R5 Festuscato: Cadbury, part 2 of 3

“So, we hurry up and wait,” Festuscato said, and they made camp.  Festuscato spent the time writing letters and finding ways to send them across the channel.  He spoke to a number of little ones from the island so he knew who needed to receive the letters.  He had no idea what kind of response he might get, but at least he learned something of the lay of the land.

It got closer to a month before riders were seen coming from the Kernow province.  Some were counted from Damnonea, but many were of Cornish descent rather than native Amorican.  Festuscato remembered how the usurper Magnus Maximus brought a whole army out of Britain, decades before he had been born, and he tried to take the western empire for himself.  When he failed, his troops were reported to have settled in Amorica.  More recently, Constantine III, originally a common soldier in Britain, tried the same stunt, and he just about depopulated the Roman presence on the island.  Amorica became the last resting place for two great Romano-British armies.  There were whole cities full of Cornish, Welsh and British people, and the language slowly changed because of it.

In this case, it looked like quite a number of men.  They were led by Aldrien’s younger brother, another Constantine, a man well enough into his forties.  His son Constans who came with him was in his twenties, but probably still older than Festuscato.  “I have five thousand men,” Constantine happily reported.

Festuscato looked at Father Lavius.  He had discussed this with the priests.  “There is one important piece of this puzzle that maybe was not explained to you.” Constantine listened because he saw an opportunity here.  Being the younger, he had little future in his own land.  “Amorica is well known for holding to the old ways, the wisdom of the druids and the festivals of the gods.  But for our part, in Britannia, our task includes defending the churches. We will land in Cornwall and make our way to Londinium to meet with Archbishop Guithelm.  There will be no burning of churches, no killing of Priests. Those will be crucifixion offenses. I do not know how many of your men may be Christians and how many may decide not to join us on this journey, but you need to make this clear.”

Constantine rubbed his beard.  He looked at the ground before he spoke.  “I have struggled with this, myself.  I know many minds are closed.  But I figure it is not my place to say what may or may not be taught to the people, and I believe if a man keeps an open mind, truth will out in the end.  I will go with you.  I cannot say how many of the men will join us.”

“We will wait,” Festuscato assured the man.

After a week, more than half of the men rode away before Constantine returned to the camp. The first thing out of his mouth was, “I see what you mean about Amorica holding to the old ways.  Still, we have two thousand men who may not be Christians, but who have pledged to hold to the conditions.  Mostly, like me I suppose, they are second sons who want a chance to make something of themselves.  That is the gist of it.  Now, all you have to do is pay them.  One solidus per day”

“Three per week,” Mirowen bargained like a true elf, but it eventually became five per week because she did not push too hard.  “We can manage that for the next year,” she said.  The Romans were getting seven per week, which was one per day, the sergeants ten per week, and Julius two Miliarense plus four per week, which was the equivalent of twenty-eight Solidus or four per day.  “The real expense is going to be for the boats to cross the channel, but I have friends working on that,” Mirowen said.

“I know two thousand men isn’t much,” Constantine continued, still on his original track. “Twenty years ago or more, I was a teenager, Gracianus Municeps crossed with two whole legions.  Dionotus was the Dux Britannia at the time and trying to hold things together, but he needed help.  Municeps helped, but then he got greedy.  There was civil war.  Dionotus disappeared and Municeps took over.  He was a bad one, though, and the people removed him, if you know what I mean.”

“He was a greedy ass, as you say.”  Festuscato had read what little he had to read about it.

“Yes, but now the whole island is still in a kind of civil war footing since, and that has been for nearly twenty years.”

“That was when the Lords and Bishops began to appeal to Rome for help,” Festuscato said. “I have a couple of letters that were held and ignored by Honorius before Valentinian even came to the office.” He brightened.  “But here we are, and now we go.”  He smiled for Constantine, but he frowned in private. The Amoricans had two hundred and fifty horsemen, which was only one out of eight men on horseback.  By contrast, the Huns under Megla were reported to be tearing up the countryside with three thousand men, all on horses.

The army crossed the channel on about June sixth, at Festuscato’s insistence, and they arrived in Bournemouth, the main port on the edge of Dumonii territory.  Cador, Chief of the Cornovii, and self-appointed Dux of Cornwall, met him there with enough troops to double their numbers.  He brought five hundred men on horse, an improvement, but that still left over three thousand men slogging along on foot.

“Cadbury to begin with,” Festuscato said.  “I expect to stay there about six months to gather our troops and supplies for the following spring.  Come October or so, Megla will have to hold up somewhere to winter.  This summer I only want to keep him running.  We are nowhere near ready to confront him.”

Festuscato repeated himself when they got to the Great Hall in Cadbury fort.  That spawned a response.

“What?” Gildas served as Cador’s right arm, no doubt ferocious in battle, but he was not the swiftest in the bunch.  “We gather our men and we go fight the bastards.” It would be a tug-of-war to counter the man’s ignorance and keep everyone else on track.

“Gildas. You have three thousand men on foot. What do you think they will do when they have three thousand Huns on horseback charge them with great, long spears aimed at their gut?”

“Kill the bastards,” Gildas said.  He did not think about it at all.

“Die,” Cador got it.

“Run away, most likely,” Constantine understood even better.

“And the people of Britain have been running away from Megla since he arrived here last fall. And many of them had swords in their hands.  No.  We need to train horsemen to counter the Huns on more even ground, or we might as well give them the country and be done with it. Now, there are ways we can use infantry to our advantage, but we will need the horses to entice the Huns into making the mistake.

“I have fifty men. I need fifty from each of you, only your best horsemen, and only volunteers.  Right now, my men are setting up targets to test the men’s skill. The assignment will be hard and require every ounce of skill and brains your people have.”  He looked briefly at Gildas and the others understood, even if Gildas did not get it.  “I will not send men out who have no chance for survival.”

One of the Four Horsemen came in and whispered to Festuscato, which made him grin. “Gentlemen, we have guests.”  He followed the Horseman out while Cador turned to Constantine.

“Was that one Death or Plague?”

Constantine shook his head.  “Pestilence, I think. They all look alike to me.”

Cador nodded. “All I know is any reasonable, intelligent man would be afraid to face one of them.”

“Then your Gildas must truly be the man without fear,” Julius said, and the men laughed.

R5 Festuscato: Cadbury, part 1 of 3

Winter in Orleans seemed long, but not too cold.  Festuscato put Dibs and his men on horseback and put them through the ringer as he had his own men.  Julius and the company housed in the city, were good for the most part, and soon enough he had his men and Dibs’ men working together.  Marcellus and Dibs got along well, which seemed a big plus.  It mostly involved Dibs looking up to Marcellus and his military background and experience.  Dibs also accepted the authority of the Centurion Julius, since his own centurion decided to winter in Paris where his tribune claimed to be deathly ill.

Festuscato spent the cold months dreaming about Greta and Gerraint.  At least it seemed like dreaming.  Gerraint and Arthur made the lances, which meant Festuscato got limited on that score.  He had taken his men about as far as they could go without interfering with history. That felt frustrating in a way. He preferred to dream about Greta tromping through the haunted woods.  Somehow, though, he imagined Danna would not make it easy for him.  It was not her place to protect the church, and her appearance might actually make matters worse.  He would have to figure out how to bring the stupid and stubborn Lords of Britain, Wales and Cornwall together himself.  And when he thought about that, he began to get anxious to go.

Early March brought rains to the area which busted up whatever ice and snow still wanted to cling to the land.  By late March, everything turned to mud and Festuscato started to get itchy to move.  By April first, 439, they were a year away from home, and still in Gaul.

“Well, he could not have anticipated being arrested,” Gaius said cheerfully over his glass of wine.

“Oh yes he could,” Mirowen corrected the Priest.

“That’s it.” Festuscato burst into the inn and called for a drink.  He had a letter in his hand and smiled.

“But you would not be deserting,” Pinewood said as he came in a moment later, chasing after Dibs.

“If they catch me, they will chop my head off,” Dibs responded.

“What?” Gaius spoke up.

“Pinewood says Festus wants to leave and I should go with you.  But that would be desertion, and my men would all be deserters.  It would mean our life if I abandon my post, or if I let you go.”  He threw his hands up in the air like a man faced with an impossible dilemma.

“But, your men can be reassigned.  Lord Agitus has the authority, and you will still be serving the Empire.”

“Yes.  The kind of technicality that is so often ignored by senior officers.”  Dibs got a drink of his own.  Marcellus and Julius came in, and wisely sat down beside Mirowen and Father Gaius. This was something Dibs would have to decide for himself.

“Ah, Dibs, my old buddy,” Festuscato said, and Gaius covered his grin.

“Why do I find the look on your face so frightening?” Dibs asked.

Festuscato shook off the implications.  “I hold in my hand the answer to all our problems.  It is a letter from the Magister Militum.  It says…”  He cleared his throat.  “Winter is over.  Why haven’t you had the good sense to escape?  The Vandals are in Africa as you said, and threatening Carthage.  I will be going to Italy to meet that threat. Meanwhile, Attila has made some alliances with the Vandals through marriage and so on.  This is not good for the Empire.  After you straighten out Britannia, you may have to come back and straighten out Italy.  Before you do that, you never explained about your governess.  This is later.”

There was silence for a minute before Gaius asked, “What does that mean?”

“Very simple,” Festuscato smiled.  “Paper.” He looked at Father Felix who sat in the corner, watching, and who always had some velum and some ink handy. “Aetius.”  Festuscato spoke as he wrote.  “Both your centurion and your tribune have wintered in Paris, so they are not here to give their advice.  I hope your tribune is feeling better, being as sick as he claimed.  I am, in fact, ready to leave, but I thought to let you know I will be taking Sergeant Diboronicuous and his men with me.  They were strictly charged to guard this notorious prisoner and the only way they can continue to do their duty is to come along and guard my person.  As for my governess…”

“No.  You can’t tell him that.”

“But I must keep my word.”  Festuscato smiled for Mirowen as she looked away, embarrassed.  “Mirowen is an elf, and she will continue to be young and beautiful long after we are dead and gone, even if we manage to survive long enough to die of old age.  Godspeed in Africa.  I know you wish the same for Britannia.  Agitus.” He thought a minute before he added, “P. S.  Watch out for Attila.  My impression is he is as sly as a fox and a capable liar.”  Festuscato rolled the letter and Felix handed him a bit of wax which he melted onto the edge to seal it.  He set his ring in the seal and called for the horseman who brought the message.  One gold coin and he yelled.  “Free!” People laughed and everyone got a drink to celebrate, except Mirowen who decided she was not talking to Festuscato.

Once out of the city, Festuscato headed his six wagons, his seventy men and his passengers toward Amorica.  “Not the coast?” Julius asked.

Festuscato shook his head.  “Don’t expect Aetius to not change his mind.  The sooner out of his territory, the better.”  Julius nodded and kept things moving.  They only stopped when they reached the border of Amorica.  They found a small army blocking their way.

Festuscato, Julius, Pinewood and Father Gaius went forward with two of the four horsemen. Five hostile looking men came from the other side.  Festuscato hardly let them dismount before he spoke.

“I am Senator Festuscato Cassius Agitus, the newly appointed Imperial Governor of Britannia. We will not be staying in Amorica. I was hoping to have a talk with your King Selyfan, before we cross the channel.  I know you have good relations with Cornwall, Wales and Britain, and I thought you might have some more up-to-date information.  The letters I have appealing to Rome for help are more than two years old.”

“Do not be put off by the armed men that travel with us,” Gaius interrupted.  “His Holiness, the pope was concerned that Lord Agitus be protected on his long and hazardous journey.”

“That is, unless you have turned your back on Great Britain.  I did hope that we would continue to be good trading partners for years to come.”  Festuscato finished.

“My father is ill.”  A man in his late forties stepped forward and the other Amorican’s seemed to take a step back.

“I take it I have the honor of addressing one of his two sons.  May I ask which?”

“Aldrien. And I will be King after my father.”

“Pleased to meet you.  I take it Constantine; the younger son is elsewhere.”

Aldrien looked at the priest before he glared at the centurion.  “In Kernow.  You seem well informed enough.”

“I spoke with Lady LeFleur, the queen of the fairies, but she could give me no details since she pays so little attention to human events and she knows nothing of events in Britannia”

Several of the men laughed and Aldrien got in Festuscato’s face.  “Do you think I am a fool.”

“Not at all. Lady LeFleur,” He called, and the fairy appeared because she had no choice.  She took a moment to get acclimated to her new location, but then curtsied in mid-air.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Your Majesty, this is Aldrien, the elder son.”

“Very pleased to meet you,” she said.  “I only heard of you, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”  She curtsied again for the prince.

“Thank you for your information.  Apparently, what you told me is true, but I understand King Selyfan is ill.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that.  I hope he gets well soon.”  The queen’s concern sounded genuine.

“Now I need to talk to these men some more.”

“Of course. Only men may know how the minds and hearts of other men work.  It is something which is quite beyond me.”

“Sorry to interrupt.  Please go back to what you were doing.”  Festuscato waved his hand and she disappeared.

“I don’t think I will ever get used to that,” Gaius said.  He pointed to the Amorican noble who got so scared, he grabbed his horse and started riding away at full speed.

“So now, Aldrien. I understand you don’t like Romans very much.”

“Or at all,” one Amorican freely admitted, while Aldrien reached up as if trying to touch the air where the fairy hovered.

“But I assure you, I have no interest in Amorica other than as a friend to Britain.  In fact, let me see if this helps you.  I know the Vandals have invaded Africa at the far southern end of the empire.  General Aetius is talking about returning to Rome to counter that threat, so there is no way he will be around Gaul to bother you, at least for a time.”

“You know this to be true?”  A man asked, and Festuscato nodded.

“It is true. What Aetius will actually do, I cannot say.  But at least you are not his present concern.”

“Good. Don’t be surprised if we send you your administrators and clerics.  We have had enough of tribute and taxes.”

“Don’t send them to me.  What do I want with a bunch of bureaucrats?  Besides, I’ll be in Great Britain.”

“So Governor. Where is your legion?” a different man asked.

“Alas.  What you see is as much legion as I have.” Festuscato waved back at his men who were patiently waiting.

The man laughed and the others got ready to join him when Aldrien cut them off.  He seemed back to himself.  “Your men wear the dragon.”

“They do.”

“I heard you faced down Thorismund, son of Theodoric the Visigoth and he took his two thousand men and ran away.”

“You could say that.”

“I heard you captured the King of the Huns and let him go, like a cat playing with a mouse.”

“True enough.”

Aldrien looked again at Julius.  “Your men don’t seem so tough.”

“They are men, but I do have friends if you know what I mean.”  Festuscato answered for Julius.

Aldrien nodded. He saw one of those friends. “Wait here.  I will go talk with my father and be back.”

“Wait for how long?  Things are not getting better in Britain.”

Aldrien eyed Festuscato once more.  “Couple of weeks,” he said, and with a nod to the Priest, he mounted and his nobles rode with him.

R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 3 of 3

In the morning, Festuscato quietly left the girl sleeping.  He found Gaius and Mirowen downstairs frowning.  “Hey,” he said.  “I’ll probably go to prison for a long time.  I needed something to remember on those cold winter nights.” Gaius just shook his head and Mirowen rolled her eyes like she tired of the excuses.

Dibs stood there with four men.  “Sent to collect you,” he said.

“After breakfast was the deal.”  Festuscato yawned and waved the four men in close.  “Sit,” he ordered.  “I’m buying, so you might as well get some descent food while you can.”  The men looked at Dibs, who nodded, and they happily filled a nearby table.

Festuscato saw all four of his Horsemen present, so he thought to introduce them.  “Death, Pestilence, Plague and, oh yes, Famine is checking on breakfast.”

“He is joking,” Gaius said to the worried soldiers.

“Mostly,” Dibs added, and turned to ask Gaius about being a priest.  “For myself,” Dibs said.  “It would have been impossible not to stand out after all the training the Lady Mirowen put us through.”

It became a good breakfast.  Festuscato felt sort of sad that he left without an appearance by his maid.  Then again, he did not need a scene.

Dibs and his friend from the night before led the way on horseback.  Festuscato, Mirowen, and Gaius also rode, followed by the four horsemen. The rest of the soldiers, and Festuscato counted twenty, marched.  It would be a long way to Orleans.  When they reached the army camp, the tribune was not around.  No surprise there, but a centurion got livid to see that the prisoner had not been bound and allowed to ride besides.

“Hey, Bozous,” Festuscato named the man.  “You have the word of a roman senator that he will go peacefully to Orleans to see my friend Aetius.  I will not try to escape.  Be content with that.”

Mirowen spoke while the centurion thought about it.  “You are sure Aetius will be there?”

“A logical guess,” he said, as he dismounted and stretched while the centurion marched off. Festuscato had plenty of time to ride and dismount and stretch over the month it took them to crawl to Orleans. Once again, it became the wagons and supplies that took so long.

“Come in,” Aetius sat in a tent and not in the town.  He had a desk set up and looked over some papers.  Festuscato entered with Mirowen and Gaius, and his ever-present guard, Dibs.  Mirowen said they were in this together and she would not let him face things alone, even if he was guilty.

“You wanted to see me?” Festuscato asked, like a man who just happened to be in the neighborhood.

“Yes,” Aetius looked up.  “I have conflicting reports and have not decided what to do with you, yet.”  He came out from behind the desk and invited them to sit, which they did.  Festuscato insisted Mirowen take the chair while he and Gaius took the stools.  Dibs remained on his feet.  Aetius looked for a long time at Mirowen before he said, “I remember your mother back in the Curia, the day I was commissioned.”

“I remember,” Mirowen said.

Aetius raised his eyebrows.  “You can’t be.  You have not aged one bit.”

“I’ll explain it later,” Festuscato said.  “Go on. You have reports?”

“Yes,” Aetius said, but paused to call out.  “Aegidius.” He said, “My second in command.” A young man entered.

“Aegidius,” Festuscato stood and repeated the name.  “Good to meet you.”  He shook the man’s hand.  Aegidius responded but gave Aetius a curious look.  Aetius merely smiled.

“As I remembered you,” Aetius said.  “Glib and distracting.”   He picked up his papers.  “Galla Placidia, the regent wrote some terrible, scandalous things about you.”

“Gee.  And I’ve always been nice to her,” Festuscato said. He took his seat and rubbed his chin, as if in thought.

Aetius kept the smile.  “She tells me the Princess Honoria confessed that you came to her in the night and made wild, passionate love to her.  The Regent says you despoiled the poor innocent child.”

“That’s a lie!” Festuscato jumped to his feet. “That child was despoiled long before I found her.  And besides, it wasn’t that passionate.”  He sat back down.

Aegidius looked shocked.  Aetius lost a bit of his smile.  Gaius simply shook his head and looked like he had a headache.

“The regent wants you crucified,” Aetius said, with a straight face.  “But then I got a letter from Valentinian saying I should let you proceed to your work because his eternal soul is tied up with the church and your work and blah, blah.  He says, “tell him henceforth, Honoria has taken a vow of Christian chastity and tell him henceforth our friendship is at an end.”

“I am sorry to lose a friend, but I answer only to the Emperor.  It is written in my papers, which you can read for yourself.  The regent has no say in my assignment, crucifixion or otherwise.”  Festuscato became thoughtful again.  “And as an aside, Honoria will keep that chastity thing about ten minutes.  She demanded I attend her, if you are interested, and attacked me.  Of course, gentleman that I am, I felt obliged to accommodate the lady.”

Aegidius laughed nervously.  Mirowen spouted, “You are not helping your case.”

Gaius had a different thought.  “You should have heard the confession.”

Aetius looked unmoved.  He spoke when things quieted.  “I crossed that woman once and paid the price.  I am not inclined to cross her again.  I thought long about crucifixion.”

“I am not worthy,” Festuscato said humbly to his priest.

“But then I got a letter from the Pope.  It said the church is well aware of your many indiscretions, and it seems no indiscretion is too base for you, nevertheless… and he gives all kinds of Biblical and theological reasons why God sometimes chooses your sort of man… blah, blah… and he concludes with something to the effect if I stand in your way or harm you it is God Almighty I am fighting.”

“Something to consider,” Festuscato straightened his face and shook his head.  “I have a serious burden in Britannia.  It will not be easy getting all those warring tribes to work together, but you know something about that sort of work.” Aetius nodded.  Festuscato again looked thoughtful as he spoke. “Meanwhile, I understand the Vandals have invaded Africa.  A little Hun told me.”

“Eh?”

“Attila.  Do you know him?”

Aetius frowned. “I know him.  If he told you, his information is probably correct, and if the Vandals threaten Carthage, that may cause a serious change of plans here.”

“I tell you what. With some reasonable accommodations, access to my governess, my priest, a chance to exercise, I will give you my word that I will stay in Orleans this winter while you decide what must be done. I will expect to hear from you in the spring, whatever you decide.”

“Like house arrest?”

“If you like. You can post guards if you want.”

“I could just chop your head off and be done with it.”

“Yes.  I know Galla Placidia is a hard woman, but you would piss off the emperor and the pope, if you want to do that.”

“Your word you won’t try to escape?”

“In the winter?”

Aetius nodded. “Probably what you had in mind anyway.” He turned back to the desk. “Aegidius.  See to it.  Vandals in Africa?”

“Yes.” Festuscato paused at the door.  “I would guess you have a special kind of relationship with the Huns.”

Aetius looked up. “I was a captive, under house arrest you might say, with the Huns for several years when I was young.”  He added something to the mix.  “So you know, Megla, a Hun Chieftain is raising men to invade Britannia.  Now we are even.”  He went back to his papers.

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Next Monday:  Festuscato, Cadbury    Which is actually in Britain…  Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 2 of 3

Mirowen and Tiberius had taken it upon themselves to move the wagons forward a quarter mile, to get away from the dead bodies.  They left the Hun’s horses to graze where they stood.  Festuscato found the wagons easily enough, and the troop moved back into position, not really worse for wear.  One man had a cut in his shoulder from one of the two Huns that broke through the trees, but Mirowen had him well bandaged and he was in no danger.

They arrived in the town of Saint What’s-his-name toward evening and found three hundred legionnaires camped on the main field beside the road.  Festuscato thought it wise to bring his men through the town and get them sheltered on the other side.  Something did not feel right.

“Pinewood,” Festuscato got the fairy’s attention.  Pinewood, big sized at the moment, sat on horseback.  “Would you and May please bring the troop to a place where they can camp and not be found.”  He turned his head.  “Four Horsemen.  Help set a hedge around the camp, please.  Marcellus, remember we have passengers to protect.”   He turned his head again.  “Julius and Mirowen will stay with me at the inn, but no one else. I have a bad feeling about this.”

“May has some family around here,” Pinewood spoke up, but he suggested nothing about what that might mean as he turned down an alley with one of the Four Horsemen, Pestilence, Festuscato thought.  The Horseman came back leading an empty horse.

Festuscato and Julius stopped in front of an inn, and the horsemen Death and Famine stopped with them.  Mirowen and Drucilla brought their own horses.  Drucilla said she was not leaving her mistress, but her eyes clearly stayed on Julius.  Festuscato shook his head.   He got two rooms.  Death and Famine opted to sleep in the main room at the bottom of the stairs, if they slept at all.

“What are you thinking?” Mirowen asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe something the Hun implied.” They got some wine and bread and sat at a table where Festuscato could put his back to the wall.  “Bill Hickok style,” he said and changed the subject. “Lately, I have been having strange dreams about a young, blind girl, and I have felt very maternal toward her, odd as that sounds.”

“For you, not so odd.”

“But do you know what I mean, maternal?”

Mirowen lowered her eyes.  “No,” she said.  “I was told when I was very young that I would not be able to have children.”

Festuscato smiled warmly and placed his hand over hers.  “And here you had four boys to raise.  Imagine that.”  Mirowen tried to return the smile as one of those boys, Father Gaius, came bursting into the room.

“What’s up? A glass please.  I think you need your confessor with you.”  He pulled up a seventh chair and sat at the corner of the table.

“See?  It isn’t just me.  Something isn’t right here.”

“Yes,” Julius agreed.  “But what is it?”

They did not have to wait long.  A tribune, one full of self-assurance came crashing into the room, two soldiers trailing. One of the soldiers pointed and the tribune came to the table.  “Senator Agitus?” he asked, but his voice sounded sharp, not respectful or polite. Julius and the two horsemen stood.

“Welcome. The party has just started.  Join us.” Festuscato spoke up.  He waved to the young maid who had her eyes all over him and she got another to help bring some more chairs.  Festuscato looked at the two soldiers, and one in particular made him shout.  “Dibs!”

Gaius looked up. “Dibs!”  He added his voice.

Dibs smiled and pointed to his insignia rank as Mirowen got up with a cloth in her hand and wiped the poor soldier’s mouth.  “When was the last time you bathed?” she scolded, and the soldier beside him laughed.

“Sergeant Dibs,” Festuscato said.  “Congratulations.  Come. Join us.  Wine’s on me.” Both soldiers looked willing but the Tribune held out his arms.

“That is not what we are here for.”

“Come now,” Gaius stood.  “Join us. Business is best discussed on a full stomach.”

The tribune looked flustered.  “Senator Agitus.  By order of the regent, Gala Placidia, you are under arrest for deflowering the womanhood of the Princess Justa Grata Honoria.”

“No, I am sorry.” He turned to the men who had their mouths open, Drucilla who covered her face with her hands, and the horsemen who focused on the intruders.  He did not look at Mirowen’s frown, but he felt it burning his skull.  “That is not true.  She was deflowered long before I got there.”

“Lord Agitus is Comes and Legatus Augusti pro Praetore per Britannia,” Julius said, calmly. “He answers only to the Emperor Valentinian.  The former regent has no authority here.”

The tribune started to lose his cool.  His face turned red.  “Centurion. You will report to the officer of the day so you and your men can be fit into the normal rotation.”  It sounded like a command from a man who was not used to be being contradicted.  He dropped his jaw when Julius shook his head.

“My men and I are assigned by the emperor himself to serve the governor of Britannia.  Even General Aetius cannot change that without direct authorization from the emperor.”

The tribune yelled.  “Your duty is to the empire.”

Julius retained his calm attitude.  “Valentinian is the empire.”

The tribune broke and started to reach for Festuscato, but his own soldiers grabbed his arms and held him back.  Festuscato stood.  “I tell you what.  After a good supper, a good night’s sleep and a fine breakfast, you can arrest me.  I will pledge to travel with you to wherever, and I will take only my governess and my father confessor with me.  You can assign Dibs to guard us on pain of crucifixion if he lets us escape.  Besides, there are some things you don’t know.”  He raised his voice.  “Family of May.  Here, in small form on the table, please.”

A young fairy came warily down from the rafters and fluttered to the table.  She looked very reluctant, like this was not what she expected to be doing.  “Don’t be afraid,” Mirowen said, with a smile for the young thing, and the young fairy returned the smile.

“Miss Lilly,” Festuscato also smiled for the little thing.  “Would you tell Lady May and Lord Pinewood please to bring the troops, passengers and wagons by secret ways to, um, where are we going?”  He asked the tribune.  The tribune had his mouth and eyes open as wide as they could be, and looked ready to scream and run at any moment, but his own soldiers each had an arm and held him steady.  Dibs whispered in his officer’s ear.

“Courage.” He turned to Festuscato. “Orleans.”

“What?  Not Paris?  Darn.”  Festuscato returned to look at Miss Lilly.  “Please ask Pinewood to bring everyone to Orleans by secret ways.  We will get there eventually.”

“Yes, my lord.” The fairy curtsied, and with a quick glance at Mirowen who nodded, she flew off through the nearest window and was gone.

“Drucilla,” Julius spoke.  “We should get back to the men before they leave without us.”

“Yes, Julius,” Drucilla said his name, like she enjoyed saying his name.  “They will wait for us.”  They held hands as they left, and no one stopped them.

“There’s a pickle,” Festuscato sighed.  Mirowen wisely said nothing, but Gaius took his seat with a word.

“Young love should not be a pickle.”

“That’s the problem,” Festuscato also sat and picked up his wine glass.  “Drucilla is nearly two hundred years old.”

Gaius nodded and pointed at Mirowen.  “Sibelius too?  I suspected, you know.”

Dibs and his fellow soldier let go of their tribune when he seemed to come back to his senses. “I order you to be arrested.”  The tribune whined like a baby.

“After breakfast, when your men are ready to move.”  Festuscato said.

“It’s a fair offer,” Gaius pointed out.

The tribune stomped his foot.  “Guards will be posted,” he yelled and spun around to march out the door.  Dibs and his companion fell right in step behind, and Festuscato voiced a thought.

“If he has Dibs and his friend whipped for any reason, I’ll have to kill him.”

No,” Death grinned in a wicked way as only an elf can grin.  “That will be my job.”  Festuscato stared.  It was the first time, to his knowledge, one of the Four Horsemen actually spoke in public.

Later that evening, the young barmaid collected Festuscato and took him to her room.  She shut the door before she whispered, “That was a real fairy.”

Festuscato nodded, but he wondered what it was about young girls and fairies, ponies and unicorns.  Greta certainly had no delusions.  “Emotional roller coasters,” Gerraint said, in Festuscato’s head.  “I bet this one giggles.”

Festuscato got ready to answer when the girl unclasped her dress and let it fall to the ground.  He thought to answer the girl instead.  “You can ask Mirowen all about fairies.  She is an elf.”

The girl stepped up into his arms.  “I thought she was too beautiful for an ordinary woman.”

“Exactly what I thought when I first saw her.”

“But I don’t know if I can believe you.”  Festuscato sent his armor back to Avalon and stood naked with the girl.  She grinned, and about twenty minutes later, she squealed. “I believe you.  I believe you.  I believe you.”  Then she could not manage any more actual words.

R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 1 of 3

“I would really like to make Paris before the fall rains turn to snow,” Festuscato suggested. It was September first or so and they were stuck in the town of Saint Somebody or Other, one oxen shy of a compliment. Both of their spares had been used crossing the Alps and now one more collapsed.  “What did you pack in your wagon, anyway?” he asked Mirowen.

“Things,” she said.  “Girl things and some of your things as well.  And not heavy things, so you can get that smirk off your face.”

“Okay.  We probably need a couple more spares.  This time, I suggest getting a gnome who knows the animals.  Take two of the Four Horsemen and drive a hard bargain for three new oxen.”

“I’ll take Death and Pestilence, if you don’t mind.  You can keep Plague and Famine.”

Festuscato squinted.  “I suppose I really should not call them that.”

“On the contrary. They enjoy the names and the reputation it gives them.”  She scooted off to sit with the women.  Mirowen, Sibelius, Drucilla, May in her big form, and Mascen’s wife Eselt, were all sitting together and giggling.  Festuscato, Marcellus, Mascen, and Mister March were at the big table in the inn, sampling the local wine.

“Where is Julius?” Festuscato asked.

“Out checking on the men,” Marcellus said.  “You know, I have worked for a number of different Centurions in my time, but you have turned Julius into just about the best of the lot.  Most Centurions don’t care what their men are doing outside the battlefield, and even then, it is the sergeants who work the men.”

“Come now, you’re not that old,” Mister March said.

“Thirty-four, I think.  That’s well old enough to have been around.”

“Child,” Mister March set his glass down.

Mascen let out a chuckle and spoke when the others looked at him.  “Over forty,” he said.  “And my wife, but hanging out with those women, she says they keep her young.”

“I don’t see why not.  She is the youngest one in the group,” Festuscato remarked.  Mascen looked curious.  Mister March did not even blink.  Marcellus nodded, vigorously, like he understood something but said nothing. The Priests Gaius, Felix and Lavius took that moment to join the group.

“Any good?” Gaius asked about the wine.

“Leaves a dry aftertaste,” Festuscato complained.

“Not bad,” Marcellus said, as the lady of the house brought another bottle and three more glasses.

“What’s on the menu?” Lavius asked.

“Mutton and potatoes,” Festuscato said.  “And something that used to be green.”

“Now, don’t be hard on these people.  They are poor, but good people and fine Christians, many of them,” Lavius said.

“You are right.” Festuscato sat up straight.  “At least I bet Eselt is glad not to have to do all the cooking this week.”

“Yes and no,” Mascen responded.  “She really enjoys cooking.  Why do you think I married her?”  Everyone smiled for him, except Marcellus who looked suddenly sober.

“I am married,” he admitted.

“No. Really?  Congratulations.”  People around the table said something while Marcellus downed his wine in three gulps.

“Why do you think I joined the army.”  He stood. “Excuse me.”  He went out to check on Julius and the men.

When they left the town of Saint Somebody or Other and headed for the town of Saint What’s-his-name, they were back up to full steam.  The horses and oxen were rested.  The new oxen were groomed and ready.  They had fresh water in the barrels and full bags of grain for the animals and flour to bake their bread.  They picked up a couple of sheep which Mascen, Mister March, Sibelius, and Drucilla drove with the wagons, and Pinewood presented the company with a knee length tunic that was all white with a golden dragon on the chest.  They were not wool, but a thick linen that would be valuable once the weather changed further into the fall.

Festuscato knew he had to talk to Julius because Julius and Drucilla were getting to be such good friends.  But he kept putting it off.  Often, such romances were brief, and he hoped that might be the case here.  He dwelled on it when Marcellus and his six came riding in hard from the flank.

“Huns,” Marcellus shouted, and the elf who had the horn blew it loud and long.  The men on the point and the rear guard came racing up. They were on the edge of a forest where the trees grew on both sides of the road, but ended on Marcellus’ side not far from the road.

“Tiberius,” Julius yelled.  “You and your men get the horses and passengers into the woods and defend them.”

“Dismount,” Festuscato shouted over top.  “Bows and keep your spears handy.”

“Get those sheep off the road,” Marcellus added, and six men did their best to get all of those horses into the quiet of the woods, while the rest of the troop found cover. There were about twenty soldiers charging, and Festuscato could not imagine how Marcellus knew they were Huns.

“Wait for the signal,” Festuscato shouted as Julius came up beside him.

“Here we go,” Julius breathed as Mirowen, Sibelius and Drucilla stepped up alongside the four horsemen, bows ready.  Festuscato frowned.

“Now!”

Sixteen of the twenty attackers went down with the first volley.  Two broke through the woods to the road, but they got surrounded by so many spears, they did not last long.  The other two turned and ran, and Festuscato did not like the thought that they might fetch more.  “Horses,” he shouted.  “Bring your spears but hold your bows.  Shields ready.”  He found his horse and mounted.  When most of the men were up he shouted again.  “We want prisoners, not bodies.  Pursuit!”  They had practiced this.  They were Festuscato’s own little RDF.

They did not ride that far behind the Huns, though maybe they had first class horses and the Huns had steppe ponies that were not as swift.  The two men ran into a camp of Huns, yelling the alarm, but Festuscato and his company were right there, bows drawn and arrows ready to let loose.  The Huns who stood around their tents and campfires got taken by surprise.

“A hunting party,” Marcellus named the group.  He guessed about fifty.

“Hunting Romans?” Festuscato quipped and dismounted at what looked like the big tent.  A man with dark hair and dark angry eyes came out of the tent with something to say. Festuscato looked around once at his Romans and saw twice his numbers.  Pinewood hurried up to his side to translate, and Festuscato assumed all the extra men in helmets and dragon tunics were elves and fairies in their big size. Festuscato did not feel happy about that, but at the moment, he was not going to quibble.

“What is this?”

“Are you the chief?  Your men attacked my wagon train.  You now have eighteen dead men and two cowards who ran away.  I want a good reason why we shouldn’t just kill you all where you stand.”

The short, broad shouldered man had some grey in his curly black hair and beard, and he growled at the word coward.  He turned to one of the two who ran away and slapped him hard enough to knock him down.  “It was not by my orders,” the man shouted.  “I said watch them, not attack them.  I suppose you will want compensation, Roman.”

“I don’t see why. We suffered no loss, just a temporary inconvenience.”

The man looked at the two who returned and then took a good look at the Romans who sat on obedient horses with bows ready to fire.  “Eighteen men?”  He looked to the sky.  “You are the dragon?  Who are you?”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris of Rome, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia, and you?”

“Attila, King of the Huns.”  Attila grinned for some reason.  “And you have General Aetius waiting for you.”

“I am sure I will run into him, why?”

“Nothing,” Attila said, but he did not lose the grin.  “But tell me, Roman.  I heard you abandoned Britain years ago.”

“A special appeal from the Pope through the Emperor, Valentinian.”

Attila’s eyes widened and his mouth mocked.  “The Holy man and the mother’s boy.  I am surprised they have the time to consider such a far-away place.  I hear the Vandals have invaded Africa.”

“Indeed, but I am sure you have bigger fish to catch than a poor Senator on the road to an impossible task.”

“Somehow, I have a feeling for you it may not be so impossible.”

“Give me your word that we may proceed unmolested.”  Festuscato said, and Attila thought about it.  He looked again at the men and their arrows.  He twisted his hand to a man who was near.  The man roared and drew his sword.  He became a pincushion of arrows and collapsed before he got more than two steps.  Festuscato did not flinch.

“Nineteen men dead,” Festuscato said, sadly.

“He was not a man. He was a fool.”  Attila lied without blinking.  He did not see which archers fired, and they all looked to have another arrow in the string.

“Fair enough. Nineteen fools and two lucky ones that ran away.  Now give me your word.”

“Given.” Attila shouted to the camp.  “Let the Roman and his dragons go in peace.”

Festuscato nodded. “Here,” he said.  “A token for your losses.”  He took a ruby ring from his right hand and held it out.  “You might wish to return it to me the next time we meet.”  He mounted his horse.

“We will meet again?”

“You can count on it,” Festuscato said, and he started out.

“Marcellus,” Julius called and joined Festuscato at a walking pace.

“Back to the wagons,” Marcellus yelled at the men and waved his arm.

“Father. You aren’t going to let them go,” Attila’s son had recovered from his slap down, and raised his voice.

“His fate is already decided,” Attila said.  “Let them go.”  He shouted to his camp again.  “Let them go.”  All the same, the little ones who joined the troop waited for all of the Romans to leave before they came last in line, just in case.  They did not disappear until they were well away from the Hun camp.

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 3 of 3

Gotlieb proved a dull wit, but that actually proved good, because he took the job seriously. Heinrich did steer the company away from several troubling places where Brigands were known to frequent, so all in all, those months were positive.  Heinrich and Gotlieb were found, on several occasions, rifling through the wagons, no doubt looking for where Festuscato kept his gold.  Mirowen, backed up by the Four Horsemen always stopped that before it got too far.  It got to where all Mirowen had to do was cough and Gotlieb would jump and run back to his tent.

“Old habits,” Heinrich would smile, and confess, and try again a few days later.

“Thank you, not.” Mirowen said, as they moved down into Gaul and Heinrich became obsessed with finding the gold.

“Now then.” Festuscato patted her hand.  “It can’t be worse than looking after four eight and nine-year-old boys.”

“Here, here,” Father Gaius said.

“And they were a handful,” Mister March added, with a big grin rooted in his memories.

“Still are,” Mirowen said.  “But at least I could bathe them.”

“Right,” Festuscato said, but he had stopped listening.  Julius and the elf maiden, Drucilla were getting to be on much too friendly terms.

The day came when they left the hills.  It was still August hot, and Festuscato felt pleased they made such good time. “Heinrich,” he called to the man, and Gotlieb trailed right behind like a faithful puppy dog.  “I was thinking if you plan to go back over the mountains before winter sets in, I should pay you for your service and let you go.”

“You know the way from here?” he asked.

“North. That about covers it.”  Festuscato reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a rather large pouch of coins. “Let’s see. It has been four or five months.  I believe you will find this generous.”  He opened the bag and pulled out a few gold coins. He smiled, dropped them back into the bag and handed the whole bag over to Heinrich.  “And you won’t have anyone chasing you to take your head,” he said with a smile.  “But now, I should say, you better watch out for highway robbers.”

Heinrich’s jaw dropped.  In his time, he found Festuscato to be a man of his word, and more than generous, and he still did not know how to take that.  Everyone he knew was a selfish, self-serving thief.  He really struggled, but found the words, “Thank you.” Gotlieb just grinned.  Julius yelled in the distance.

“Form up.”

“Look for me when I come back this way in a few years,” Festuscato said, offhandedly, as he rode over to see what might be on Julius’ mind, his ever present Four Horsemen trailing behind.

“Visigoths,” Marcellus pointed.

“Spears,” Festuscato said quietly.  Then he raised his voice.  “Tiberius, I want the eight best bowmen to stay here to protect the passengers.”

“Spears,” Marcellus shouted while Tiberius called off the men.

Julius counted. “I estimate two hundred.”

“Let’s wait and see what Heinrich does.”  Heinrich and Gotlieb rode out to face the Goths.  Scarface and another man rode to meet them.  It looked like they had a meeting with plenty of yelling.  Festuscato yawned.  He could not help it.

Tiberius came back with his eight and joined the ranks.  “Lady Mirowen told us to stay with you.  She said to tell you Dumdiddle and his band of merry men have the passengers well covered, whatever that means.”

“It means I hope they don’t attack.  The little ones have no business getting mixed up in human stupidity, and maybe getting killed because of it.”  Festuscato noticed the enemy starting to relax as the argument went on.  “Smoke if you got ‘em,” he said, and kicked his horse toward the meeting.  “Four horsemen stay here,” he heard the grumbles, but Julius went with him, and surprisingly, Father Gaius caught up.

“I’ll take talking over fighting any day,” Gaius said.

“And Lord Agitus is good in the talking department,” Julius confirmed.

When they arrived, the four men were standing and staring, until Heinrich stepped forward. “Lord Agitus.  This was not my idea.”

“I understand. Pinewood,” Festuscato called, and again Pinewood fluttered up like he had not been very far away.  Like last time, he got big and dropped to one knee.

“Lord.  The elves of the Marsh have their bows ready, and you know they don’t miss, and I have a hundred of my people in the grass waiting to spring out on the enemy.  And there are others.”  He looked up and grinned a true elfish grin, just in case they blinked when he flew in. “I know at least one ogre who is looking forward to crushing some bones.”

“Hardly fair,” Julius complained.  “Hardly leaves anything for my men to do.  They do need the practice, you know.”

Festuscato waved them both off.  “Scarface, who’s your friend?”

“I am Thorismund, Eldest son of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths.”  The young man had an attitude problem.

“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia. Good to meet you.”  He put out his hand but Thorismund declined.

“You have legions?”  Thorismund wondered.

“I do, but you cannot see them.  I take it Scarface did not tell you about my friends.  Oh, get up Pinewood.  Here, you can sit on my shoulder.”

“Thank you, Lord.” Pinewood got small and grabbed a seat without tugging too much on Festuscato’s hair.

“I’ll tell you,” Festuscato continued before Thorismund could frame his thoughts into words. “Britain is going to be a hard nut to crack, what with all those warring Celtic tribes.  But then, I bet your father is pretty hard to work for, too. Eh?  Am I right about that?”  Thorismund looked at the fairy and rolled his eyes.  “Still, at least you have a father.  Mine got murdered when I was just eight years old.”

“Murdered?” Thorismund asked.

“Oh, my little ones here,” he pointed at Pinewood.  “They drove the murderer mad, haunted him day and night.  I still haven’t decided if I am going to forgive them or not.  But let’s not dwell on my problems.  How can I help you?”

“Help me?” Thorismund asked, now confused and not quite sure what Festuscato suggested.

“How about safe passage back to Visigoth land, and I promise I won’t let any trolls or goblins eat your men along the way.”

“It is a fair offer,” Heinrich said, having seen enough over the last five months to not doubt it.

“And a piece of advice for free.  You need to surround yourself with honest men like Julius, Pinewood and Father Gaius, my old friend.”  He turned to stare at Scarface.  “And you need to get rid of those who don’t tell you the whole story and are only interested in furthering their own ambition.”

Thorismund looked at Scarface who tried to keep a straight face but dared not speak for fear of digging himself deeper into the hole.  Thorismund took his horse and rode back to his men.  Scarface followed, but Heinrich had a last word for Festuscato. “You have ruined me, you know.  I think you made me an honest man.”

“Good thing. I would guess Thorismund could use an honest man.”

He nodded and Gotlieb said, “Good-bye,” so he actually got in the last word.

“Pinewood,” Festuscato spoke softly.  “A hundred fairies in the grass?  Elves of the marsh, and others?”

“I should check on May,” Pinewood, said and flew off.  Julius and Gaius shared a laugh.  Festuscato watched the fairy fly and thought of Gerraint who might need some fairies in the grass.

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

Next Monday:  Festuscato: To Orleans.  There are bumps on the road, but meanwhile…

*

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 2 of 3

Every few days they stopped to hunt or fish.  Most of the company had been made up of men from the Italian countryside, not from Rome itself.  Many of them were raised hunters and fishermen, where winters could be lean, even in sunny Italy.  A few of them were very good, like Tiberius who first picked up a bow and arrows at age seven, though he admitted he never saw anyone as good on the hunt or as good with a bow as Festuscato.

Early on morning, the sun just having cracked the horizon, Festuscato, Tiberius and Julius found themselves in the woods, on the trail of a deer.  Festuscato complained that he did not have a haunted woods, like Greta.  He wanted a haunted woods, but he did not explain himself at that time.  They came to an upland meadow full of spring flowers and Festuscato hushed his companions.  He saw the deer.  It turned out to be a small herd, contentedly munching away.  The others did not see them until a couple of them moved. Festuscato pointed to the two easy targets and got ready to take down a third.  It took a lot of food to feed fifty-seven people.

“Now,” Festuscato spoke softly.  His deer fell.  Tiberius crippled his and finished with a second arrow.  Julius shot a bit off.  The deer would die in time, but it could run.  Fortunately, Festuscato anticipated this and had a second arrow ready. The herd ran off, of course, but they had three good kills, and what they did not eat that day or the next, they could smoke and chew on all week.  “Good thing Mirowen has people out gathering greens, berries and tubers.  I would hate to have everyone down with scurvy, though I don’t mind Atkins so much.  Tiberius.”

“On my way,” Tiberius said.  He would go back to camp and bring men and horses to carry the meat, while Julius and Festuscato defended it.  He did not get very far.  A dozen rough looking men, Goths more than likely, moved up to surround them.  They were on horseback, and the obvious leader, a tall blond, triggered Festuscato’s mouth.

“Riders of Rohan. We have been tracking a party of orcs. They have two hobbits with them, little people.  They would look like children in your eyes.  Have you seen them?”  The blond and several others got down from their horses.  About half of the Goths remained mounted.

“Orcs?” the blond asked with a playful look.  He felt confident that he had the upper hand.

“What you would call goblins.  They will have gone to ground come daylight, but they can’t be far.”

“Goblins?” The man certainly knew the word, and he scoffed.

“Of course. This is the haunted forest, or about as good a one as you can get around here.”  Festuscato complained again.  A couple of Goths laughed, but the blond shot them a hard look.  He got tired of this foolishness.  “Just a minute,” Festuscato interrupted the idea of getting down to business.  “Pinewood,” he called.  Pinewood fluttered in, which made the Goths all take a big step back.  The fairy changed to his big size and went to one knee.

“Yes, Lord.”

“Please inform Mirowen that we may be a bit late for lunch, and remind Marcellus that he has passengers to defend.”

“Yes, Lord. I believe Dumdiddle and a number of locals are watching from the woods.  I am sorry, though.  The goblins did go to ground with the sunup.”

“Quite all right. I’ll catch up with them at a later time.”

“Very good, Lord.” Pinewood immediately got small again and flew off with some speed.

“Now, I believe you were about to tell me something.”

The blond Goth gave Festuscato a much closer look.  This did not appear to be your typical rich Roman, lost in the woods.  He spoke, but it came out loud and not without some fear in his voice.  “This is our hunting ground.”

“Excuse me,” Festuscato interrupted again.  He shouted. “Don’t kill them.  I’ll let you know if I need you to hurt them.” Festuscato noticed the eyes of Julius stayed steady as if the appearance of Pinewood in his fairy form simply confirmed what he guessed; or maybe Mirowen, or worse, Drucilla told him. Tiberius had his eyes as wide open as any Goth, but he held his tongue.  “I am Senator Festuscato Cassius Agitus.  My centurion is Julius and my archer here is Tiberius.  Do you have a name?”

“Heinrich,” The man said, while his eyes carefully scanned the trees.

“Good to meet you.”  Festuscato reached out and shook the man’s hand before Heinrich knew what was happening. “Now, I apologize.  We had no idea this was a claimed hunting preserve.  You are welcome to our kill, though one to share with my men would be very nice.”  He gave his warmest, friendliest smile.

Heinrich saw nothing in the trees.  He pulled his sword and the men on foot with him pulled theirs as well.  “What I want is your gold.”

Festuscato never lost his smile and he patted himself down.  He had taken to living in the armor of the Kairos because he said it made dressing in the morning so easy, and the fairy weave he wore beneath the leather could be cleaned and freshened with a thought.  “Sorry.  No gold with me.  But I’ll tell you what I can do.  Why don’t I hire you.  We are heading over the alps and could use a good guide.  Do you know the mountains?  It would be good if we avoided any highway robbers or brigands or that sort of thing, and I pay well.”

“Lord Agitus?” Julius did not like that idea, but Festuscato hushed him.

“Maybe you and your lieutenant.  I have a big enough troop as it is to try and keep fed.  But, as I said, your men are welcome to these deer.  Oh, but I don’t know if you can trust your men to keep things while you are away.  Still, it is a fair offer, I can pay in gold if you like and no one will follow after you to try and take your head, if you know what I mean.”

Heinrich clearly thought about it.  He stepped back to confer with his men, one in particular who Festuscato would remember by the scar down the man’s cheek.  When he turned, he smiled, but it looked a bit fake.  “Gotlieb and I will show you the way over the mountains,” he said. “Two,” he shouted to his men and they took two of the deer, mounted and rode off, Scarface last of all.  Heinrich and Gotlieb grabbed their horses while Julius helped Tiberius get the last deer up on his shoulders.  “Gotlieb was born and raised on the other side of the mountains and I know this side and the passes very well.”  Heinrich started exactly in the direction of the camp and said, “So where is this camp of yours?”

“Not far,” Festuscato said, as Pinewood met them at the edge of the meadow in his big form, to walk with them.

“Dumdiddle is happy things worked out, but he says he has a very disappointed ogre that didn’t get to pound anyone.”  Pinewood spoke freely, but he spoke in Greek assuming that the Goths did not speak Greek. Julius did.  Festuscato nodded, but did not respond.  Pinewood spoke again after a moment.  “The Lord under the Mountains says he will watch the camp in the night.”

“Very good.” Festuscato thought about it.  “But Julius, tell Marcellus he needs to set up a regular watch through the night.  At least four men per shift, three shifts in the twelve hours.  They need to guard the perimeter and keep at least one other in sight at all times. Maybe five men, middle shift, in the dark of the night.  They need to keep their eyes open for Goths that may be following.  This night watch needs to become routine, from now on, Goths or no Goths.”  Festuscato reverted to Old German so Heinrich was sure to understand.  “Oh, and Pinewood.  Please tell the Lord under the Mountains that his people are not to eat any Romans or any passengers as well.  What he does with outsiders is up to him to decide.”

“Very good, my Lord.”

Festuscato and Julius had no illusions and imagined that Scarface and the rest of Heinrich’s men would follow them, but they never came close enough to the camp to be a bother.  In part, that may have been because Festuscato and Julius halted the group everyplace they found level ground.  There, they spent a few days going through their lessons before moving on.  No telling how the company might perform in battle, but at least they were proficient enough at their tasks to be impressive to any observers.  “The chief object is to not have to fight,” Festuscato said, and Julius agreed.  Father Gaius added an Amen, just to be clear.

R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 1 of 3

Festuscato spent six months at home, getting ready to travel, which moved the calendar into 438. Britannia would be a long way.  He bought horses and put the entire troop on horseback first thing.  He made them ride every day, and encouraged them with the notion that they did not want to have to walk to Britain.  He got every man a spear, and made them practice stabbing at targets from horseback. He also bought a wagon load of arrows, and long swords like the barbarians used.  They had to practice with those, too.  He made it as much fun as possible, kept it competitive, and felt relieved to see Julius at the top of the class with Marcellus.  It would not have done to have the officers lagging behind.

After twelve weeks of what he called basic training, he started to push them.  In the second twelve weeks, he taught the basics of judo and karate.  He talked a lot about the vulnerable points.  He gave them round shields with dragons painted on them for their left arm while on horseback.  The shield protected their center, could be used to knock away an enemy spear, and yet they were small enough not to impede their horsemanship, such as it was.  Then he got creative and made them learn to fire arrows from horseback.  Not everyone mastered that, but the result was, after six months he had forty men ready to conquer the alps, and just in time.

Spring came due, and Festuscato gave Mirowen April first as an absolute deadline, “No foolin’,” he said.  True, he had properties throughout the Italian peninsula that she had to get squared away.  She had to make sure she had accountants to collect rents and pay taxes and in general watch things without skimming off the top.  She found gnomes, and Festuscato said it could not be safer at Gringots. She didn’t ask.

Come April first, Festuscato started itching to leave, and so did the men, believing that once they hit the road they could get some rest.  Father Gaius came riding up at the last with two fellow priests, Lavius, a large fellow, and Felix, a shy scholar and a far cry from their old friend Felix, the smooth-talking silk salesman.

“The Pope sends his blessing,” Gaius said, and handed over some papers to that effect. “Privately, he said you will probably save everything or break everything, being the scoundrel that you are.”

“I may save a soul or two, but I save my breaking for hearts.  Don’t tell him I said that.”

“No problem,” Gaius said.  “We are going with you.”

“What? Mirowen,” Festuscato put just the right amount of whine in his voice.

“I heard. Hello Gaius.  If you would follow me.”

“Good fathers,” Julius came up.  “Problem?”

“No.  The Pope sends his blessing and three tag-alongs. I assume they are headed for Britain.”

“The road, being what it is these days, I don’t blame them for tagging along where there is some chance of protection.”

“Why do you think I beat you and your men so badly these last six months.  At least now I feel we have a chance of reaching our destination.”

Julius looked serious.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit.”

“Oh?”

“You beat the hell out of the men.”  Julius grinned.

Festuscato responded with a straight face.  “Well, that should make the priests happy,”

There were always four, on rotation, that scouted and served out front on the point, and four who also served in the rear-guard position.  Four more drove or rode with each of the four wagons, which counted for sixteen men.  The wagons were the bulk of what kept them at a slow and gentle pace.  Oxen would only move so fast.  The first wagon carried weapons, tools and spare wagon parts. The second got stuffed with food, though every wagon had some emergency food and a barrel of water.  The third wagon had tents, blankets and whatever else would be necessary to make camp.  The fourth wagon carried Mirowen’s stuff, though to be honest, it was not all fluff stuff.  Among other things, she remembered to pack a good medical kit.

There were six men who rode on each side of the column, and rode out from the column when they could, to protect the flanks.  One side got led by Sergeant Marcellus and the other by Tiberius the archer, though he was not really any more experienced than the others.  The final four men stayed with their commander, Julius, and they got followed by Festuscato’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Those were, in fact, four elves who volunteered to make the journey to Britannia.

The ten passengers, as Festuscato called them, rode in and around the wagons.  Besides the three clerics, there were five from the household.  Mister March, an old man, wanted to go home to die.  Mascen and Eselt were a middle-aged couple who claimed to have no ties in Italy, but said they had family in Britain.  The fact that Mascen was a wagon-master and Eselt was a great cook made including them a real plus.  Two were house elves, the maidens Sibelius and Drucilla.  Festuscato was not thrilled with putting them in danger, but the Four Horsemen liked the idea, and Festuscato really had no option.

“We came to keep Mirowen from going human,” Sibelius said, in all seriousness.

“You are a bad influence, you know,” Drucilla agreed.

“And you are not the first to say that,” Festuscato admitted, with a sigh.

The last two so-called passengers were a fairy couple who spent most of their daylight hours scouting ahead or doing who knew what, as Festuscato thought.  They were Pinewood and May.  May claimed to be from Gaul.  Pinewood said he had been raised in the alps.  Festuscato appreciated the scouting and whatever knowledge they might be able to provide concerning the areas ahead, but he mostly left them to their own devices.  He also said nothing about Gerraint and Pinewood’s days to come.

They made good time overall.  By Mayday, they were already up into the hills beneath the mountains.  Festuscato hoped to cross the continental divide in early July, to give them two whole summer months to make it down the other side. By September, he wanted to be solidly in Gaul. and on route to a place where they could comfortably winter.

R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 3 of 3

“Galla Placidia,” Festuscato made it a show.  “You are looking as lovely as I remember.”

“Your memory must be faulty,” the old woman said, but she held her hand out for Festuscato to kiss her ring.  “Your governess, though, has not aged a day since we last met.”

“Alas, her people do not show their age in the same way as us mere mortals,” he sighed. “And this lovely child beside you?”

“My sister,” Valentinian stated the obvious

“Justa Grata Honoria,” Galla Placidia said, flatly.

Festuscato took the girl’s hand and kissed the back of her hand.  “The pleasure is all mine.”  He turned the girl’s hand over and kissed her palm before he let go. “Honoria is a lovely name.”  The young woman blushed and looked tongue tied. “But here, I am taking up your valuable time with pleasantries.  I understand you have important business in mind.”  He turned again to Valentinian.  “I am yours to command.”  He bowed again.

“Mother.”

Galla Placidia had a small packet of letters in her lap.  She wasted no time.  “Your father served the Empire well for many years in Britannia before we withdrew our legions from that island.  It was hoped that the free people might continue to prosper, but that has not been the case.  Indeed, they have reverted to petty, tribal squabbling as bad as reported in the memoirs of Julius Caesar himself.  This would be no concern for us, but the church has appealed for help, and we have caught wind of the fact that the Huns are preparing an invasion.  Your friend, Bishop Guithelm has written to us and to the Pope, and the Pope himself has appealed to us to do something. Therefore, we have determined to send you, young Lord Agitus, in your father’s place, to see if there is anything that may be done to protect and defend the church there.  Personally, I believe my concerns about you have proved true. You are a cad and a bad seed.  But you are also a man of rank, Vir Illustris, and have been generous to the state.  Therefore, an acceptable solution is to send you as far away from here as you can be sent.”  She grinned, cruelly.  “And wish you Godspeed.”

Festuscato stared at the woman with an absolute straight face.  “And yet you know I am honest, and as trustworthy as the most loyal lapdog.  And you know I am bright, and no fool.  I can assure you, if there is a way to resolve the troubles in Britannia, I will find it.”

“Yes,” Galla Placidia sighed and held out the letters.  “This I also know.”

Valentinian did not entirely follow the exchange.  Neither did Honoria.  She looked too busy swallowing Festuscato with her eyes and ignored the whole exchange. Licinia Eudoxia may have understood some of the dynamics, but she looked too busy being pregnant and getting uncomfortable having to sit for so long.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus.”  Valentinian had been handed two scrolls by a counselor.  “Your imperial appointment is a two-edged sword.  I appoint you with the military rank of Comes Britanniarum. You may appoint whatever Dux Britannia or Dux Bellorum as you see fit.  I also appoint you Legatis Augusti pro Praetore for the free province of Britain. This is a consular appointment. You answer to no one but me.”

Festuscato took the two scrolls and thought a minute.  “I understand there is no commission to support these appointments. I will make this effort at my own expense, and gladly for your sake and for the Empire.  But between that and continuing to support you here, I ask that you go lightly on any new taxes you devise in my absence.”  He looked at Galla Placidia and she gave a slight nod of assurance.  “I also understand there are no legions to be spared, nor do I ask for any.  The people of Britain will need to find their own path to peace and a show of force from Rome might be the worst option.  But, the alps and certain parts of Gaul, despite Lord Aetius’ valiant efforts, remain treacherous.  May I take the Centurion Julius and his company of misfits to guard the way?”

“Please.  Be my guest.” Valentinian said, a bit quickly, but a glance at his mother assured him she had no objections.  “I only wish there was more we could do.”

“My Emperor,” Festuscato made another quick bow before his countenance changed and his words softened.  “My good friend.  I will endeavor to always bring honor to your name.”  He turned, and Mirowen turned with him.  Julius gave another salute and fell in behind before Valentinian bounded from the throne.

“Wait a moment.” They waited and Valentinian took Festuscato’s elbow and pulled him aside.  He whispered.  “What did you mean when you said your governess’ people don’t show age the way we mortals do?”

Festuscato glanced back, as if to be sure they were not overheard.  “She is an elf.  A house elf to be more precise.”

“No. Really?  No.”  Valentinian did not know what to say.

“Rule well. And love that baby girl.  I think your wife may need to stand up for a while.”

“Eh?” Valentinian looked.  “You may be right.”  He backed off and waved.

That evening, a messenger came for Festuscato.  The lady Honoria requested his presence to explain how he hoped to bring peace in such a faraway land.  Fortunately, Mirowen got busy repacking the wagon that barely got unpacked, so she was not there to stop him.  In the morning, Festuscato said he really had to go while it was still dark. Honoria reached for the back of his head and smiled, like she was not about to let him go.

“When times are hard on this road I travel, it is the memory of your smile that will help me carry on.”

“Mother was right,” she said.  “You are a cad.”

“Cad Illustris, first class,” he admitted.

“Oh, shut-up and kiss me again.”  And she pulled his head down to her on the bed while he covered them again with her blanket and thought he might never get betrothed, if he could help it.

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Next Monday:  Festuscato, Over the Alps.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 2 of 3

Festuscato cut the centurion off and put his hand out for the papers.  The man handed them over, and then Festuscato had to gently slap Mirowen’s hand and hunch over to keep Gaius from reading over his shoulder. He read quickly and handed Mirowen the papers.

“It seems we have an audience with the Emperor.  It suggests we may be sent to Britain, though I cannot imagine why.  So, tell me, when Mother says jump, does my old buddy Valentinian still ask, how high?”

The centurion smiled, but wisely did not answer that question.  Fortunately, food and drink started to arrive.

“Ah, good.” Festuscato said.  He helped set the trays down so the girls could scamper off to fetch more.  “You should bring your century up on to the property.  I suspect we will be a while, packing.”  He nodded toward Mirowen and winked.  The centurion understood.  Mirowen simply returned the gentle slap on Festuscato’s hand.  Festuscato ignored her and continued talking.  “Besides, I want to see the expression on Velleius Fulvia’s face when he sees I have my own century.  I bet he runs right out to get one.”

“It is a game they play,” Mirowen said, as she handed the papers to Gaius.

“I call it, neighbor see, neighbor do.”  Festuscato called, “Mister March.”

“Sir.”  The old man came out from the corner where he had been hiding in the shadows, listening to every word.

“See if you can open a keg of that special ale when the century gets settled.”

“Very good sir.”

Gaius handed back the papers.  “It definitely suggests Britain.”

“We will have to see who among the tenants and such might want to go home.”

Mirowen spoke plainly to the centurion.  “It will take at least a month to close up our affairs here and pack for the journey.”

The centurion nodded.  “The former regent suggested you might need two months.”

“Don’t say it.” Festuscato was not fast enough.

“Too late,” Gaius confirmed, and Mirowen took the full two months to get ready.

Festuscato spent the time getting to know Julius and his Sergeant Marcellus, usually in a martial way.  They had practice swords, rode with spears where they stabbed at targets, wrestled in the Greek style, and practiced with their bows.  Julius needed the work-outs.  He was in danger of becoming a lazy officer.  Marcellus seemed fairly young for a sergeant, in his early thirties, but a proficient soldier who privately appreciated Festuscato getting his centurion in shape.

Marcellus was short and broad-chested.  The men said he always won at wrestling.  Festuscato ended the man’s winning streak with a couple of judo throws and holds, and just enough aikido to keep the bear hug at bay.  With the sword and spear, they were all on more even ground, but Festuscato could ride like he became part of the horse, and the horse would respond and do things that some said they never saw a horse do before.

It started roughly six years earlier, at age sixteen.  Festuscato suddenly found the idea of hunting exciting.  He found his horse responsive to him in a way it had never responded before.  And he found his ability with a bow and arrow unequalled among men.  Mirowen said he even surpassed her, though he disagreed. He never saw anyone as good as her.

Festuscato pondered his sudden near superhuman abilities for a long time, until he remembered Diogenes and the Princess were what he called genetic reflections.  He understood that every life he lived had a genetic reflection somewhere in history, and he concluded that his female reflection must have been gifted, possibly by the goddess Diana herself, somewhere in the deep past when she turned sixteen.  He marveled at what he could do, and he was just reflecting her gifts. He could not imagine what she must have been able to do.  He tried to find her in the time stream, but she seemed cut off from him at present. That felt typical.  Out of more than one hundred and forty lifetimes, Storyteller’s estimate, he would probably only remember twenty or thirty in his lifetime.

The century had a man, Tiberius, who had been best with a bow.  Festuscato fired an arrow which knocked Tiberius’ arrow aside in mid-air. With hardly a breath, he shot a second arrow which struck the bull’s-eye dead center.  To be sure, Festuscato spent most of those two months working with the century, on their skills and getting them in shape.  Those forty men, hardly a century, claimed to be misfits and leftovers.  They weren’t by the time they marched into Ravena.

Festuscato got called to an audience with the Emperor as soon as he arrived.  Julius and Mirowen went with him, though Mirowen complained at not being allowed to unpack.  Julius saluted and introduced them.  Mirowen curtsied and stayed down until invited to rise.  Festuscato looked straight into the scowling face of the Emperor and defied etiquette as he spoke before spoken to.

“Valentinian, my old friend, how have you been?  I see you have grown well, and married, I understand.  Good or you.”

Valentinian’s face turned from scowling to curiosity.  “We have met before?”

“Of course. In the Curia in Rome.  I was nine and you were almost seven.  I remember that.  Almost seven.”  Mirowen’s hand reached up and pinched Festuscato in his side to get him to shut-up. In that moment, the scowl moved to Galla Placidia’s face, one step down from the throne, but the light came to Valentinian’s face.

“Festuscato. I knew that I knew the name Agitus.” He glanced at his mother as he stood. “Good to see you again.  Did you marry?  Is this your wife?  Please rise.” Mirowen stood and the scowl on Galla Placidia’s face got temporarily interrupted by a gasp.

“Alas,” Festuscato shook the Emperor’s hand.  “Mirowen remains my governess, though these days she prefers the name, housekeeper. She really spends most of her time trying to keep me on the straight and narrow.”  He winked at the Emperor.  “Not married,” he sighed.  “I’m afraid no young woman in Rome will have me.”  He turned to whisper.  “Though I have had a share of them.”  He returned to a normal voice.  “And this must be your wife.”  He went to the obvious seat at the right hand of the throne where a young woman fidgeted.

“Licinia Eudoxia,” Valentinian showed her off.

“Festuscato,” he introduced himself and offered a slight bow before he noticed she was seriously pregnant.  “But wait. Don’t tell me.”  He put one hand out and made noises that would make a carnival owner proud.  “I see. I see a little girl.”  He smiled.

“Are you a seer?” Licinia asked, with genuine interest.

“Sadly, I am a guesser, but I have a fifty-fifty chance of being right.”

Valentinian smiled and leaned over to his wife.  “If I remember right, I think Festuscato sees more than just about anyone.”

“Speaking of which, I must give my greetings to your mother.”  Festuscato looked at the Emperor who had a question in his eyes. “Must be polite,” he said, and Valentinian acquiesced.  Festuscato saw Mirowen with the former Regent.  Galla Placidia appeared to have tears in her eyes.  The young woman, obviously Valentinian’s older sister, comforted her, as did Mirowen.  Valentinian stood back to watch, expecting fireworks.