Saint Martins was there, a man named Maurentius.  He came dressed to travel and go with them to apply to the Pope to approve his monastery with the appendage for women.  Maurentius, Dibs, Marcellus and Festuscato got to know each other while Gaius got wined and dined.  Festuscato found Maurentius to be a frumpy friar Tuck sort of fellow, good natured, and not a finger shaker when the conversation got a bit bawdy.  He would fit right in.

The first night after leaving Tours took them to Fierbois, hardly a village on the road to Pontiers.  Maurentius and Gaius were both surprised when Festuscato suggested it might be a good place for a church, and a satellite monastery for Saint Martins, and especially for the women.

“It would be a good place for pilgrims to stop and refresh themselves,” he said.

“Another Saint Martins?” Maurentius wondered.

“People would get confused by that,” Marcellus said.  Dibs and Gaius knew not to interrupt.

“I was thinking Saint Catherine would be a good choice, especially for any women on the road.  They would see it as a safe haven on the border between Visigoth and Roman lands.”

“I like Saint Catherine,” Emma spoke up from the cooking fire.

“Saint Catherine,” Felix echoed as he took something to his children.

“Saint Catherine de Fierbois,” Festuscato said. 

“It has a nice ring to it,” Gaius interjected.

“Anyway, after this I’ll mind my own business.  But I was thinking the Visigoths could use some spiritual guidance.  I hear many of them are Arians and do not know the true catholic faith, and this would be right on their border, or near enough.”

“No, I like the idea,” Maurentius said.  “I may mention it to the Pope.  The people of Aquitaine are mostly Christian, but many Visigoth nobles remain stubbornly Arian.  Having plans to expand the true church into the territory might help Saint Martin’s gain papal approval.”

Festuscato said no more, but in the morning, he confessed to Gaius something about the future and for once, Gaius said he had nothing to feel guilty about.

It took two weeks to reach Tolouse, the Visigoth capital.  No one bothered them all the way through Visigoth land, and when they arrive at Thorismund’s court, they appeared welcomed, at first.  Festuscato caught wind of the fact that Thorismund was not happy with Rome and with him for turning him away from finishing off Attila.

“Now my father is not avenged,” he said.  But his younger brother, Theodoric junior who also participated in the fight against Attila simply shook his head, sadly.  Festuscato understood.  Thorismund was not that bright and indeed, would not occupy the throne for long.  But in the meanwhile, Festuscato had to watch out.  During his life and career, Festuscato found that such men were easy to manipulate and easy to turn in the right direction with the simplest of arguments, as he turned Thorismund away from the battlefield; but once they got their mind stuck in a rut, they were impossible to reach.  Festuscato took Theodoric’s unspoken warning to Felix, Dibs and Marcellus.

“Felix has the money.  If I am delayed, your orders are to go to Narbonne on the south coast.  I will meet you there, but again, if I am delayed, you must take the first ship for Rome, before the cold weather arrives.  If all else fails, at least you will get home and I will meet you in Rome.”

“You are serious,” Dibs sounded surprised, though he should not have been, since he got left behind when Festuscato first sailed out of Britain for the continent.

“I have never heard you order anyone,” Gaius confessed.  “You always ask.”

“I had to order the four horsemen.  I practically yelled at them, but they will see you safely all the way to Rome, if necessary.”

“We will do this thing,” Marcellus agreed, and Felix shook Festuscato’s hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

The very next day, Festuscato found himself thrown into a dungeon cell with a single, small window much too high up to reach.

###

Festuscato got left alone by his jailer, Gormand.  He was not sure what Gormand’s orders were, but as long as they did not include torture, Festuscato could wait and hope—and try to figure some way out of his predicament.  It helped when on that very first day, the fairies Ironwood, Clover and Heather came fluttering in the little window.  Festuscato frowned and tried not to yell at them.

“Clover and Heather are running away from home,” Ironwood confessed.  “We followed you all the way here from Chalons.”

“Yes, and why are you here?” Festuscato asked.

“Well, someone has to keep an eye on these children,” Ironwood said with a smile.

“We are not children,” Clover insisted.

“I’m one hundred and three and Clover is nearly two hundred,” Heather insisted, looking very much like a petulant child.

“One seventy-six, and Ironwood is just two sixty-five.  Still young enough for a fairy,” Festuscato said, and Clover and Heather eyed each other, and realized Festuscato knew all about them in a way they had not really considered before.  He could look at them right down to the depths of their toes.  “Still, I am glad you are here,” Festuscato said, to change the subject.  He did not want to frighten the young couple with his awesome presence, as some of the ancient gods used to talk about it.  “You can help me plan my escape, and Ironwood, if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate you taking a message to Gaius and the men to tell them to get out now and head for Narbonne while they can.”

“I can do that.  Father Gaius seems very nice, for a human.”

“Would you like us to find some diggers?” Heather asked, avoiding the name goblins.  “It would take some time to dig you out.  There isn’t an easy tribe under your feet like in Tournai.”

“No, no.” Festuscato said, like someone else might have said, “Tut-tut.”  He would have to plan his route out of the city and once he left the city, and he would need a horse among other things.  Just getting out of the cell would not be enough.  “We will work on it.  I am going to try to reason with my captors first.  Meanwhile, I would not mind one digger, as you said.  It would be good to have one while I am sleeping to keep the rats, spiders, and bats away.”

Heather shrieked loudly at the thought of rats, spiders, and bats.  She threw herself into Clover’s arms, which she felt inclined to do in any case, and which he felt glad she did.  Gormand came to the door and slid open the little window in the door to yell.

“What was that?”

“I have a young girl in here and we are making wild, passionate love,” Festuscato responded.  Ironwood flew up to the window so Gormand could get a good look at him. 

“Hello,” he said in a friendly manner, his only previous experience with jailers being the Frank who eventually made peace in his mind and heart with having fairies around.  Gormand did not strike Festuscato as the same sort of man.  He shrieked, a high-pitched sound to match Heather’s, and he shut the cover on the window in the door and ran away.

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 1 of 3

Festuscato and General Aetius rode out from the camp so they could have a private conversation.  Aetius became concerned about Festuscato’s plans.  Festuscato felt curious about a couple of things, and after assuring Aetius that he had every intention of going home and eating oranges, and he had no political ambitions whatsoever, he got to ask his questions.

“So why did you let Attila go?”

“The Franks are not strong enough, divided the way they are.  The Visigoths are too strong.  I still need the Huns to counter Visigoth power.  It is as simple as that.”

Festuscato nodded but added a thought.  “Let us hope it does not backfire on us.  The reports I got said Attila was not in his right mind for a while there.  There is no one in his court who will stand up to him, and he may lead his Huns into doing something stupid.”

“Like lick his wounds and try again?  I have considered this, but I will be staying in Gaul for a time, now that things seem to be settled with Geiseric and his African Vandals.  There are others I can cultivate, even if the Visigoths choose not to fight a second time.”

“And Iberia and the Adriatic get little attention.”

“Sadly, yes.  You and I know the empire in the west is on its last legs.  It is like an old man in need of a cane and a dog.”

“Yes, I spent the last ten years roaming through the wilderness confirming that very thing.  But the Curia will not listen.  They will not make the necessary changes to make Rome strong again.  And the people will not change.  They all want everything for free and will wail when they discover that in the end, nothing is free.  Everything must be paid for by someone, and when the provinces vanish there will be no one left to pay for anything.  It is like the people are living in a dream, but some day they will have to wake, rudely awake.”

Aetius nodded and thought for a moment before he spoke.  “I thought you were a great optimist.”  He sounded surprised.

“Damn reality keeps intruding.  Why do you think I want to go home and ignore all this?  Maybe I can find a nice girl and settle down.”

Aetius laughed.  “Just as well I didn’t take your head all those years ago.  You were right about the emperor’s sister, Honoria.”

Festuscato nodded.  “I may be a cad, but she is a tramp.”

“I can think of some other less eloquent words for such a woman,” Aetius said.

Festuscato just kept nodding.  “Meanwhile, tell me about Geiseric and the Vandals.  Do you trust him to be content with ruling Africa?”

Aetius had to think for a bit.  “Yes,” he said at last, before he added, “for now.”

“Because I heard Attila invaded the west on Geiseric’s urging.  Honoria just became a convenient excuse.”

Aetius said nothing.  They arrived back at the camp, and Festuscato noticed the new arrivals.  Felix showed up with his wife, Emma, and their two children.  He said with his inn gone, and Emma’s family pretty much gone, they decided to go to Italy and look up Felix’s family.  They came with Father Gaius and had two ox-drawn wagons filled to overflowing.

“We followed your army from Cambrai but did our best to stay away from the fighting,” Felix said.  “Waterborn and Tulip were a great help to us.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato said to Waterborn and Tulip who were standing there in their big size, holding hands, looking like the perfect pair of newlyweds.  Tulip nudged Waterborn and whispered.

“I told you he wouldn’t mind.”

“Looks like your four horsemen are ready to go,” Aetius placed a hand on Festuscato’s shoulder and pointed.  “How do you tell them apart?”  They were mounted, waiting, and ignoring the Roman cavalry that waited to escort Aetius back to his command tent.  Indeed, it looked like the Romans were keeping their distance.

“Mostly I can’t,” Festuscato admitted.  “But they drew little pictures on their helmets for me.”

“I see.  The skeleton is death, I would guess.  What is the insect?”

“Pestilence.”

“Lord Agitus,” Dibs interrupted as he rode up with Marcellus.  “We have ten men, that’s all.  The hundred returned to Amorica with King Budic, and most of the others decided to stay with the Franks.  Merovech made a good offer.”

“More than enough,” Festuscato said.  “Excuse me.”  He stepped over to Bran for a private moment.  Bran said nothing, but he listened.

“You are being reassigned, now that Constantine has passed away.  I fear for Constans, and his two sons, Ambrose and Uther.  Remember, Budic is their cousin.  I don’t trust Vortigen or that Pict, what’s his name, Cadal? or the so-called Jute king.  I worry they may have been waiting for Constantine to die before they set their plans in motion.”

“Cadal,” Bran agreed.  “I will not argue.  I will watch, but perhaps like you, I will find a nice Christian girl and settle down.”

“Fine.  Have a whole bunch of Puritans,” Festuscato said, as he shook the man’s hand and turned to Gregor, the one-eyed Saxon.  Gregor grabbed him and gave him a big hug.

“I knew it the minute I saw you,” Gregor said.  “I knew it from the way you humiliated Megla.  I knew you were the one to teach Attila and his Huns a lesson they will not forget.  You know, Attila took my eye, but I escaped to Britain.  I thought to raise the Saxons there and bring them home in an army, but they had settled into their new homes and were not budging.  Then I saw you, and I knew.”

“I’m glad I could help you out,” Festuscato said, and smiled as he extracted himself from the bear hug.  “What now?”

“Now, I will go home and keep my son honest.  I will make peace with the Franks.  As you say, it won’t last forever, but maybe we can have peace for one lifetime.  Peace for my old age would be a good thing.”

Festuscato nodded and turned to Luckless.  Lolly stood a half-step back, her eyes downcast.  She felt uncomfortable around so many humans, but Luckless seemed immune, having bounced around with humans for the last ten or so years.  No doubt Lolly thought he was very brave.

“Lord,” Luckless spoke up first.  “I raised a bit for your trip home.”  He lifted a heavy bag of gold and coins. “Prying it out of the fingers of a bunch of dwarfs was an experience.  I think I would have rather invaded a dragon’s lair.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato accepted the bag and quickly handed it to Felix who could hardy lift it.  “But where will you go?”

“Deep into the mines once again.  I have my tools, the gifts of my father and my uncle Weland, and now I have a home, and maybe one day I will have a son of my own to pass down the family jewels.”

“With all that, we may have to change your name to Lucky.  Lolly, take good care of him and keep him fed.”

“Just what I plan to do,” Lolly squeaked.

Festuscato smiled before he hugged Tulip and shook Waterborn’s hand.  Aetius marveled as the fairies got little and flew off toward the Frisian shore.  It looked like they never stopped holding hands.  Then it became time to go.

“Marcellus and Dibs,” Festuscato shouted for their attention.  “Your men will have to take turns guiding the wagons.  The four horsemen will take the point.  We need three on each flank and three in the rear guard.  That leaves three for the wagons with Felix to make four.  Let’s move out.”

“With these slow-moving wagons, you won’t reach the Alps until September,” Aetius pointed out.  “You can cross them in the fall, but it isn’t recommended.”

“Remember the Bishop of Tours,” Gaius spoke up.

“We won’t be crossing the alps,” Festuscato responded.  “We have to pick up a passenger in Tours.  We will go to Tolouse, try to satisfy Thorismund with a reason why you let Attila live, then head for Narbonne and take a ship for Rome.  I’ve done some sailing, you know.  It’s not so bad.”

Aetius nodded and left.  Festuscato also left, and rode beside Gaius most of the way, confessing all sorts of things.

M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 3 of 3

Festuscato and his company watched as it took all morning for the Alans and Amoricans to move into position just south of the heights where the ridge quit.  Further south, Theodoric and his Visigoths settled in, but pushed a little bit forward.  One might have imagined the Visigoths to the south were curving the end of the line toward the enemy, but in reality, they were too far forward.  Maybe they were too anxious.  Birch reported that Thorismund, the son, in the far south, sat the most forward of all.

They waited some more, and more than one man wondered if the Huns were going to do anything at all that day, but it started around three in the afternoon.  Twenty thousand Ostrogoths and with some Huns engaged Theodoric in the far south.  From his distant viewpoint, Festuscato could not tell if the Ostrogoths were told to really engage the Visigoths or if they were just supposed to keep the Visigoth horsemen occupied.

A short while later, twenty thousand Huns crashed into the fifteen thousand Alans and Amorican’s in the center.  The fighting quickly turned vicious and the Alans began to give ground, either slowly pulling back or being pushed back.  Festuscato noticed at the same time, the Visigoths began to push forward, especially Thorismund.  That exposed the Visigoth flank, badly.  For the first time all afternoon, Festuscato turned to look north.  Aegidius and his legions appeared to be lounging around.  The Franks and Saxons were waiting as patiently as they could.  Out from their position, well out of bow range, the third twenty thousand of the enemy, mostly Gepids with the Franks, Thuringians, and other Germans stood ready, but unmoving.

“Dibs,” Festuscato called.  “We need the cavalry.  It is going to have to be cavalry to the rescue.  Get every man with a horse you can find and get them here as quick as you can.”

Dibs and two men with him, grabbed their horses and went whooping down the ridge top.

“What do you see?” Gregor asked as he stood to take a look.  They all looked.

“There,” Strongarm, with his good elf eyes pointed.  The Hun flank became equally exposed to the Visigoths, but the Visigoths were not looking that way.  Fortunately, someone noticed in the fallback camp.  Theodoric left the Burgundians, Italians and Provence Romans and Gallo-Romans back in the camp in reserve.  They were mostly infantry and would not be much help against horsemen, head-to-head, but in this case, they noticed, and they could certainly catch Huns, horsemen or not, from the side where they were unprepared.  Now the Huns began to pull back, but the Alans were slow to follow and press the advantage.

As the Roman cavalry with plenty of Franks and some Saxons on horseback reached the top of the ridge, Festuscato saw the back half of the Hun attack turn to hit the Visigoths in the side, like it had been planned that way.  Most of those in the back half had no idea the front half of the charge started crumbling thanks to the Burgundians and Romans.  Aetius came up and immediately understood what was happening.  He waved his cavalry to ride to the rescue, as five thousand or so horsemen would, at this point, be hitting the Huns from the rear.  Festuscato had Bran and the four horsemen grab Aetius to keep him from riding into battle with the men.  Festuscato looked again to the north.

Somehow, Ardaric got wind of what appeared to be happening and he began to withdraw from his position.  Then the Ostrogoth line broke in the far south and Thorismund moved to ride around the back of the line.  The Ostrogoths fled as Theodoric gathered what men he could and counter attacked in the face of the Huns.  The Huns, being clobbered from every direction, gathered their own men and fled back to their strong camp.

It became a humiliating defeat.  Attila never lost a battle before.  The Huns, Romans, and especially the many Germanic tribes under the thumb, had Attila painted bigger than life, as a man who could not be beaten.  But here, he got badly beaten.  The Ostrogoths and Gepids might mount another attack, but neither seemed willing.  They had wounds to lick even if they were not as grievous as the Huns.  The Huns, so devastated in their numbers, could hardly mount a defense.

Attila raged.  His plan to conquer Gaul had been shattered.  He raged at his sons who were wisely not present.  He raged that the Roman had three whole legions which were fresh and had not even been committed to the battle.  He raged that he was done, and everything was ruined.  He raged at Ardaric the Gepid, and Valamir the Ostrogoth, and blamed them for everything.  He cursed the dragon, once, thought better of it, and cursed everyone else.  They say he went mad for a time.

###

Thorismund found Aetius in the command tent Aegidius set up.  Aetius and Festuscato were there along with Gregor the Saxon, Merovech the Frank, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans and several others.  Thorismund spoke even as he tromped into the tent.

“So, we attack at first light and finish them.”  He arrived understandably angry.  Word had come that Theodoric died on the battlefield.  Aetius remained calm but shook his head.

“Your people have suffered a great loss, many losses,” Aetius said.  “You should take your father home to be properly laid to rest.”

“My father will not rest until the Hun head is on his spear,” Thorismund yelled.

“We have already discussed all this,” Sangiban shouted back.  “Where were you?”

“Me?” Thorismund had to stop shouting to think a minute about what he got asked.  “I was chasing Huns with my men,” he said more calmly.  “I almost stumbled into the Hun camp.  My men had to get me out.  What do you mean you already discussed this?”

Festuscato took Thorismund by the arm.  He directed the man to just outside the door, and Thorismund listened, which he might not have done with anyone else.  “My friend,” Festuscato said.  “I am concerned about you and your people and providing a balance in the province.”  Thorismund did not understand, so Festuscato quickly started again.  “You Visigoths on one end and the Franks on the other end are the only things keeping the Romans honest, keeping the Romans from taking over again.  I am sorry your father died, but we can’t lose you too.”  Festuscato looked back into the tent briefly and spoke like he was sharing a great secret.  “Listen.  You don’t want one of your brothers to claim the throne while you are away.  Aetius thinks he is sending you home so he can claim all the glory for himself.  I say, take advantage of Aetius.  Let Aetius finish Attila and get his men all bloody.  You go home, have yourself a big parade, and claim the crown before one of your brothers nabs it.  Go ahead.  I won’t tell.”

Thorismund stood with his mouth open for a minute.  Though not a speedy thinker, when he spoke, he understood what Festuscato suggested.  “My people don’t need to get mixed up in a civil war, and I don’t entirely trust my brothers.”

“Sure, sure,” Festuscato encouraged him.  “Let Rome deal with Attila.  He is not your problem.  You have a land and a people to rule and take care of, but you might not get the chance if you hang around here too long.”

Thorismund nodded, went back to his horse, and returned to his own camp.  Aetius stuck his head out.

“So, what did you tell him?”

“He gets to be the next king of the Visigoths if he gets there before his brothers.”

Aetius nodded.  “I give him about three years before one of his brothers throws him out.”

“Probably less,” Festuscato said.

First thing in the morning, the Visigoths packed up and left the field.  Attila stayed, and it reached about noon before he decided the Romans were not going to attack and finish him off.  In his madness, he had piled everything he could reach in the center of the camp.  He planned a great bonfire and planned to throw himself into the flames if the Romans attacked.  No way the dragon would kill him.  He would kill himself first.  But when it became clear that Aetius would let him go, or the dragon gave him a final chance, he packed up his men and his allies and hobbled back over the Rhine.

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MONDAY

Just when you think the battle is won, there are complications.Getting home is not so easy.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

 

M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 2 of 3

Chlodebaud and Etheldrood came from one direction, their armor covered in blood, and they laughed and slapped each other on the back like the best of friends.  Merovech and Childeric came from the other direction looking more somber, Adalbert trailing behind.  They were not nearly as bloody, though no one would doubt they had been in battle.  Gregor, who surprisingly stayed with Festuscato in the tent, sipped his drink and spoke softly.

“I think I finally understand what you say.  Sometimes men have to fight, but peace is always better.”

“We pray for peace,” Bran said, and they went back inside the tent.

Merovech arrived first.  Childeric had a sword in his fifteen-year-old hand, and he looked down at the sword while Merovech spoke.

“You must thank Strongarm for me when you see him.  He and his dragon men got Childeric and myself out of a pretty jam.”

“I will say something,” Festuscato said, and thought that Strongarm and his people were supposed to guide the Franks to the right position, but they were not supposed to participate in the battle.

“Sun will be up soon,” Adalbert said as he entered the tent.

All that while, something itched at the back of Festuscato’s head.  It would be impossible to say whether Festuscato, Aetius or Attila thought of it first.  Perhaps they thought of it all at the same time.  A small ridge angled across the open field Attila had selected to bring battle to his enemies.  It rose slowly from north to south to somewhere near the north-middle of the field and petered out quickly in the south after the high point.  No telling what happened with Aetius or Attila, though rumor has it, Attila whipped himself several times for his stupidity.  Festuscato merely shouted.

“The heights!”

From there, they could observe the whole of the battle and bring men down on the enemy, or at least force the enemy to fight uphill.  “Marcellus, get the men moving, now!  Get them moving ten minutes ago.  Dibs, mount up!”  He turned his head back into the tent and spoke calmly.  “Merovech, get together with Aegidius to set the troops on this end of the field.  You need to hold the north flank of the battle, though after last night I doubt the Gepids and their Germans are in any position to be trying anything.”  He smiled for Childeric and shouted again.  “Bran, Gregor, you coming?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Gregor said.  Bran just came.

###

Festuscato heard the thunder of his hundred and thirty men all decked out in their dragon tunics.  They saw few enemies in the dawn, even when they cut the corner of the field and probably strayed through enemy territory.  No Huns made a move to stop the dragon men, but then maybe they did not need to.  The Huns were closer, and Attila sent two thousand men under his son, Dengizic to take the ridge top.  Aetius had the auxiliary cavalry troop he brought up from Italy also riding as hard as they could from the other side, but they were furthest away.

Dengizic and his men arrived at the base of the ridge and looked up, not far to the top.  But there they stalled.  Two men stood on the height, and when the light stopped buzzing around, it became a third man, if they were indeed men.  The short one that stood in chain mail to the ground and the dragon tunic had a face that was all beard.  He also cradled a wicked looking ax in his arms.  The tall one, also in a dragon tunic, had a bow already strung and ready.  The third one, who might have been an ordinary man in a dragon tunic if it had not been a flashing light moments earlier, had a sword and shield, and showed the dragon also on the shield.  Behind them, at the very top of the ridge, waved the banner of the dragon, and too many Huns were not going up there.

Dengizic had been there when the messenger came and brought his father the ring of the dragon.  He had been there when they first encountered the dragon north of the alps, all those years ago.  He ran in that first encounter and thought now that he had been wise.  He heard all about how the dragon threw Megla and his entire Hun army out of Britain and declared Britain off limits, and even if the story got exaggerated over the years, the story did not sit well in the Hun psyche.  Then the dragon sent a message and another ring to Attila before they reached Orleans.  He never saw his father rage so much, and he had seen some great moments. In fact, if he did not know better, he might have imagined his father was afraid.

“Lord,” the Hun captain sought his attention.  “Lord, too many of the men are refusing to go up there.  If the dragon has taken the high point, they say the high point is lost to us.”

Dengizic said nothing.  He growled and turned his horse away from the ridge and his two thousand men followed.

Festuscato brought his men to the ridge line and rode them along the top.  Aegidius had his legions already digging into the ridge, small as it was on the north side.  Festuscato thought when they reached their destination, he would send back a man to put the Roman cavalry on short notice.  He imagined several scenarios when he might need several thousand horses to back him up.  Then he thought, of course Aegidius did not think to secure the top of the ridge.  Lord knows, he probably did not want to spread his men too thin. 

Once at the top, they found Luckless lounging with Strongarm and Birch around a fire, sipping some thick dwarf grog.  He told the men to be prepared for Huns to try to take the position, but Luckless said, “Too late.  About two thousand or so already made the attempt, but they turned around when they saw our dragon banner.  How do you like it?  Strongarm’s wife made it.”

Festuscato looked and nodded.

“For the record,” Birch spoke up.  “It was Luckless who thought to take the high point.  He says hanging out with you has made him think of things he never thought about before.  Hogtick has his thousand dug in behind us here.  They are mostly going underground.   Strongarm has as many elves in the woods that start just on the other side, on the down slope.  My men are…around.”

“So Merovech says thanks,” Festuscato turned to Strongarm.  “Remind me later to yell at you since you were not supposed to take part in the battle.”  He pulled up a seat by the fire as Strongarm opened a keg of elf amber ale that Gregor and Dibs loved.  Gregor said he tried the dwarf grog more than once, but it made him burp too much.  Marcellus and Bran preferred Birch’s fairy wine.  Festuscato stuck with water for a while.

The men, taking their cue from the command staff, tied off their horses, set up a bunch of tents against the overcast and started any number of their own fires.  That became the condition General Aetius found them in when he and his four hundred arrived.  Festuscato stood and made sure the Roman troops had a clear lane, where the four hundred could pass through and reach the north side of the ridge, because there really was not enough room at the top for so many men and horses, even if the dwarfs stayed underground and the elves stayed on the back side, and the fairies did not take up much room.

“You are passing them through?” Aetius asked.  Flavius Aetius, the commander in chief of all the Roman armies in the Western Empire, had become like Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  He answered only to the Emperor Valentinian, as did Festuscato.

“I figure now that you know the height is secure, you are going to want to see how Aegidius is deploying his legions, and maybe pay a diplomatic visit to the Franks and Saxons.  We had a battle last night.”

“Oh?”  This came as news, and after he waved his men to pass through the camp two by two, he sat down to hear all about it.  Strongarm did most of the telling, being there, though Festuscato noticed Birch filed in some gaps.  Aetius, meanwhile, caught sight of Strongarm’s pointed ears and finally turned to Festuscato with a comment.

“You were telling the truth about your governess, weren’t you?”

“A house elf, as God is my witness.  Now Queen of the Geats and happily married.”

“Geats?”

“A much longer story which I will be glad to share some time if you ever come to visit.”

“Visit?”

Festuscato nodded and looked at his water.  “After we kick Attila’s butt, I plan to go home.  I haven’t had a good orange in forever.”

Aetius stood.  Men were waiting with his horse.  “I am glad you have confidence in our chances.”

“I do, but come to think of it, be careful with the Franks.  Merovech and his brothers might not be happy with you considering you, or your men, killed Clodio, their father.”

Aetius stopped.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”  And he left.

M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 1 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato tried hard to explain the facts to Aegidius, a stubborn, hard-headed man who also happened to be the commanding general of the Roman forces for northern Gaul.  The northern part of Gaul that would one day be called Neustria, was about the only area still ruled by Rome, that and a strip of land that ran south between the Burgundians and Visigoths and the southern coast around Provence and in Septimania.  All Aegidius could see was he was safe in Paris and the Huns would not come there as proved by the fact that they turned away.

“Look.  Aetius is coming up from the south with more than thirty-thousand men from Italy, Provence, Burgundy and Aquitaine.   Budic from Amorica and Sangiban of the Alans will soon be under siege in Orleans.  If we move out soon, and I wouldn’t give more than a week or two, we can threaten Attila from the north and make Attila back away from the city.  If we stay here, it will go down in history and for the rest of time that the last Roman general in Gaul was a coward.”

“What do you mean, last?”  One of the legion generals spoke up.

“Sangiban won’t last long, and my information says Attila is trying to get Sangiban to switch sides.  Then, General Aetius will not last long with two to one, and a veteran army against him.  Then how long do you think your earthworks will hold up when Attila returns to Paris with three times your number?”

“He wouldn’t,” Aegidius began to sound like a coward.

“I won’t ask your Legions to abandon Paris and join up with general Aetius, but maybe they have to decide which general to follow, and don’t think Aetius is going to be happy with you hiding in Paris.  I will give you a compromise.  You have ten days and then I take the Franks and Saxons to Orleans to support Aetius.”

One of the legion generals stood and began to walk off with the comment, “I better get packed and get my men ready to travel.”

Aegidius threw his hands up even as he growled at Festuscato.  “All right, we go to Orleans to support Aetius with the last of the Roman power and presence in Gaul, but I pick the route, and if the Huns turn on us, we race back to defend Paris.”

“Vir Illustris?  Imperial governor?” one general asked.

“Comes Britanarium,” Bran confirmed, and the general nodded that he was satisfied.  An imperial governor and general in chief of a whole province outranked the Magister Millitum in his mind, even if Festuscato was technically the governor of Britain, not Gaul.

At nine days, people were having trouble keeping their feet still.  At ten days, they left, though he had said they would allow ten days to get ready, it might have been interpreted as leave on the tenth day.  Lord Birch and his crew took over the spying duties from Ironwood and the other young ones from the Frisian shore.  Strongarm and his elves watched the perimeter and insured that any Hun scouts saw only what they were supposed to see.

Luckless caught up with the group in Paris.  He brought nearly a thousand dwarfs from the deep mines around the Rhine valley, the Moselle and the Meuse.  Hogtick, the dwarf king, had a fine daughter, a young dwarf woman named Lolly, and she seemed taken with Luckless.  Many of the other dwarfs teased him, and even Hogtick teased him, but Luckless would not be talked out of it.  Lolly had the makings of a great cook.

“But now I have to do something right and earn her hand,” Luckless said, and everyone encouraged him, but in their hearts, everyone said congratulations because they knew Luckless would not be long for the single world no matter what happened.

It took several days to move the whole army into position just north of Orleans, or Aurelianum as the Romans called it.  They found the Alans and Amoricans backed up behind the city wall, such as it was, and the surrounding suburbs were firmly in the hands of the Huns.  Attila still negotiated, and King Sangiban seriously considered opening the gates and joining the Huns.  Festuscato felt sure if the king did that, the men would be slaughtered, as surely as the people of Mainz were slaughtered, even though they surrendered and put up no resistance.  But Goar, the Alan general and King Budic of Amorica were not for giving up.  

The situation looked like a stalemate.  If Attila turned on Festuscato’s army, Goar and Budic would be at his back.  The Huns, Gepids and Ostrogoths together might win that battle, but they would be so devastated, the whole plan of conquest would be bust.  Attila’s only hope seemed to get Sangiban to surrender.  Then he could reasonably enter the city to loot and pillage where Festuscato could not get at him to stop him.  The only thing then would be to get back out of the city without becoming trapped.  That probably came to Attila’s mind when he pulled out suddenly and headed back east, the way he had come.  People wondered why he would do such a thing.  Festuscato had one answer.

“Aetius is close.”

General Aetius quickly set the battle order, keeping the various groups where they were and setting the Alans and Amoricans in the center so they could all move up quickly without having to move whole armies around.  Attila stopped in the flat open fields around Chalons where his preponderance of horsemen would have the advantage.  The problem for Aetius was even keeping his groups in the same order, it would take about three days to get there and get ready. The problem for Attila, was he pulled back from Orleans so quickly, even his veteran troops would string out for miles and need time to catch up, and by the time he built an encampment he could use as a redoubt, that would also take three days.

Attila proved a good general.  No one ever said otherwise.  He turned to Ardaric and his Gepids to set up a rear guard to insure all of his troops had time to get in position and get ready for battle.  Ardaric had mostly infantry, and he knew the Visigoths were the only group that had the horsemen to challenge the Huns, but he figured Aetius would hold them back and make every effort to be sure they did not get ahead of themselves.  The Alans in the center also had some good horsemen, but not in great numbers.  They did not bother him.  His men beat the Alans and Amoricans around Orleans and would have ruined the city if they had enough time.  Then he hardly gave Aegidius a thought.  The man seemed determined to preserve his legions and had no plans to spend them.   Thus, the only enemy that worried Ardaric became the Dragon and his Franks and Saxons.  He and Attila knew the Franks gathered around Liege several months ago, but at the time they seemed a minor inconvenience.  They never imagined so many Franks in one place, nor that the Saxons and Franks would work together.

Ardaric took the Frank Cariaric and his Hessians and Turingians, about five thousand men.  He took ten thousand of his own men, and they set up a line against the north to forestall any incursions into Attila’s strung-out lines.  It seemed a good position, and they were arrayed behind the woods where any unsuspecting enemy troop would run into them and be trapped before they could escape.  The problem for Ardaric, what he could not have known, was Festuscato knew exactly where the Hessians and Gepids were, how many there were, and where they were spread too thin to cover the whole northern flank.  Festuscato came into the command tent rubbing his hands.

“Gentlemen,” he said.  “We have been presented with an opportunity.”  That was how he saw it.  “Cariaric and his Hessians and Thuringians are on the east end of the line, furthest from the Hun gathering point I imagine because Ardaric considers them the most expendable.”  Festuscato took a moment to set up a little scene on the table and took various plates and utensils to represent the different groups, while Etheldrood spoke.

“I volunteer my men to crush the Hessians and Thuringians.”

Chlodebaud interrupted. “I was thinking Cariaric and his Thuringian wife need to be taught a good lesson.”  The two men looked at each other and all but shook hands.

“As I was thinking,” Festuscato said.  “But the Gepids, once they realize their line is in trouble, might turn their end of the line and try to hit you on your flank.”

“Adalbert and I can be waiting in the woods to hit their line instead.” Merovech caught the idea.  “We can turn their very woods against them and surprise them.”  Adalbert looked game for the idea.  Festuscato just smiled.  He did not have to say anything more.

The fight became bloody.  Fifteen thousand Franks and Saxons broke fifteen thousand Gepids, Franks and Thuringians.  Ardaric clearly got the worst of it, but when he pulled his troops back, the Franks and Saxons were in no condition to follow up their victory.  In a way, Ardaric got the victory because he kept the Franks and Saxons too busy to invade Attila’s lines and disrupt the battle preparations, so mostly it became just a bloody confrontation with nothing really gained by either side.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 3 of 3

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.

“I understand your frustration.  My men are not used to waiting.  We see the enemy and we want to attack.”

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.”

“Lord Birch.”

“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.”

“What last man?” the young one asked in a snarky, unbelieving voice.

“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.

************************

MONDAY

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:

*

 

 

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 2 of 3

“Put a finger up,” Festuscato said.

“What?  I don’t see how—”

“No, I mean right now, put a finger up.”  Merovech did and Festuscato explained.  “That finger represents you, the Salian Franks, a strong people, but alone.”  Festuscato raised his hands and started with his left thumb.  “Now on this side we have Attila and about fifteen thousand Huns, and he has with him at least another fifteen thousand others.”  With each name he turned down a finger until he made a fist.  “Ostrogoths under Valamir, Bavarians, Suebi, Avars.”  He turned to his right hand and started with his thumb again.  “Here, we have the sons of Attila with another fifteen thousand Huns, and with them we have Ardaric and his Gepids, Goths, Thuringians, and your brother Cariaric and his Hessians.  Tell me how a finger alone is going to stand against two big fists.”

Merovech put his finger down and looked awkward for a moment.  “I understand.”

Festuscato continued.  “Why do you think the Huns hold sway over such a large empire?  It is because all of the various German and other tribes try to stand up, one finger against the fist.  I don’t know why.  Stupidity or pride, I guess.  They are often the same thing.  I spent the last nine or so years listening to great tales of courage and valor, but in the end, the people bow to the Huns and pay tribute.  But I was thinking if a few of those German tribes joined together to make their own fist—”

Merovech interrupted.  “I see, Chlodebaud and Adelbert.  We join forces.  Salian, Ripuarian and Mosen Franks together, like our father Clodio tried to do.”  Festuscato simply nodded while Merovech thought it through.  Childeric had come over to listen, Heather resting comfortably on his shoulder.  He put his elbows on the table and looked back and forth between Festuscato and his father.  “But that is only three fingers.  We still cannot come near to matching even one fist.  If each fist is thirty thousand as you say, and I do not doubt it, we can raise maybe ten thousand.  Not much more.”

“That is why we get the Saxons to join us,” Festuscato said.

“Saxons?”  Merovech almost objected.  The Franks and Saxons were not good neighbors, and the prejudice could be heard in Merovech’s voice, even if he only said the one word.

“Who do you think you have been drinking with at Felix’s tavern these past few months?”  Festuscato asked, knowing full well that Merovech went by the tavern any number of times. 

“Why?  Only that one-eyed loudmouth of a Saxon.  He is a rude, crude braggart and displays everything that so many don’t like about the breed.”

“Granted,” Festuscato nodded.  “But he is not a bad man.”

“No,” Merovech admitted.  “He is not a bad man.”

Festuscato nodded again.  “He is also the king of the Saxons, or father of the king, anyway.”

“What?”  Merovech bounded out of his seat with enough force to knock his chair to the floor.

Festuscato finished nodding.  “Gregor will keep his son in line and pointed at the enemy. or he will kick Egbert’s butt.”

“Etheldrood,” Childeric said.

“Yes, thank you,” Festuscato smiled for Childeric and Heather.  “Etheldrood will bring about four thousand men or more, ready for battle, men who have come to despise the Huns.  Indeed, it will probably be difficult to hold them back and stick to the battle plan.”

Merovech picked up his seat.  “So, if my brothers and I can raise about ten thousand between us, that still leaves us short.  Even with the Saxons, we will have only half of one fist.”  Merovech shook his head again as he shook his finger at Festuscato.  “But somehow I feel you have an answer.  Son,” he spoke to Childeric.  “This one is sly.  Maybe you can learn from him.”

“Yes, father.  I have been paying attention,” Childeric responded.

“Liege,” Festuscato said.  “The hills around give good cover, and the town is not a capital or of the size to be tempting to the Huns, plus it is about in the middle for you and your brothers.  Cologne will have to be abandoned, and Tournai, and probably Trier as well.  Let the men come to Liege ready to fight and let the women and children seek refuge in the country.  Leave enough treasure and food in the cities like an offering, so the Huns are not tempted to scour the countryside.  That would lead to too many unnecessary deaths.  So, leave enough food and treasure to make it worth their while and they will move on.  Remember, buildings can always be rebuilt.”

Merovech shook his head again.  “What you ask will be hard, but I see we will not be nearly ready to meet them in time to defend even one city.  And I see if we try to defend our own cities, we will not have the force on our own to stop them.”

“Or even slow them down,” Festuscato agreed.  “So, we gather around Liege, and when the Huns pass out of Salian territory, we will follow them carefully.  We might pick off their stragglers, but we must stay prepared to back away if they turn.  They will know we are behind them.”

“But wait.  You haven’t answered about the fist.  With my brothers and the Saxons, we have only four fingers.  Where is our thumb to complete the fist?”

“Aegidius,” Festuscato said.  “Right now, he has three legions with auxiliaries, about twenty thousand men building earthworks around Paris.  When the Huns arrive at Paris, Ardaric and Attila will be facing a wall.  We may be able to crush them against that wall, though I doubt it.”

“Eh?”

“They will know we are behind them.  It will be April or May, so the weather will lighten up.  They may turn to join up with the other fist and avoid the bad position we will put them in.”

“That would be bad.  If they rejoin their two fists, they will once again badly outnumber us.  How can we hope to counter so many wild dogs?”

“General Aetius,” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I have it on good authority that General Aetius has returned from Italy and raised many men in Provence.  He has a large number of men coming from Burgundy in the spring and is talking to the Visigoths.  Thorismund, the son, has given me his word that he will bring what men he can, and I believe if the son comes to fight, his father Theodoric will not let him get all the glory.”

“Visigoths,” Merovech sounded thoughtful and pulled on his beard.

“And you know the Visigoths do nothing by half measure.  When they come, it will be twenty-thousand or none.”

Merovech began nodding at last.  “But you give me Romans, Burgundians and Visigoths, a great army, but the fist is not complete.”

“I expect them to reach Orleans by the end of May.  There, they can pick up King Sangiban and the Alans, maybe another ten thousand.”  Merovech waved his pinky finger, but Festuscato just smiled.  “King Budic of Amorica will bring his men from the west and meet them at Orleans.  Then we will have Attila between two armies, two fists, so whichever way he turns, he will have an army at his back.”

Merovech smiled at last.  “The plan is good, even if nothing ever goes exactly to plan.  And to think you arranged all this while sitting in my prison cell.  Makes me tremble to think what the dragon will do if I set you free.”

“That reminds me,” Festuscato said and stood.  He stepped to a certain spot and kicked the floor.  They all heard the hollow sound, and a trap door opened a crack.  “Tell Branhilde I’ll meet her in the inn after an hour or so.”

“Very good, Lord.”  The deep, booming voice sounded out before the trap door closed.

“Horeburt,” Festuscato called.

“Yes, Lord.  Majesty.”  Horeburt came to the door and acknowledged both Festuscato and Merovech, his king.

“When I escape, you better go with me so you can say you are still guarding the prisoner and not get into trouble.”

“If it is all the same to you,” Horeburt responded.  “My brother has a place up north on the shore.  I was thinking of taking my family and going for a visit.”  Clearly Horeburt had listened in and thought about the Huns coming to Tournai.

“Wise move,” Festuscato said and turned again to Merovech.  Merovech smiled at the jailer’s good thinking when something sunk into his brain.  He stood suddenly.

“Why am I sitting here?  I have so much to do and only a couple of months to do it.”  He headed for the outside door but returned a thought.  “Jailer, let the rest of the prisoners out before you go.”

“Yes majesty,” Horeburt responded while Festuscato began to collect his things.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 1 of 3

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?”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 3 of 3

“And how do you know what Attila will do?” Gaius asked the obvious question.

“We just spent the last eight or nine years mostly in the empire of the Hun.  We saw more cowed people than you can count.  Maybe we did not deal much directly with the Huns, but we heard all the stories.”

“Paper,” Felix came to the table, having stepped away for a moment.  He set paper, a jar of ink and several quills on the table.  “My wife keeps the accounts and keeps a supply handy.”

“Luckless,” Festuscato held his hand out to the dwarf.  “Four pieces if you don’t mind.”

Luckless grumbled as he pulled four gold coins out of his vest pocket.  “Not much left, you know.”

Festuscato nodded and handed them to Felix.  “One for the rooms, one for the food, one for the care and feeding of the horses, and one for your wife, for the paper and ink, and maybe you buy her something.”  No doubt, it was more gold than Felix had seen in a long time.

Festuscato took the paper and ink to a separate table, one with the afternoon light, and he spent the afternoon writing letters.  Father Gaius helped some with the more diplomatic parts.  He went to bed tired but woke up early and wrote some more.  Then he sealed the letters and finally coaxed Tulip down from the rafters.

“Yes Lord, I understand, but we are closest here to the coastal fairies and I do not know who they might be,” she said.

Festuscato risked a migraine by reaching his thoughts out to the coast.  He caught a few names and was pleased with what he found.  “Treeborn and Goldenrod,” he called, and with a look at Tulip, he added, “And the son, Waterborn.”

Three fairies appeared on the table.  It was still early enough in the day, so it caused no stir among the patrons. Treeborn looked old and seemed to be having trouble figuring out what just happened, but Goldenrod, his wife figured it out readily enough and turned him to Festuscato.  She curtsied.  Treeborn squinted at him.  Waterborn did nothing since his eyes were occupied with Tulip.  That was fine, because she just stared right back at him.

“Forgive me.  I should have changed first,” Festuscato smiled and went away so Greta could take his place.  “It is good to see you again,” she said.  “But when did you leave the lake of gold on the Dnieper?”  Goldenrod gave another curtsey and this time Treeborn seemed to recognize her.  He gave a slight bow before he answered.

“When the Goths came south and slaughtered so many as they pushed through Dacia, all the way to the Danube.  They built a settlement on the lake, and we went nomad, always moving to the northwest, until at last we found a place along the coast and among the Frisians.”

“Father?”  Waterborn looked over and Tulip offered a curtsey of her own as they took a break from their staring contest.

“I see you have grown,” Greta said with a smile.  In her day, he had hardly been a child of fifty.  Now he had to be near three hundred.  “Are you ready for another adventure and another battle?”

“Yes, Lady.”  Waterborn finally offered a bow.  “But I heard you had passed on.”

“I did.  This is not my life.  It belongs to Lord Festuscato Cassius Agitus, and he has some very important letters to be delivered.  I need a dozen volunteers.  Time is not of the essence, but time is fleeting, might you ask—”

“I know just the crew,” Treeborn shouted.

“Here,” Greta said in the right way, tapped the table, and closer to twenty fairies appeared as Waterborn frowned.

“Father!” Waterborn complained with the word, and Greta caught a glimpse that these were his friends and Treeborn thought of them as lazy lay-abouts. 

“The lady has messages to carry, letters to be exact, and she needs volunteers to carry them.”  Treeborn rubbed his hands together, while Goldenrod had a practical thought.

“Perhaps you should go in teams of two.  You can pair up.”

“Where do you want them sent?”  Treeborn already reached the next step.

“Only if you are willing,” Greta insisted, and she waited until she heard from them all.  Then she prepared to tell them about the letters and about delivering them in private and not being caught, but to give also a verbal message to help underline the letter, but they got interrupted.  A dozen Franks came in with swords drawn.

“Where is the Roman?” one man asked while Greta raised her voice.

“Bran and Gregor, don’t you dare resist.  It is just my escort to my winter quarters, that’s all, so put your weapons back where they belong.”  Fortunately, the Franks paused on seeing the fairy troop, so no one got hurt.  One of the Franks ran back outside.  He looked scared half to death.  But a young man of about fourteen or fifteen years came right up to the table to watch.  Greta looked and guessed.

“Childeric?”  The young man nodded while Greta went right back to instructing the fairies about the letters.  “I’ll be with you in a minute,” Greta said, and she saved Merovech’s letter for last.  “This one is for your father,” she said.  “He must be prepared to evacuate Tournai as soon as the Huns show their ugly faces.”

“The Huns work for the Romans,” Childeric said.  “The Romans killed my grandfather, Clodio when I was twelve.”

“No, dear,” Greta said, and she raised her voice loud enough to be heard by all the Franks who were standing around the inn by then, thinking about getting a tankard of ale.  “The Huns killed your grandfather, and now we have good information that they are going to rebel and start killing Romans.  They want to take over Gaul.  You might not like the Romans, but they are better than having Huns in charge.”

“At the risk of sounding like a Christian,” Gregor spoke up and winked at Father Gaius.  “I say Amen to that.”

Greta turned back to the fairies.  With the last letter gone, Tulip and Waterborn and three of Waterborn’s friends remained.  Treeborn and Goldenrod also remained, and Greta told the elderly couple how glad she was to see them again, and how happy she was that they found a good home, away from all the fighting around Dacia.  “I hope we can keep the fighting away from you this time.  Please, may I borrow Waterborn and his friends for a while?”

“By all means,” Goldenrod said sweetly.

“Please,” Treeborn said, but in a way where it seemed hard to tell if he meant a polite be my guest or please get them out of my hair for a while.

“Now watch this,” Greta said, and Childeric leaned over to watch.  Greta clapped her hands and Treeborn and Goldenrod vanished.  They would reappear back in their home on the Frisian coast.

“How did you do that?”  Childeric looked impressed, and vocal at fourteen.

Greta smiled and placed a gentle hand on the boy’s cheek.  “A secret,” she said in a conspiratorial voice which only intrigued the boy all the more.  She turned once again to the fairies and looked them over.  Waterborn’s remaining friends were two younger boys, Clover and Ironwood, and a girl named Heather who looked so young.  She just recently turned over a hundred-years-old and thus barely qualified as an adult.

“Now Tulip,” she said.  “No more hiding in the rafters.  You need to take your friends and introduce them to the others.  Don’t forget to include Felix and Father Gaius, and Sergeant Dibs when he gets here.  And be good to Luckless.”

“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and with some glee in her voice she grabbed Waterborn’s hand and dragged him over to meet Bran the Sword and Gregor one-eye.

“Now Childeric,” Greta turned and spoke up again to get the attention of the Franks.  “I believe you came to arrest me.”

“No, not you,” Childeric said.  “We were looking for the Roman, a man.”

“But that is me,” Greta said.  She smiled again and went away so Festuscato could return in his comfortable clothes.  Childeric shrieked.  The two Franks who had taken seats to wait, jumped to their feet.  The leader of this squad of men let out a bellow, like a buffalo driven off the cliff.  Festuscato ignored them all and put his hands out.  “I surrender,” he said.

The Franks escorted Festuscato to jail.  It was a pleasant walk since none of the Franks dared touch him, and Gaius came along for company.

“There are enough Christians in town,” Gaius said.  “I say mass every morning, extra early this morning in anticipation of finishing the letters.  Merovech is accommodating, but I feel he just does not want to be on the wrong side of any gods.”

“Good.”  Festuscato was not really listening.  It took until they were almost there before Festuscato opened up and said what was on his mind.  “I think we should have most of the winter for you to hear my confessions.  Trouble is, everything indicates Attila will move in the coming year, but there is no telling how soon he will move.”

“Burn that bridge when you come to it, as you say,” Gaius quipped, and they arrived.

It looked like a jailhouse in the old American west.  They even had an office out front, but through the big door at the back of the office sat a long room full of torture devices on the left and cells on the right where the prisoners could look out on the torture devices and think about it.  The jailer, a man named Horeburt, appeared as big, mean and ugly as one might expect.  Not having the experience of the fairies in the tavern, Horeburt thought nothing of reaching out to roughly grab the prisoner.  The chief Frank himself stayed the man’s hand.

“I don’t recommend you touch this one, at least not before Merovech gets back.”

“I’ll take the cell on the end here,” Festuscato pointed.  He had looked and this one was the cleanest and had a small, barred window through which Tulip could visit.

Horeburt got the key and the Franks stayed long enough to see Festuscato securely locked in.  Gaius left when Festuscato assured him he would be comfortable.  Then Horeburt got a chair.  There were three other men in three other cells, but Horeburt only seemed curious about the Roman.  He set his chair outside the bars that made up the door to the cell and he watched as several fairies fluttered in the window carrying a fine lunch.  They set it on the small table in the cell, and carried on a conversation, which Horeburt recognized as Latin even if his Latin was not good enough to know what they were saying.

The fairies went away while the prisoner ate, but returned soon enough with fresh straw for bedding, several blankets and a first-rate pillow.  Festuscato looked through the bars and told Horeburt he was going to take a nap and would appreciate some privacy.  Horeburt watched as a troll rose up right out of the ground inside the cell.  The troll had another blanket which he draped over the bars to act like a real door and cut off Horeburt’s sight.  Horeburt decided the chief Frank had been right.  He never would have permitted another prisoner to cut himself off so he could not be seen, but in this case, Horeburt decided he did not want to see anymore.  He looked down where his feet touched the ground, slowly stood and put the chair back where it belonged.  He went out to the office room and sat in the big chair there, then he pulled his feet off the floor before he tried for his own nap.

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M0NDAY

Festuscato does what he can from jail all winter long, because he expects Attila and his Huns to move in the spring. Until Monday, Happy Reading

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