R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 3 of 3

They arrived in the woods and held the men back so the chiefs and lords could get a good look.  Saxons covered the grass below the fort, looking as numerous as the blades of grass themselves.  Festuscato wondered how Pinewood came up with the number of five thousand, unless he counted everyone.  It mostly looked like a lot, and several men whistled softly at the sight.  It looked for the moment that the Saxons were stymied by Cadbury Hill.  They had to overcome the three or four terraces that ran all the way around the hill before they could get to the fort itself.  Presently they had no easy way up, but the Saxons had catapults and slings so it would only be a matter of time before the wall came tumbling down.

Festuscato grabbed a handful of grass and let it fall. He felt the wind in his face, and it felt strong, but he knew in Somerset it could be changeable.  He looked at the grass which felt dry, perhaps dangerously dry, and tall where it still stood despite the Saxon footprint. As far as Festuscato knew, it had not rained in the three weeks since he had been back on the island.  He called to his little ones.  Yes, they could keep the wind at ground level blowing in the right direction and could easily set fire to the grass.  He explained what he wanted them to do, and then divided his men.

He had five hundred horse and added five hundred foot men to the count.  He sent them through the trees to the head of the open fields.  Their job would be to prevent any Saxons from escaping, especially horsemen.  The other fifteen hundred men had bows, or prepared themselves with long spears to protect the bowmen.  When things started, they would happen fast.

“Not a very good siege to leave these woods unprotected,” Mirowen commented.

“It isn’t a siege,” Festuscato said.  “They figure the Welsh are busy fighting the Irish, and York and North Britain are too far away to bother, and even if York sends some men, they still have the advantage in numbers.  Obviously, they have their men concentrated in these fields because they have brought the necessary equipment to smash down the walls. Once that onager, that primitive trebuchet makes a big enough hole in the wall, a concentrated charge with massive numbers of men will get the Saxons inside well enough.”

“And now?” Dibs asked.  He knew what an onager was.

“Now I want the siege engines burned along with as many Saxons as possible.  I expect the Saxons to try and escape out from the line of fire.  So we have a thousand men, half on horseback to hunt them down.  I expect most to make for these woods, and we might not survive such an attack, but we should take most of them with us, and the ones who break through will find Dumdiddle and his dwarfs waiting.  I expect some will try to jump the line of fire, but they won’t live long.”  He did not repeat the part about their not surviving, and no one asked, so he gave the signal to begin.

A long line of fire rose up on the other side of the fields and started to move across the field like disciplined soldiers on parade. The Saxons fought the flames, but fire sprites kept it burning and the wind stayed relentless, blowing smoke in the Saxon faces.  When the fighting got fierce on the edge of the woods with all those Saxons that slowly decided to try to escape, Festuscato got word that Constantine and Cador of Cornwall were ready to come out of the fort and attack the Saxons head-on if Festuscato could stop the moving fire.  He did, and sent word to his foot soldiers on the end of the fields to hit the Saxons from behind when those Saxons turned to fight off the men from the fort.  The elves stayed behind the fire line, so any Saxons who tried to jump the fire would be picked off.   Festuscato brought up his dwarfs to hold the trees while he organized a charge of his own.

When the men with the dragon tunics and the men with the lion of Cornwall tunics poured from the fort, the Saxons turned to meet the threat, as expected   The fire hemmed them in, but there remained plenty of room to fight.  When the five hundred fell on the Saxon rear, the Saxons were shaken. When Festuscato lead a thousand men from the woods to hit the Saxon flank and push the enemy into the fire, the Saxon resistance fell apart.  Some tried to force past the five hundred and escape south, back to Sussex, but the Welsh and British horsemen tracked them and caught many.  Others still found the woods their best bet, if they could make it past the dwarfs.  Not many escaped, but some did.  When the Saxons found enemies pressing in on every side, one great line of Saxons jumped the fire at once with the plan to make for the far woods and turn south under cover.  Some got passed the elfish archers, but only by sheer numbers, and they got tracked by Pinewood and his fairies in the late afternoon, and the goblins and trolls after dark.

Only dribs and drabs of Saxons returned to Saxon lands tell the tales, and they were tales to frighten the children, tales of the Roman and his sorcery, of elfin magic and demon terrors in the night. One tale that made it back to Saxony on the continent, and from there up into Danish lands and across the water to the Swedes and Geats was the tale of miraculous dwarfish armor, magical, made with such skill and cunning no sword or ax could break it.  In truth, six dwarfs caught sixty Saxons trying to escape through a gully near the fort.  Six Saxons survived and four made it home alive.  Of course, the tale got stretched, in a literal sense, and expanded until the chain of armor came with a whole trove of cursed treasure, but that came later.  In the near term, the chain of Weland showed up again, but that is a different story.

In truth, Luckless found his Uncle Weland in a pool of blood.  The unbroken chain did not protect everything.  Weland was missing a hand and a foot and leaking from innumerable cuts around his face and neck.  “The jinx of the family,” he breathed out his recognition of his nephew.  “Make your way well in the world.  I never believed in that unlucky stuff.  Here, take the chain.  It may protect you and bring you luck.”  That was all he said when he died, and Luckless cried in the night and said his Uncle was the only one who ever believed in him, and what was he going to do now?

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum:  After the battle is cleaned up, and the people of Britain, Wales, and Cornwall are convinced that this Pendragon idea might work after all, Festuscato and his crew escape to London…and then, from London.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 2 of 3

Danna spanked Talesin so hard he took to the air, involuntarily, and landed somewhere out in the channel.  “Now, Addaon,” she smiled for the boy.  “Never forget.  That was your sire, but Dyrnwch is your father.  Always honor your father.”

“Dyrnwch is my father.  I will not forget,” Addaon said, and he added, “Mother.”

Danna put her hand to the boy’s cheek again, and patted it softly.  “Good boy. Marry and have children of your own, and I cannot say if I will see you again.”  She turned away and shouted and clapped her hands.  “Rhiannon.”

“Now what?”  Rhiannon appeared.  “I was just about to take Clugh for a good wing stretchy.”

“I know,” Danna said.  “You can do that here.  Do you see those towers, building?”

“Of course.”

“I would appreciate it if you and Clugh practiced setting them on fire.”

“Yes.  But there are men there.  Aren’t you afraid we might be teaching him the wrong sort of lesson?”

“Perhaps.  But you know Festuscato.  He crosses one bridge at a time.”

Rhiannon nodded.  “He makes it up as he goes along.  By the way, I heard Talesin scream all the way in Amorica.”

“He broke the rules, a thing you should consider as long as you still have work to do.”

Rhiannon changed the subject by peeking around Danna. “Addaon.  Hello brother.  I think I will call you brother A.”

“Hello?”  Addaon got the word out in the face of the goddess, but he did not sound to certain, as Rhiannon vanished and Danna let Festuscato come home.

“All right,” Festuscato shouted and saw the various Lords of Wales were dismounted and waiting patiently.  They all saw what happened, but Danna made sure they did not hear, and she made sure Addaon knew they did not hear.  “Ogryvan,” Festuscato called.  They were hearing now.  “When the dragon attacks, the rest of us will attack this end of the Irish line. Ogryvan, I want you and your men to take the town.  Try to kill only the Irish, and there is nothing wrong with driving them to their ships and letting them cut loose.  Do not burn the Irish ships.  Anwyn should be allowed to keep them as a small payment for his troubles.  Okay?”

Ogryvan nodded.

“Bryn and Dyrnwch, you and your men take the point. You men from the coasts need to back them up.  The idea is when the Irish run away from the dragon, the rest should be running away from us, and when the two groups run into each other, hopefully, in the confusion, they will surrender.  Allow them to surrender.  We don’t want an all-out war with the Irish.  We just want to hurt them enough so they don’t try this again.  Got it?”

Men nodded, and Bran whispered.

“Good plan.  Good luck.  They are not trained Romans.”

Festuscato heard a scream come all the way from the back of the woods.  “Dragon! What do you mean you smell dragon!”

“I was kind of hoping the clerics would keep Mousden quiet.  I forgot about the dwarf’s nose,” Mirowen said.

“You better go see to them,” Festuscato told her, and she gave him a dirty look for using that as an excuse to keep her out of it, but she took her horse and went without arguing.  “Mount up,” Festuscato yelled, and it took only moments before they charged the Irish line.

Things did not go as expected, which was expected. Ogryvan’s men took no prisoners and burned the Irish ships, the docks, several fishing boats and one merchantman from Lyoness which happened to be in port when all of this started.  Ogryvan apologized, profusely, but could not hide his pleasure.  When Festuscato pointed out that Ogryvan would have to pay for the fishing boats and merchant ship, he lost his smile.

“Of course, you can appeal to the Pendragon, but I would not expect sympathy from the lords gathered there.”

It took more than expected to get the Irish to give up their position and collapse the line, and when they gave up ground, they did not run in panic but pulled back, slowly.  Bran lost his horse to an arrow early on, but that proved worse for the Irish as he showed what an artist he was with that big sword of his.  Dibs and the monks Cedrych and Madog joined him as he led a company of men along the wall of the fort where the horses could not go. Meanwhile, men ran well enough from the dragon, but Clugh got distracted by all that motion and fried a number of men. Rhiannon tried to keep her baby to task, but did not begrudge him some fun since getting the Irish to run was the plan.

In the end, there were plenty of Irish soldiers who tried to escape to the woods.  Half of their ships were a number of miles away in a cove the Saxons would use in Gerraint’s day.  Festuscato knew the escapees would never make it to their ships, and indeed, the guards they left around the ships would not survive the night, and he felt bad about putting his little ones in danger, but he also felt bad about the fact that his little ones interpreted orders in whatever way felt convenient.  He knew surrender would not be convenient.

The only thing Festuscato insisted on was finding Sean Fen.  It turned out to be easy.  The man had been killed by an arrow the day before Festuscato arrived, and he said so in the letter of condolence he wrote to MacNeill.  Then they had to get everyone to Cadbury, because the Saxons were definitely moving, an army of about five thousand strong.  Fortunately, there were twelve hundred men coming down from the north, from York and Fort Guinnon and Edinburgh, and Festuscato thought if he timed it right, he could meet up with them somewhere around Bath.  With his little ones added in, he might move three thousand to meet the Saxon threat, and hopefully south Britain, Cadbury and Cornwall could make up the number difference.

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 1 of 3

Festuscato stood on the small hill where he could look out over the activity around Caerdyf.  The wall around the village looked unfinished and the village looked burned and smoldering.  The walls of the fort looked to be holding, but even with every man from the village added, there could not have been more than three hundred human defenders. Luckily, Hywel from Caerleon got there first with two hundred additional men, and Festuscato sent Pinewood and a hundred fairy archers to help.  That put six hundred against some two thousand wild Irishmen under Sean Fen.

Leinster must have sent his whole army.  Sean Fen must have convinced him that now would be the time to strike, with the dragon in Ireland with Patrick.  Festuscato understood well enough.  Caerdyf represented a strong Wales shutting the door against the Irish.  If they could tear down the fort, they could keep the Welsh weak and Wales easy pickings. Sean Fen, the pirate wanted easy pickings, but overall, the Irish benefited from keeping the Welsh weak. It could not have been a hard argument to make.  Sadly, six hundred against over two thousand did not make good odds, even if the six hundred were behind stout walls.

“Addaon.”  Festuscato called the young man to the front.  Dyrnwch stayed with his men as did Bryn.  They had four hundred men from the midlands and three hundred more from the north under Ogryvan.  Roughly another four hundred came from the coasts, but they were mostly disorganized and in small groups, including thirty men and monks from Branwen’s Cove.  The monks Cedrych and Madog smiled when they said they wanted to see that their horses were getting proper care.

“Sir?”  Addaon did not know what to call Festuscato.

“What do you see the Irish building there, over there on the west side of the fort?”

“That is a very long way,” Addaon said.  He squinted and stumbled when he felt a sharp slap on his back.

“Look with your fairy eyes, man,” Festuscato said. “You don’t have to play ordinary human with me.”  Addaon turned his head to stare at Festuscato, so Festuscato used his finger to point and his other hand to turn Addaon’s head to the task.  “There.  Over there. What are they building?”

“They look like towers.  I would say several, and nearly complete.”  Addaon wrenched his head free of Festuscato’s hand and spouted. “How did you know?”

“I know your sire, that disobedient son of a mother. He is a full blood fairy but with a little spark of the goddess Amonette in him so he is immortal, and I can’t get rid of him, God bless him.  He knows full well fairies are not supposed to mate with humans, but how can I punish McKraken when my own son disobeys me?”  Festuscato shook his head.

“Wait.  My father is your son?  How is that possible?  You can’t be more than a few years older than me.”  Addaon was bright.

“I’m not, and if you call me Grandad I’ll hit you. He is Danna’s son, but explaining that is a bit complicated.”

“A woman?  Danna?”

“The goddess Danna.  The Mother goddess.”

“So, I should call you Granma?”  Addaon grinned.

“You do and she will hit you, and she hits harder than I do.  All of her children and grandchildren and so on just call her Mother, and so you understand, I don’t answer to the name Mother.”

“I’m confused,” Addaon admitted.

“Lord Agitus,” Mirowen stepped up and interrupted before she inserted a note for the young man.  “Confusion is what the Lord does best.”

“What?” Festuscato kept looking back at the troops, trying to figure out how to deploy them so they didn’t trip over each other or start killing each other by accident, thinking the unfamiliar face was the enemy.

“Lord.  The wood elves and dwarfs under Weland, and the hundred fairies Pinewood left on our side of the fort have all volunteered to take down the towers on your command.”

“Hold that thought.  I want to try something else first.  For now, tell them to keep to the woods.  If the Irish try to flee the battlefield, it will be important to stop them before we end up with hundreds of wild Irishmen roaming the wilderness.”

“Lord Pyre an Nog suggested we wait until dark when he and his can sneak up on the Irish, unprepared.”  Mirowen made a face.  “He means when the Irish are unprepared.”

“No, but I imagine some Irish may try for the woods in the dusk and dark.  He and his will not lack for targets, as long as they stick to Irish targets and avoid the innocent Welsh.  Now, let me see what I can do.  What?” Festuscato appeared to be talking to himself.  Mirowen waited patiently, as did Dibs and Bran.  Addaon did not know what to think.  “But this is not a job for you.  I’m surprised you are even accessible.  You god types usually hide when it is strictly a human event.  I understand Gerraint and Greta because they are close, and maybe the princess or one of the others around the storyteller, but … No, now wait a minute.  You showed up with Patrick.  You practically took over with the wraiths.  Now you want … I don’t care if he is your grandson … oh bother.” Festuscato went away and Danna took his place.  She smiled and laid a hand on an astounded Addaon’s cheek.  Then she told him to be good for a moment.

“Talesin!” she shouted, and a fairy appeared, took one look and would have vanished again if Danna did not keep him there. “Big.”  It was all Danna had to say, and Talesin got big, and whistled, and looked at the sky.  “Your son, you naughty boy.  Where is his mother?” she asked, but the moment the question formed in her mind she knew the answer.

“He is with his mother.  Dyrnwch doesn’t know.  He went on a trading expedition and was gone sixteen months.  Poor Caru said he could not give her children.  I felt her sorrow so deeply, I could not help myself.  Really. I couldn’t help it.”

“And now you see the results of your infidelity,” Danna tapped her foot, impatiently.

“He seems a fine lad,” Talesin said with a hopeful grin.

“You see the results of you refusing to go over to the other side.”

“Mother?”

“Turn around.”

“But Mother.  People are watching.”

“Turn around,” Danna repeated herself, and Talesin reluctantly turned.

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 3 of 3

“Bryn ap Trefor, I am here.”  It sounded like a squeaky voice, and a man staggered into the room that could not have been five feet tall if he wore heels. Chief Bryn laughed for the next half-hour, and the only thing Dyrnwch could do was shake his head.

“He has been telling tales again.”

“Yes.”  Dibs spoke with some disgust, and a look that set Bryn to laughing harder.

“Trying to frighten us,” Mousden said, a bit loud.

“But, did you really fight off a whole Irish horde single handed?” Seamus wanted to hear a good adventure.

“It was more like fifty Irish, and my son, Addaon and a hundred of my men were there to help,” Dyrnwch admitted as he sipped his ale and sat on a seat obviously made for him so he could reach the table.  His son Addaon came with him, but so far, he kept respectfully quiet.  Gaius offered a compliment to turn the conversation.

“Your son has your look about him.”  Addaon appeared a good looking, full sized young man, but Gaius’ comment started Lord Bryn on another round of laughter.

“My thanks,” Dyrnwch responded.  “You are not the first to say so, but the truth is, his mother and I adopted him when he was very young.  I’m sorry, but we don’t know who his real parents might be.”

Oddly enough, Festuscato knew just from looking at the young man, at least he knew the boy’s father, but he did not feel it was the time or place to speak, so he held his tongue.  Mirowen also appeared to be holding her tongue, and Mousden took their example and said nothing.  In the end Bryn, Dyrnwch and Addaon all pledged to bring men to Caerdyf within the week, and the group moved on.

Mirowen opened up on the road.  “That Addaon is a breed, half-breed I would say, fairy I think.”

“Fairy for sure,” Mousden said.  He rode behind Mirowen and hung on to her waist.

“And a little something more,” Festuscato said, and knowing that he could never get away without explaining he added, “Talesin, that disobedient child of a mother is his father.  One day Addaon will have a daughter or a son, and they will have a daughter who will marry Uther and give birth to Morgana, the witch who is at least not a bad witch.”   Festuscato shut up, and Mirowen dared not ask another question because she knew Talesin was the son of Danna and a fairy Lord when Danna took on fairy life, and so Talesin became immortal, receiving that spark from Amonette, the serpent of Egypt, the hidden part of the goddess that remained when Danna became a complete fairy.  It was complicated, but a subject best not talked about, and Mousden felt it too. His eyes got big, but his mouth stayed closed.

###

Heading down out of the hills, now clearly headed for the south coast of Wales, they came upon a sight beside the Roman road. A young dwarf sat on a wooden chest and looked despondent, like he lost his true love to a terrible tragedy. Gaius and Seamus got right down and went to see what could be so wrong to cause the boy to come to tears, but they stopped when they saw that it was not a boy at all.

“Why so glum, chum?” Festuscato asked in English because the words popped into his head, and he knew his little ones could understand every language.  He, Mirowen and Mousden also got down, but Bran and Dibs stayed in the saddle.

The dwarf looked up.  “You don’t want to be around me,” he said.  “It isn’t safe.”

“Why is it not safe?” Seamus asked.

“Do you have a name?” Gaius asked at the same time, and the dwarf answered both questions with one word.

“Luckless,” the dwarf said.  “My name is Luckless, and that should explain everything.  My own people threw me out the minute I became a full-grown adult, because I am a jinx and they said it was not safe to allow me to stay.”  He took a deep breath and sighed.

“Your own family threw you out?” Mousden asked, with disbelief in his voice.

“You poor man,” Mirowen felt his pain.

“My family was in the front of the line,” Luckless said.

“Well, this is your lucky day,” Festuscato said, with a gentle smile.  “Do you have any tools?”  Luckless nodded.

“My father gave me his tools, the family heirloom, with some things packed for the road,” Luckless said.  “My father said it was my inheritance early, right before he told me to go away.”

“We could take him with us?” Mirowen asked, with a look at Festuscato, and Mousden appeared to agree.

“And some stray puppy dogs,” Festuscato said, without explaining what he meant.  “But I thought of giving this lucky fellow a job.  I need a new cross and a silver chalice and two golden candle holders for the monks of Branwen’s Cove as payment for these horses.  I don’t see why this fine dwarf might not get the work.” He turned to the dwarf.  “We are going to see the Wizard of Oz.  Mousden is needing courage and Seamus is looking for an adventure.  Mirowen is not looking for anything because she is too near perfect as it is, but Gaius and Bran and Dibs are all looking to fulfill their obligations.  I don’t see any reason why the Wizard can’t change your luck.  Come with us.”

“But I don’t have any gold or silver,” Luckless said, like he only heard the first part, or that might have been the only part he understood.

“I’ll supply the materials,” Festuscato said. “Just tie your box to Dib’s horse so he can protect it and you can ride behind Seamus and tell him all your adventures. I must tell you, though, we have a couple of minor inconveniences to go through first, like an entire Irish army and then a Saxon army, but that should not be too bad.”

“Uncle Weland has taken the dwarf army out from the mines, two hundred strong to battle, but he refused to let me come even though I have strong armor and a sharp ax.”

“Up,” Festuscato said.  “Tell Seamus about the chain of Weland, and the ring of it he forged to woo his fairy wife.”

“How do you know about Uncle Weland?” Luckless asked, and then he began to cry because he knew who Festuscato was, and Mirowen and Mousden and Gaius all comforted the dwarf while Seamus asked,

“Fairy wife?”

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: For Peace.  Sometimes, the path to peace is a struggle.  Until next time:

*

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 2 of 3

“Lord,” Mousden met them at the door, flapping away furiously with his wings, fear and excitement etched across his face.  “The Saxons are gathering on the edge of town. What are we going to do?”

“Talk first, I hope,” Festuscato said.  “You go back up on the roof with Colan where you can be safe.”

“Safe until they burn the building down,” Mousden screeched, but he went, and Festuscato called to Dibs and Bran.  He handed Bran the cross and Dibs the chalice and he stepped out, through the barricade at the wall.  Gareth and the others followed.  “Look mean,” he said, “And Abbot, keep your mouth shut about Saint Dylan, if you want to keep your relics and live.”

They stopped half-way to the Saxon line and did not have to wait long before a delegation of Saxons came to meet them. One of the Saxons, a big man recognized the dragon tunic Festuscato, Bran and Dibs wore.  He shouted.  “Dragon. I should have known it was you.”

The man had to get closer before Festuscato recognized him.  “Coleslaw!”

“Herslaw,” the man roared and pulled his sword. Festuscato reciprocated and the two crossed swords in a fight to the death.  Herslaw got a couple of good punches into Festuscato’s side, but he probably hurt his hand worse than he bruised Festuscato.  He struck, almost berserker-style with his big sword, but Wyrd moved too swift and subtle, and Festuscato proved far too skilled to let the big man land a blow.  At last, Festuscato pulled Defender, and while he parried with his sword, he ran Defender across the man’s throat.

Two of the Saxons stood and stared at the outcome. The third one stepped over and kicked Herslaw after he fell to the dirt.  “We still have the men and numbers to overwhelm you.” he said, and stared down one of the other chiefs with him.

“But why?  I am offering you the riches of Branwen’s Cove; the jeweled cross, the silver chalice and the golden candlesticks.  There is no more.  True, you can attack and watch, what, half or more of your men die only to find out it was all for nothing?  Or you can take the gold and silver and leave in one piece.  The choice is yours.  Pinewood!” Festuscato gave the Saxons no time to think before he called for the fairy.  Pinewood appeared out of thin air and flew once around the group to get his bearings before he got big and fell to one knee.

“Lord?”

“I need to ask about the army, but hold on one second.” Festuscato took the gold and silver and the cross and handed them to the Saxons with a word.  “Be sure and tell everyone that you have everything of value so do not come here.  The only other thing these poor people have is rocks in the ground, isn’t that right Gareth?”

“True enough,” the Abbot said.  “And all those stones make it hard to grow grain.”

“And I would hate to have my friends track you down for going against my good advice; though I suppose you would hate that worse.” He turned his back on them and brought Pinewood to his feet, and asked as he walked away, “So tell me about the disposition of the army.”

“Which army would that be?  The Irish army under Sean Fen that is headed for Caerdyf or the Saxon army under Gorund said to be preparing to attack Cadbury?”

“Fudge.”  Festuscato did not want to say anything worse with the Abbot close behind.

That evening, Festuscato sent Pinewood back home with a word for Constantine in Cadbury.  The Pendragon needed to defend the place of sanctuary.  He would raise what troops he could in Wales and be along as soon as he dealt with the Irish around Caerdyf.  Then he asked Pinewood to send word to all the little ones in Wales and ask for volunteers against the Irish.

“And in Britain and Cornwall to defend Cadbury?” Pinewood asked.

“No.  I am sure Julius and Drucilla have already seen to that.”

“I am sure they have,” Pinewood said with a grin, and left.

“Fudge.”  Festuscato tried the word again.

###

Captain Breok and his crew opted to stay in Branwen’s Cove and help the people rebuild while they waited for the next merchant ship to pull into the cove.  Hopefully, they could hitch a ride back to Lyoness, or close enough.  Festuscato offered enough funds to cover some of the loss after the cost of passage.  Festuscato, however, knew he could not sit around, so he bargained with the monks to secure six horses, expecting Mousden to ride behind Mirowen, and as near to saddles as they could find.  The monks and the people of Branwen’s Cove offered what supplies they had for free, figuring they would have all been killed without Festuscato’s help.  The group said thanks and waited long enough for Gaius to say a mass of thanksgiving in the church before they headed off into the Welsh interior.

The centerpiece in North Wales was the town around the fort of Ogryvan.  They hoped for a pleasant visit, but Ogryvan got angry to hear about the Saxons in Branwen’s Cove.  “Haven’t we enough trouble with the Picts and Ulsterites without adding murdering Saxons to the mix?” he raved.  “At least you Romans scared them well enough, but then you left and we have had to fend for ourselves.  The whole of the Welsh shore has become a hunting ground for thieves.”

“Right enough,” Festuscato responded.  “But as your druid friend Meryddin here will tell you, at Caerdyf we have an opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Irish pirates, and then in Cadbury we can beat back the Saxons and make them think twice before they come up again on our land.”

Festuscato did not stay long.  Meryddin made him uncomfortable, but Ogryvan agreed to send what men he could raise in the north.  Festuscato did not expect much.  He hoped central Wales might be more conducive to the idea, being closer to the action and a possible target after Caerdyf.

Chief Bryn ap Trefor sat at the table grinning like the chimpanzee who found a ripe banana.  They waited for Bryn’s friend, Chief Dyrnwch of the Mabon Hills.  Bryn told them all about Chief Dyrnwch, such tales of daring and such feats of wonder, Seamus and Mousden became convinced Dyrnwch must be a giant.  Dibs thought Bran was big enough.  He could not imagine one bigger, until Gaius mentioned Goliath.  “The problem is,” Festuscato whispered to Mirowen.  “I knew a Dyrnwch once, and he was a real giant.” They heard something.

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 1 of 3

The port at Branwen’s Cove seemed a bustling Welsh port in the northwest corner of the Welsh coast, at least as far as any port could bustle between visits by Irish pirates and Pictish and Saxon raiders. Captain Breok’s ship sailed in on the morning tide and his passengers were set to have a day ashore while he dropped off the sheep and picked up a load of stone for the fort and city wall building at Caerdyf.  While Mirowen, Mousden and Bran walked toward the town, the Priests said they wanted to visit the only church.  It had been attached to a monastery where a dozen monks of an unapproved order scratched out a living on a nearby hillside, growing stubborn grain and raising horses. Festuscato and Dibs opted for the nearest pub and they all agreed to meet there after their errands.  They were still on the dock laughing when the Saxons came out of the town and three Saxon warships came around the bend in the cove.

“Captain Breok.  Treeve.”  Everyone shouted, but the crew had already abandoned ship and headed for them as their only safe bet.  Festuscato, Bran and Dibs drew their swords, and Mirowen pulled out her bow to take the point.  Mousden screamed a lot and hid himself between the Gaius and Seamus.  With the crew following, they ran into the dozen Saxons sent to take and guard the docks for the oncoming ships.

The fight became brutal.  Seven Saxons went down, and three crew members.  Dibs took a cut in his hand, though not a bad one and he called it a stupid mistake; but the other three Saxons ran back into the town, which had started to burn.

“This way.”  A man in a plain brown robe looked around the corner, even as Captain Breok looked back.  The Saxon warships would be at the dock in a minute.  They really had no choice.  “Fathers. This way.”  The man pleaded, and they followed him down into a gully along the back side of some houses.  They were headed toward the monastery.  Many of the townspeople were just ahead of them, and the Saxons came a step behind.

Festuscato pulled out his bow as the crew ran past. Mirowen joined him, and they shot and mostly wounded some fifteen Saxons that came three or four at a time.  By the time they turned, the people were at the monastery, behind a four-foot stone wall, dragging whatever they could find to reinforce the barricade and fill the gap at the entrance.  Festuscato traded places with Gerraint, since he remembered the gift of elf speed, and Gerraint and Mirowen both ran at top speed, right over the barricade and into the courtyard.  Festuscato came right back, but he felt the exhilaration of that speed, and his adrenaline pumped wildly.

“Lord Agitus,” Gaius called.  “Send the wounded in to the common room with the women and children.”

Festuscato waved and jumped up on the nearest wagon. “Listen up.  Everybody pay attention.  Listen.”  Dibs, Bran and Treeve shouted the same, and the crowd quieted for a moment.  “Men grab whatever weapon you can and get to the wall.  Children and women inside with the wounded, unless you women know how to shoot a bow or want to fight beside your men.  Get to the wall and look mean.”  He jumped down and added for Dibs and Bran, “The only way to keep the Saxons out is to make it look too costly to attack.”  He added one more shout.  “Seamus, put down that book and help.”  He walked the wall where the men and some women stood on buckets, barrels, and behind upside-down wagons or whatever they could find to put their face above the wall. One of the monks came out with two dozen bows and dozens of arrows.

“A hobby,” the monk said.  “I make these because even we have to hunt now and then.”

Quiet followed, for several hours, while the people watched their homes burn, their town turn to ashes, and Captain Breok lamented the loss of his ship.  Festuscato sent Colan and Mousden to the roof to keep an eye on the enemy while he looked around.  Bran and two young monks, Cedrych and Madog secured the back door and set a watch to be sure the Saxons did not try to sneak around the monastery building to come at them from the rear.  Seamus, two older monks and several women also went out back to check the barn, the stables, and inventory their food supplies in case they were stuck for a while. Dibs and Treeve, the nearest Festuscato had to officers, organized the men and women on the wall and made sure the bows got into the right hands, and the rest had weapons of one sort or another.

“It is about all we can do for now until we see what the Saxons have in mind,” Festuscato told Gareth, the Abbot.  He claimed to be the third Abbot since Saint Dylan founded the monastery by the sea some eighty years earlier.

“We hold the saint’s bones and relics in the church,” Gareth explained.  “It is said when fishermen from the village are long at sea, the women come here to ask the saint to send them home, and he sends them home safe.”

Festuscato nodded and stepped into the church where Mirowen caught up.  “Lord,” she said.  “I have the young people, and by that, I mean those under thirteen, pledged to defend the mothers and babies and those too old to fight, though there are not many who admit they are too old.  Gaius has the wounded to tend.  One man and one woman are in danger, but most have minor cuts, and one has a broken arm.”

“I should let Greta look at the arm,” Festuscato said.

“Yes, Lord.  Gaius says he will be needed to hear confessions.”

“We rarely have a true Priest among us,” Gareth admitted.  “We are such a poor and small community.”

“You have no riches.  You only have rocks,” Festuscato agreed.  “Which is why I want to see what might bring the Saxons here. At the risk of sounding like a late medieval cliché, I need to look at your altar.”

“It is true,” Gareth said.  “The only thing we have in abundance is stone in our fields. It does not help us grow our grain.”

The cross on the altar was wood, but inlaid with gold, silver and several precious stones.  The chalice appeared pure silver, and the candlesticks, pure gold.  “The candlesticks,” Festuscato said while he grabbed the cross and chalice.  Mirowen took the candlesticks.

“Wait.  What are you doing?” Gareth did not protest so much as he simply did not understand. “These are holy.  They belong to the church.  They are not to be taken.” Gareth got in their way.  “Where do you think you are going?”

Festuscato paused.  “Abbot.  What do you think God cares more about, the lives of all those innocent men, women and children, or this gold and silver?  Trinkets can be remade.  You think about that.”  He brushed passed the Abbot and Mirowen stayed with him.

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers, part 3 of 3

“Attend,” Danna said, clapped her hands, and all three wraiths appeared before her and promptly fell to their knees, even if they continued to float about a foot off the ground.  They had knees at least.  It was the feet beneath the nightgown-like dresses they wore that were invisible or non-existent.  Danna tapped her foot and put her hands to her hips.  “You have names?”  And she knew their names.  Morgan had the dark hair, Mabon was the blond and Moira had flaming red hair.  “Change of venue,” Danna decided.

Mirowen came running out the front door, saw what was happening and said, “Lady,” and stood quiet.

Danna waved her hand and all five women appeared on Captain Breok’s ship.  “I have made it so the Captain and his crew cannot see or hear you or in any way be harmed or frightened by you.  I have done the same for Mousden since Mirowen does not need the screams in the night, and come to think of it, I have done the same for the dock-master and any workmen or locals who have occasion to be aboard ship before we leave.  The tie between you and the Travelers is now severed.  You are henceforth tied to the ship until I give you leave.”

“Goddess, we will starve.”

“You will not starve, but you will not feed for a time.”  Danna changed back to Festuscato and he continued speaking.  “Mirowen and I will be the only ones you can communicate with, and you can only do that if it is polite and not threatening.  Break the rule, and I will cut you off from everyone, and it will be like you don’t exist, and you will starve, so be polite until I give you leave.”

Festuscato took Mirowen’s hand and walked her across the plank to the dock while the wraiths wailed their lament and followed up to an invisible barrier where they could not leave the ship.  “Thanks a lot.”  Mirowen inched closer to her Lord.  “I’ll have nightmares for years even after you let them go.”

They ran into Captain Breok on the dock, and he asked a friendly enough question.  “Why are you two still awake?  We are leaving before dawn.”

“I was just thinking I should sleep well, now,” Festuscato grinned at Mirowen.

“Okay. I’ll give you that one,” Mirowen admitted.

“Then again, maybe Fianna is awake and wondering where I went, in which case I might not sleep at all.”

“Lord.”  Mirowen slapped his shoulder, softly.  “I will not give you that one.”

###

“So tell me,” Captain Breok said, over a late supper. The time, just after nine, when the moon started to rise.  “All day I have watched you speaking to the air and I have not seen who you are talking to. But I believe you have been talking to someone, perhaps invisible.  I offer three reasons for my belief and please tell me where I am mistaken. First, anyone else and I would say they had lost their mind, but you?  Second, I saw the lady speaking to the air more than once as well.  Third, I saw when you laid your hand on young Mousden’s head, and from the way he screamed and flew up to the masthead, I would say he certainly saw something.  So, tell me I am wrong.”

“I saw,” Dibs said.  “But I pretended I did not see so they left me alone.”

“I saw nothing,” Gaius said, and Bran and Seamus agreed, but Seamus added a note.

“I felt something frightening, something evil and uncanny all day, but I saw nothing so I said nothing.”

Everyone paused and waited for Festuscato to speak. “What you did not see,” he said. “Was for your own protection, for you and your crew.  Mousden has been likewise protected, and only caught a glimpse because the women claimed they were starving, and pixie fright was a treat.  In the case of these Christian men, there is a natural disconnect. Their faith can be turned like a weapon, so the women hide from them so the men must make a special effort to see. They have made no effort because until now they had no idea there was something to see.  Interesting that you made those observations since they were not out much during the day.  They have made a place for themselves down in the hold and mostly rest in the shadows during daylight.  They say the sun makes them look too wan and pale and hard to see.  The moon, they say, makes them glow.  I wouldn’t know about such things.  Mirowen?”

“Don’t ask me.  I haven’t glowed in years.”

“No.  Not true. You glow even now.”  They all protested, but Mirowen yawned,

“Raising boys is a dirty business,” she said.

“Not surprising your invisible visitors are women,” Gaius said, softly.

Mirowen yawned again.  “I am so tired.  The sea does that, but I probably won’t sleep a wink tonight.”

“Me neither,” Festuscato admitted, and they were still up at sunrise with Dibs and Gaius talking about old times when Colan and Mousden both shouted down.

“Sail ho!”  It appeared a ship they were all familiar with, and Festuscato groaned, while Mirowen clicked her tongue.

“What will it take to teach this guy.”

“Captain Keravear and his Pictish lads,” Captain Breok named the ship.  “Treeve. Get that sail down and get the men lined up.  Now, I want to hear please spare us and bless you good Captain nice and loud this time, and with feeling.  Last time I felt like you were getting a bit lax.”

“Captain, wait a minute,” Festuscato interrupted everyone as Bran and Seamus came up alongside him to get a good look over the railing.  “I have three women here begging to be let loose.  Ladies.”  Festuscato turned to speak to what the rest imagined as empty air, but he spoke sharply and wagged his finger.  “I want you to turn them away from this ship and head north, back to their home port, but you have to do it carefully.  Don’t scare them to death or drive them insane, and don’t scare them so badly they abandon ship.  If they abandon ship, you will be stuck floating around on an aimless, empty ship forever, or until you sink and drown in the sea.  So be careful.  Let them take you to their port.  Then I recommend you move inland with the Scotts over the years.  One day, they will build great stone forts and castles in the highlands, especially around the lochs.  You are welcome to haunt those places, and if you get to Loch Ness, say hi to Stubby for me, okay?”  The invisible women seemed to respond, because after a moment, Festuscato added, “Go on, then.  Shoo. Scat.” and he, Mirowen, and Dibs watched something head toward the oncoming ship.

“I liked the blond,” Dibs said.

“The redhead,” Festuscato countered.

“You have a thing for red hair,” Mirowen pointed out the obvious.

It did not take long for the ship to turn around and head north.  Mirowen smiled like she had been set free.  To Mousden’s question she said, “You don’t want to know.”

“To Wales?” Captain Breok asked.

“To Wales.”  Festuscato confirmed.

“I want to thank you for shielding our eyes and ears, and I don’t want to know, either,” Treeve, the mate said.

“Yes.  thanks,” the Captain said, and added to Treeve, “Go get Gerens.”

“All in a day’s work,” Festuscato said, and he went back to looking out over the endless waves of the Irish sea.

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

MONDAY

Festuscato takes his crew back to Wales, but finds the Saxons there doing what Saxons do.  See you Monday for R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers, part 2 of 3

Festuscato got up in the night, carefully and quietly so he did not wake Fianna.  He heard moans coming from the other rooms in MacNeill’s house, but one good scream woke him. He felt fairly sure the scream came from MacNeill’s mother’s room, and it sounded very different from the moans and screams Fianna let out.  Festuscato fought the urge to go back to bed.

Once in the hall, he caught an odor of lavender and pomegranate.  He knew that meant something, but he could not think of what it was, so he asked Greta. Since she did not trust Festuscato’s nose and because scents did not travel well in time between one lifetime and another, Greta had to come and smell it out for herself.  “Definitely lavender and pomegranate.  Smells like too much bad, old lady perfume.”  Greta felt something that Festuscato did not, but she did not see anything, even when she looked in on MacNeill’s mother so Gerraint volunteered.  He said he had been filled with so many gifts from the little ones, something ought to apply. They were gifts he tried not to take advantage of in his own lifetime, but he figured in Festuscato’s time he might help out.

The first thing Gerraint did was take a big whiff of air.  He was not sniffing the lavender and pomegranate, but with his dwarf enhanced sense, he could sniff out an intruder half a mile away in the underground labyrinth of a dwarf mine.  He sensed three presences, one of which definitely seemed to be in MacNeill’s mother’s room. He looked again, but saw nothing, so he tried his goblin enhanced sight where he could see in the dark like an ordinary person could see in daylight.  He closed his eyes for a second to bring up the gift, and when he opened them, he screamed.  The face, inches from his own, looked like a rotting corpse, a grinning skull with the lips peeled away, a maggot infested horror.  Gerraint immediately called on another gift, the elf ability to run like the wind.

Gerraint raced out of the manor house in the blink of an eye, but there he turned and ran up the side of the house toward the roof. Near the top, he had to let his gift for fairy flight take over.  Most people don’t know that fairies can fly, even when they are in their big form and without wings, but they can’t fly fast or far, and it is very draining.  In this case, Gerraint landed on the edge of the roof where he could crouch down beside a chimney and watch the door and the clapboard windows on the first and second floors.

Gerraint thought about what he saw and what it might be. There were too many options.  It would probably not be not a fever spirit because no one was sick, and not likely an incubus or nightmare spirit or bogyman because he felt no pressure to try to get inside of his head.  Besides, he got the impression that the rotting corpse head looked female so it would not be a bogyman.  It did not seem to be a succubus or banshee, thank God, because it made no move to sink its claws into him and suck out his life force.  It might be a phantom or ghost or specter, but they all tended to be tied to a location.  He supposed one might have gotten attached to a Traveler wagon, but then they would be haunting the Travelers.  They were not so smart.  This clearly went out from the Traveler camp to attack the locals.  That said two things.  First, it was intelligent enough to not attack its ride, its means of escape. Second, it said that if discovered, it risked being driven off or maybe killed, which meant it was vulnerable.

Gerraint paused when he heard voices.  Gaius, Seamus and Bran were coming back from town.  MacNeill walked with them, asking questions about the faith, while they dropped him at his door before they walked to the barracks where they had beds. At the same time, he saw the three wraiths float out the front door, looking for him.  He had seen them, or one of them, and that posed a threat to them. Gerraint watched as the wraiths gave the priests and Bran a wide berth.  The Priests were committed believers, and Bran seemed worse in a way. He was a Puritan a thousand years before such things existed.  Gerraint watched one wraith reach for MacNeill, a man who still had serious doubts and questions. but the other two pulled her back.  And Gerraint stood.

“Faith,” he said to himself.  “The kind that engenders courage can suck the life out of the wraiths.  A dangerous thing to count on in a pinch.  Meanwhile,” Gerraint shrieked when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“What are you doing up here?”  Mousden got in his face.

Gerraint held his heart and took a breath before he responded.  He wanted to ask what Mousden was doing, but he took a turn in Festuscato’s lifetime, so his words reflected that.  “Loose brick,” he lied.  He laid his hand on the chimney and watched Mousden look close to try and find which one.

They both stopped when they heard the low moan. They turned and saw the wraiths had floated up to face them.  Mousden flew off screaming, and one of the wraiths followed, though at her speed she would never catch him.  Gerraint leapt off the roof and used his own fairy flight to land safely on the ground.

“Ladies of the night,” he called.  The two that followed him to the ground paused.  “You feast on fear and screams in the night, but faith and courage drain you.  That is why you do not take on full substance, so people will always wonder what they heard and saw, or if they actually saw anything at all, or if it was something like a nightmare.  You hitched a ride with the Travelers and have haunted village after village.  I would bet the Travelers have had to move on from place to place sooner than they wished as they got blamed for the terrors in the night.”

“You understand things,” the wraith with the dark hair said.

“But I sense no great faith in you,” the blond spoke.

“You probably don’t sense much of anything about me. I am hidden in the ancient days. But believe me, the faith is there, and deeper than you know,” Gerraint said, and thought that he could hardly do his job of watching over history if he did not have faith that all things could work together for good no matter how much he messed up.

“The pixie scream tasted good, but it does not fill,” The dark one said, and she started back toward the house, the blond following.  Gerraint knew this haunting could not go on.  It was not fair to the Tinkers or to the people in the villages where the Travelers went.  This was not anything that would remotely threaten history.  This was not ultimately a danger to anyone, because as far as he could tell, these were the kind of wraiths that had no interest in scaring people to death or driving them insane since they would lose their meal ticket.  This seemed the kind of wraith a lord might keep around his fort if he wanted to scare off intruders without actually damaging them; but then again, the wraith would ultimately not discriminate between friend and foe.

Gerraint stopped thinking when he heard another scream from inside the house.  Though history stayed safe, and these lesser spirits posed no real threat to his little ones, despite Mousden’s reaction, and they were not alien threats like the Wolv or whole armies of Saxons, Scots or Danes, or he should say Scops or Dames. Even so, Danna thought she might do something.  After all, she seemed to be spending a lot of time in Festuscato’s day, what with Rhiannon and all.  Gerraint agreed and stepped aside so Danna could step into the Irish world.

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers, part 1 of 3

Cathar, chief of the Tinkers, seemed a good man though Mirowen called him a breed, and did not trust him.  Festuscato could almost smell the blood of the little ones flowing in these predominately human travelers.  He suspected they could swear to something and mean it with their whole hearts, and completely change their minds fifteen minutes later.  They had a true gypsy smell about them, and their wagons, animals and lifestyle all reinforced that impression.

The Tinkers worked in tin and copper, sometimes leather, and their women wove flax and wool and created patterns with dyes that were works of art.  Mostly, they made themselves available for labor.  They went where the work was, and hearing about a town beset by Saxon raiders seemed an invitation to work.  The men presented themselves first thing in the morning, did an honest day’s work, took their pay at sundown and with a small salute, went back to their wagons and their own separate world.  They were a pleasant enough people, but they kept to themselves.  Sometimes, they told jokes in their own twisted, Gaelic tongue that no one could understand, and they laughed; but the locals could not help the feeling that they were the ones being laughed at.

“They do good work,” MacNeill admitted.  “But you have to watch them.  You dare not trust them.  They have a strange view about property.  They mostly trade for things they want.  They are hard horse traders, but sometimes they just take the things they say they need and they don’t understand why that is wrong. Little things mostly, but annoying.  You have to watch them.”

“And they never settle down?” Festuscato wondered.

“They might stay for a couple of months in one place and a couple of years in another, but eventually they move on to other pastures and annoy some other Lord.  They do good work, though, if you can keep them busy.”

“But where did they come from?”

“Well,” MacNeill had to think a minute.  “Some say they followed the Irish when the people first came up and conquered the land.  That was ages ago.  Others say they once had fine homes in a prosperous, magical land, and they were a peaceful people, but their neighbors were greedy and eventually drove them out and took the land, and after that they vowed to never again settle down so they would never again be driven out; though some say they lost their way, so they travel still looking for that prosperous, magical land that was their home. Then some say they are the remains of the people that lived on this land before the Irish came and defeated them in battle, and they travel and await the day when the Irish all kill each other off and they can take back their homes.  Who can say what the truth is.”  MacNeill shrugged and Festuscato stood.

“All the same,” he said.  “Something does not smell right.  I don’t sense danger, but my curiosity is up.  I think I want a talk with Cathar.  Excuse me.”

MacNeill shrugged again and gave his advice. “Hold on to your purse.”

Cathar came out from the wagons to meet Festuscato on neutral ground.  “Lord.” Cathar put his hands up in a clear sign that he was cutting Festuscato off from the community.

“Come over here,” Festuscato suggested.  He took the man to a place beneath the fort wall where the makeshift battering ram used by the Saxons lay abandoned and untouched. “Sit,” he said, and the two men sat.

“I do not understand,” Cathar started right up. “But you make my people uncomfortable. The women all want to be with you in the worst way, and the men all want to fight you for the women, but they are afraid to touch you.  I feel it myself, but I do not understand it.”

“I understand it,” Festuscato admitted. “But that is not what concerns me. It is something else, something you are carrying in your baggage.”  Festuscato paused to consider his words.  “Have you traveled all of your life?”

Cathar nodded.  “And my father, and his father before him.  My family has traveled for as many generations as there is memory.”

“And you have no desire to settle down.” Festuscato made it a statement, but Cathar took it as a question.

“There are many deep reasons for that, and I dare not start or I would feel compelled to tell you all of them, and that is strange and impossible because such things are not for outsiders.  Let me just say men kill and die for land.  We have no land.  We have nothing anyone wants.”

“Hush,” Festuscato let the man keep his secrets. “You have to tread lightly to not get caught up in the foolishness of men.  And you should always trade for what you need, never just take it, but otherwise you understand it is property, not just land that men fight over.  But you know that.  No, there is something else I am sensing.  What is it?”

Cathar looked back at his camp and shook his head. “We have nothing in the camp that is special.  Some tools, cooking pots and utensils, our plates and cups are plain wood.  I have no idea what you are sensing.”

“Do you stay long when you camp?” Festuscato asked, not sure what to ask.

“We have, in the past.  But these last couple of years we have moved again and again. It seems we barely get settled and we are told to leave.  People claim we bring them bad luck and ill will.  Some even complain we give them nightmares.  I know it is simple prejudice.  The Irish are not trusting of strangers, but it seems to me these last couple of years have been especially bad.

Festuscato looked down as the man talked and then said something that surprised Cathar.  “Nice shoes.  Where did you get them?”

“Eh?”  My grandfather made them for me.”  Cathar blurted it out before he could stop his tongue.

Festuscato nodded and called the name that came into his head.  “McKraken.” Thirty little men appeared out of thin air, and Festuscato had to wave his hand.  “Only the grandfather,” and as twenty-nine one-foot tall men disappeared, he added, “Same name must be an Irish thing.”  Then he said to the little man, “Stay.  Talk with us.  I have some questions.”

The man stood a foot tall, only a bit taller than normal fairy size, but he had no wings.  He had red hair, wore fairy weave like a gnome might wear that blended like camouflage into the grasses, and wore fine looking shoes over feet that were frankly too big for his body.  Festuscato said nothing about it because leprechauns were so easily offended, and he knew big feet was typical.

“How many questions,” McKraken asked with a squint of his eyes.  “Grandtoot.” He acknowledged his grandson after a fashion.  Cathar kept his mouth closed, but stared all the more intensely at Festuscato.

“No limits.  No tricks,” Festuscato said.  “I want to know what this troop of Travelers is dragging with it.”

“Don’t know,” McKraken said honesty enough, as he glanced at the Traveler’s camp.  “We visit sometimes.”

Festuscato shook his head.  “You haven’t visited your grandson in twenty years, so that isn’t it.”

“Well, they went away when the dragons came, and my feet can only walk so far, you know.”

“Grandfather?”  Cather started putting things together, like he had forgotten his own roots.

“Grandboop,” McKraken said, to acknowledge the man again.

“So, what should I do since you know mingling with humans is forbidden?” Festuscato asked.

“Wish us well?  Grant us a long, happy and prosperous life?”

“I was thinking MacNeill needs a new pair of boots.”

McKraken paused and rubbed his chin.  “Something there might be worked out.”

“No deals.  You just do it.  Call it penance, and measure his foot so you get the size right.  He needs good, comfortable, sturdy, long-lasting footwear, and no tricks.  Now, go and visit with your family and bless them.  Go on.”

Cathar stood and as they walked, he looked down. “Grandfather?”

“Grandshoot,” McKraken called Cathar.

Festuscato rubbed his own chin.  He got nowhere by asking.  They did not seem to know anything.  He would just have to wait and see.

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 3 of 3

Patrick started down the rough path, which became a bit of a climb to reach the floor of the hollow.  Bran and Greta followed him, and Giolla came and pushed up to stay near the priest.  Lord Flahartagh followed reluctantly, and Fionn came last and looked like a man who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Come, come,” the old woman cackled.  “I have been expecting you, but tell me, druid, how did things turn?”

“You failed, old woman.  The priest lives, and I should take my money back.”

“Curious,” the old woman cackled.  “They were the most poisonous serpents in the world. But who can control serpents?”

“Patrick can,” Giolla shouted.  “He cast your serpents into the sea where they all drowned.”

“You paid her to attack the priest?”  Lord Flahartagh caught up with what was going on and he hit his druid and knocked him down.  “You know what happened last time,” he roared.

“What happened?” Greta asked.  She wanted the conversation to continue while she thought of what to do.  She felt sure any direct movement toward the hole in the world would be stopped by the witch.

Lord Flahartagh explained.  “My father’s grandfather got cheated by the MacNeills and the King of Leinster when the King ruled in favor of the MacNeills and they took possession of the whole of the fens.  He came to the witch and she called up the dragons who terrorized our lands as readily as they terrorized MacNeill and Leinster.”

“Who can control a dragon?” the witch asked in a gleeful voice.

“Festuscato can,” Bran said, and Greta looked up at the man.

“Hey, I healed the dragon.  Oh, okay.”  Greta threw up her hands and went away so Festuscato could fill his own boots.  The witch looked startled, and the Irish yelled again, though not as loud as the last time.  Festuscato returned in his white tunic with the dragon on the front, and sent the cloak of Athena away.  “Good to be back,” he said, and winked at Patrick, while he walked around as if seeing things for the first time, and in truth positioned himself to take a stab at the branches as soon as the opportunity arose.

“You are the dragon,” the witch said, and with the sound of respect in her voice.  “I have heard of you.”  Clearly, hearing and understanding what she heard were two different things.  No human witch, no matter how powerful, could probe the depths of the Kairos.

“So, what’s cooking?” Festuscato asked and leaned over as if to get a look.

“The soup of life in the cauldron of life.”

“That is never the cauldron of life,” Festuscato objected.  “Dagda’s Cauldron was big enough for a man to stand inside it.  Cauldron of life?”  Festuscato scoffed.

“Patrick’s words are the words of eternal life,” Giolla spoke up.

“Jesus is the giver of life,” Patrick said, and the witch screamed and covered her ears.  That told Festuscato that the witch was not just a sorceress, she was demon possessed, a complication, and no doubt the source of her knowledge.

“I control life here,” the witch insisted and she lifted her spoon to mumble incoherently and wave her hand above the bubbles.  Spiders began to crawl over the edge of the cauldron and several bats flew up into the sky, to dive bomb the people.

“Mousden!”  Festuscato called, and since Mirowen presently held the boy’s hand, she came with him.

Mousden took one look at the witch, reverted to his pixie form, screamed and raced to hide behind Patrick’s robes.

“Mousden, come here,” Mirowen scolded and Mousden looked up and took a breath long enough to mouth another word.

“Lunch.”  The bats flew for their lives.  The spiders were not so lucky.

By the time the witch closed her mouth at the unexpected turn of events, Festuscato had Wyrd out of his sheath.  One swipe of that sword, and the old branches got cut off. He punched the remains of the branches, hurt his hand, and the wood popped out the other side of the hole, somewhere on the other earth.  The hole itself snapped shut with an audible SNAP.

The witch screamed.  Mousden screamed again on principle.  Festuscato more accurately shouted his words.  “Get out of the hollow!”  He grabbed Patrick’s robe as Mirowen scooped up Mousden, and they began to climb.  Bran went right there with them, but the others were a bit behind.  When the witch collapsed, she began to decay rapidly. She had to be over ninety.  Maybe she was over a hundred-years-old.  Maybe she was already dead and just being propped up by the demons that inhabited her.  They would never know.  As they reached the ground level above, the walls all around the hollow gave way and the hollow filled rapidly with water.  They watched while in the end it became a pond in the wilderness, and when it overflowed in one spot, it became a little stream.

“There is some water worth avoiding,” Lord Flahartagh said.

“No,” Festuscato shook his head.  “What do you think, Springs?”

A little head popped up from the stream and spoke. Flahartagh got startled, but he did not yell this time.  “Lots of muck in the water from that blasted soup the witch was cooking.  Come back this time next year and we will get things nice and cleaned up for you.  That old witch kept us out for a long time, but I knew she could not keep us out forever.”

“Thank you, Springs,” Festuscato said.  “Good to see you.”

“My pleasure.”  Springs saluted, and broke apart into the water from whence he came.

“I see you have lots of friends,” Lord Flahartagh said, and Festuscato nodded.

“Like my housekeeper Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden.” Mousden went back to walking, looking again like a nine-year-old, and it would have been easy to forget his pixie appearance or blame it on the witch casting illusions, but Mousden chose that moment to let out a big belch, and Mirowen scolded him.  “He ate too much,” Festuscato suggested.  Lord Flahartagh’s eyes got big for a second before he began to laugh.

Patrick and Fionn the Druid kept up a lively debate all the way back to the road.  To be sure, Fionn did not want to crowd his lord and remind him he went to the witch in the first place.  No one really listened to the debate, unless Bran listened, but it did seem to the casual observers that Fionn kept losing.

By the time they reached the road, Fionn started reaching for arguments that were no more than thinly disguised insults, like a man who lost the debate, and knew it, but was damned if he would admit it. He started insulting Patrick when they reached the road and Patrick had enough.

“No one is forcing you to listen to the good news, but as young Giolla plainly told you, what I am bringing is the word of life.” Patrick slammed the butt of his shepherd’s crook on the ground for emphasis.  Unfortunately, the ground seemed extra soft on the side of the road and the staff sank into the muck.  A second later, Patrick had to let go as the staff got hot.  They all watched as the staff sprouted leaves, and they watched the roots grow.

“Dern,” Festuscato said.  “I liked that staff.”

Fionn got scared when they went to see the witch. He got frightened out of his mind when he saw the pixie, and then the water sprite, but he could pretend they did not exist.  This became too much.  The fear covered Fionn’s face and he yelled the last weapon in his arsenal.

“I will call upon the gods and tell them to strike you down.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Festuscato said. “The gods don’t appreciate being told what to do.”  He stepped aside and traded places through time with Danna.  She called sweetly, “Rhiannon.”

Rhiannon did not have to come, but she came because it is polite when Mother calls.  “What is it this time?”

“This druid wants you to strike down Patrick.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.  He is such a nice man.”

“That’s what I thought.  I told him the gods did not like being told what to do.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.  Mannanon can be as stubborn as the sea.”

“He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Clugh ate a whole goat and slept for almost twenty-four hours.”

“He is growing up.  You did cook the goat.”

“Of course, He made the cutest little whine when I tried to give it to him raw, so I cooked it for him and he squealed.  He was so happy.”

“So, you’re not mad at me for giving you the dragon?”

“Oh, how could I ever be mad at you, Mother.” Rhiannon stepped up and kissed Danna on the cheek, waved to everyone and vanished.  Danna turned to the Druid who stared, mouth wide open.  She stuck her finger in his face.

“Listen to Patrick.  He is telling you the truth.  In the words of my good friend Yul Brenner, his god is God.  Now close your mouth, and if you are good, and I said if, mind you, you just might find something special in your stocking … no, wait … Frosty the Snowman.  Anyway.” Danna hugged Patrick, and then she gave him three pieces of gold and some advice.

“The women, especially rich women will give you gifts.  Remember in this culture, they will be insulted if you don’t accept them.  But on the other hand, men will accuse you of accepting gifts from women.  You will have to do your best to turn those gifts to the church to answer your critics, and otherwise, go with God.  Use the gold to buy a new shepherd’s crook.  It suits you.”  Danna stepped back.  “The old way has gone.”

“The new way has come,” Patrick said, and Danna vanished, and she took Bran, Mirowen and Mousden with her.

They appeared on the road just beyond MacNeill’s fort, and Danna changed back to Festuscato.  He let his armor and weapons go away in favor of his comfortable clothes, and he spoke.  “I believe I have tempted history here far enough.”

“So, explain how the shepherd’s crook sprouted and grew,” Bran wondered.

“Maybe if he had some natural magic in him,” Mirowen started, but Festuscato interrupted.

“Can’t be natural.  The source of the magic got cut off when the hole closed between this earth and the other earth.”

“But then, how?”  Now Mirowen was curious.

“Some mysteries are best left alone.  It is time that we go,” Festuscato said, but he paused when he saw a half-dozen wagons beside the fort where they blocked the view of the town and dock.  Festuscato made sure Mirowen had her glamour on and Mousden stayed in his big size. “I smell visitors, and something else.”

“Yourself,” Mirowen suggested.  “You need a bath.”

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MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers: The tinkers bring spooks with them.  Don’t miss it.

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