R6 Greta: The Quest, part 2 of 3

“Hobknot.”  Greta called him and gently compelled him to come to be sure he did not run away and hide for the next fifty years.  “You are also the eldest,” she said.  “And a little one with a good, sensible brain.  Use it.  I expect you to think clearly if the way gets muddled, and speak sense, even if the way appears nonsense.”  Greta took off the ring of Avalon.  It had the seal of the Kairos.  She put it on Hobknot’s thumb and it fitted itself snugly there so it would not come off. “I am trusting you to speak in my name. Just make sure it would be words I would actually say.  I want you helped, not hindered along the way.”

“Hear that, all of you?” Hobknot said, proudly. “My lady says you got to listen now when I talk sense.  I speak for the lady.”

“Fae.”  She called her over.  “Don’t let it go to his head.”

“Never worry,” Fae said.  “If his head swells up, I’ll just knock him down and sit on him until the swelling goes away, I will.”

“Listen everyone,” Greta said.  “Don’t forget Fae knows truth from lies.  Listen to her carefully, especially when she warns that someone is lying.”

“I wish I was there when the messenger came,” Fae said. Greta agreed.

“Fae, dear.  I made a small bag for you.  It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it.  Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their druid, I know that you know the good they may do.”

“Thanks, my lady,” Fae said, as Greta fitted the bag over her shoulder.

“I do not know your future,” she told her.  “I don’t know what all you will face.  I had to guess what you might need.  There are no miracles in the bag.”  Greta felt very inadequate.

“Quite all right, Lady.”  Fae answered graciously.  “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t.  So, you see? I had nothing, but now I have everything.”

“Hans.”  She made him repeat his three words again.

“But what do they mean?”  Hans asked.

“Stop.  Do no harm. Friend.”  Greta told him.  “They are Agdaline words.  Very hard for the human tongue.”  Greta paused to look at the fading stars above.  She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange people never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again.  “They are Dragon-speak,” she said.  “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully.  Sometimes when dragons went wild, they got mighty slow in the obedience department. Still, it had been bred into the beasts. It was genetic, and even if they only paused on hearing the words, it might be enough time to let the quest get to safety.

Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough.  Agdaline was not easy.  Then she gave Hans a gift.

“Here,” she said.  “Take good care of it.  It is the sword of Avalon.”

“You have more than one sword?”  Hans looked surprised, though when he thought about it, he decided he should not have been surprised.

“I have had several,” Greta said.  “My very first got broken when Sekhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt.  Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”

“The wolf?” Berry asked.  She slid closer to Hans.

“Fenrus.”  Greta nodded like no big deal.  “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, swords that you know.  This one is special.  It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”

“Why is it special?”  Fae asked.

“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean.  The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”

“Does it have a name?” Hans asked.

Greta nodded again.  “Excalibur,” she named it.

Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own.  “Wow.”

“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.

“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up and took Greta’s hands.  Berry had become a strikingly beautiful human woman.

“You are very young,” Greta said.  “As is Hans.”

“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.

“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have.  I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way, I may be the oldest person presently on this earth.  You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith, and wits to guide you.”

“We will find him,” Berry said and squeezed Greta’s hands.  She firmly believed what she said.

“And I believe you too.”  Greta smiled for her.  “But here, let me give you my heart.”  Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain.  She had two made four years earlier in anticipation. Vasen, the old priest of Odin never took his off, and now she gave hers to Berry.  “Let my God be your God.  Look to the source to guide you and be your shield.  He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.”  Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.

“I love you Mother,” Berry said.

“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy.  “Little Marta is saying good luck.”

“I feel her moving,” Berry said with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.

“Tight in there,” Greta said.  “Not much room to move around.”  Greta looked once more at the four.  “Go on,” she said, “before I change my mind.”  She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest. Alesander sat waiting for her there, and Darius sat with him.  She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out.  He always did.

“Will Berry be all right?” he asked.  He had become like a father to her, and Greta smiled because she knew he would be a good father to all of their children.

“I pray that she will,” Greta said.  “But who can know the future.  It isn’t written yet, more or less.”

Darius hugged her and they kissed and hugged some more while Greta’s eyes caught sight of a Celt who walked straight up to the Dacian innkeeper.  The Celt held out his hand and the innkeeper grasped it in a strange handshake while the Celt said, “Pater.”  Greta knew they were Mithraites, members of that ultra-secretive cult, and something in her heart turned cold, but then Darius finished with his hug.

“And you.”  He stared into her eyes and his eyes were dancing with joy.  “You should not be running off this close to delivery. I worry about our son.”

“Daughter,” Greta said, and tried to shake the image of coldness from her heart.  “And there is another month yet, at least.”

“And how is my son today.’  Darius spoke to the baby.

“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.

“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.

R6 Greta: The Quest, part 1 of 3

Only four years married, and Greta already started sneaking away from the house in the dark.  Her husband Darius, the roman governor of the province of Dacia would go looking for her, but by the time he found her, she should be finished with her task and on the road home.  Greta pulled the hood of her cloak over her face.  She was the woman of the ways for the Dacians, called a druid among the Celts, and the wise woman of Dacia for the Romans as declared by Marcus Aurelius himself. It was a triple whammy which meant she could not hide in a crowd, any crowd.  But this task felt important, so she covered herself as well as she could with her red cloak and hood, and tried to go unseen through the early hours before dawn.  She feared Darius might try to stop the others if he found out what they were planning. He would certainly try to stop Greta if she had any thoughts about going with them.

Greta had no such thoughts.  She just entered her eighth month with child number two.  A daughter to go with her son.  She smiled about that the whole way, and to her credit, she only once thought the others could have timed things better.  She also tried concentrating on what was to come as her faithful Centurion Alesander led the ox cart along the new forest road. He would follow her to hell if that was where she was going.

They arrived late in the afternoon at the Celtic village of the Bear Clan.  Greta rested at Mayor Baran’s house, as was her custom.  Several men came to pay their respects, but Baran’s wife turned the rest away.  The woman knew full well what the eighth month could be like.

In the wee hours before dawn, Greta got up and went out to the new stables beside the new inn.  The Dacian who ran the place made a home brewed ale which seemed very popular with his Gaelic patrons.  This was a good thing, Greta thought.  Dacians, Celts, and Romans needed to mingle and not be so divided.

She made herself as comfortable as she could on a small stool.  She waited, but she did not have to wait long.  She heard a bang.

“Shhh! Quiet.”  She heard a woman’s voice, one that Greta knew very well.

“Oh shush yourself, you old biddy,” the response came out of the dark.

“Old goat,” the woman came right back.  “I hope that was your head and it knocked some sense into you.”

“It was my toe,” the man responded.  “And if it wasn’t hurting I would use it to kick your butt.”

“Quiet, both of you,” a young woman spoke.  “If you two don’t stop making love we’ll never get anywhere.”  She called it right, and Greta heard a young man laugh.

“Ahem!”  Greta cleared her throat.  “Over here,” she said.  She just turned twenty-two, a young mother in her prime.  She could have easily gone to them, eighth month or not, but why?  Let them find her.  “Over here,” she repeated.  They knew her voice, too.

Berry and Fae were the first to come out of the shadows.  They came timidly, holding hands as sisters should.  The odd thing was no one looking at them would imagine they were sisters, much less twins.  Berry looked to be seventeen, and though fully human, she still reflected the beauty of the fairy blood she once bore.  Fae now had all of the fairy blood, the inheritance of their half-blood father, which made her much smaller, but a fine-looking dwarf woman in her way, and a bit of an imp besides, a match for Hobknot, the grumpy old hobgoblin of the hardwood.  She was seventy years old.  They both were, but that is a very long story.

Hans and Hobknot came behind with Hobknot’s mouth running.  “I told you it was no good sneaking off.”

“And I told you I was not going without saying goodbye to my sister,” Hans said.  “But I was not worried.  I knew I would see her.”

“Oh, you did?”  Greta got up slowly.  “Hansel.” She reached out and Hans came quickly to help her to her feet.  She hugged him and whispered three words in his ear.  She made him repeat the words over and over until he could say them perfectly.  Meanwhile, she hugged all of the others, including Hobknot who turned a perfect red and covered his face with his hands in case she thought of giving him a kiss.

“So, where is your father?” Greta asked Fae and Berry.

“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.

“Of course she knows,” Fae said with certainty.

“From the dragon village we go north.”  Berry spoke as if repeating a lesson.  “We must go over the Toothless Mountain and beyond the Way of the Winds.  Through the pass called the Ogre’s Jaw which is the only way through the Rumbling Ridge. Down the other side, we go through the Forest of Fire and pass the Lake of Gold which must be on our left hand. We must go through the Swamp of Sorrows until we reach the river called Heartbreak.  From there we travel down the river beyond the Giant Rock and the Troll’s Eyes until we see the Mouth of the Dragon.  The Mouth will take us under the Heart of the Goddess by the Road of Dreams and at last, at the end of the road, we will find the Broken Dome of the Ancient Master.  It is there that a secret door leads to the Land of the Lost, and our father is there, still living among the lost.

“North over the Transylvanian Alps and plateau to the Ukraine.  How far, then?  To Kiev? All the way to Moscva?” Greta translated.  “Sounds exciting, and complicated,” she said.  “You will remember all that?”

“Oh, yes, Mother Greta.  I will not forget,” Berry said.

“We will remember,” Fae insisted.  “We seek our father’s blessing on our marriages.”

“You and Hobknot,” Greta teased, and Hobknot spun around several times in embarrassment before he settled on a spot with his back to them all.  He turned scarlet.

“You didn’t have to tell her that part,” Hobknot protested.  “Make me sound like a love-sick puppy.”

“But you are.”  Fae, Berry and Hans all said more or less the same thing in near unison and then laughed.

Preview: R6 Greta: To Grandfather’s House We Go

A simple introduction:

The Kairos and Rome book 6: The Power of Persuasion

R6) Greta: To Grandfather’s House We Go   20 weeks of posts

Greta’s ward, Berry, and her sister Fae, along with Greta’s brother and Fae’s husband go north, looking for Berry and Fae’s father to bless their marriages.  They get trapped in the land of the lost, and the shattered pieces of the old god Mithras stand against Greta when she sets herself for a rescue mission.  Soon enough, the Iranian (Mithraic) tribes in the wilderness come to knock on Dacia’s door, which doesn’t have enough strength to stand against them.  And the Roman ranks are full of Mithraites.

Do enjoy… But it occurs to me that some might not understand who the main character (Greta) is, and how this person might appear, at any moment, to be another, completely different person.  Allow me to introduce you to…

The Kairos

A Greek word meaning opportunity, the right time, a propitious moment, event time, or as the Kairos defines it, history.  It is the name the old titan Cronos gave to the polyploidy being he struggled to bring to life as a complete male and a complete female.  Knowing his time would soon be over, he imagined this complex “one being in two persons” would be his replacement.  When Cronos died at the hands of his children, the mere counting of days ended, and with the birth of the Kairos, history—event time began.

The Kairos might be called the god of history, though the Kairos prefers the term watcher over history, because unlike the gods of old, he or she is not immortal.  Instead, the Kairos normally lives as an ordinary mortal, male or female, sort of taking turns, and as such is subject to all the frailties of the species, while at the same time, being captured by the very events where he or she must inevitably act.

Not allowed to fully die, the being or spirit of the Kairos is taken at death and reborn somewhere else on the planet, where some important historical juncture looms on the horizon.  On bad days, the Kairos complains about being no more than a cosmic experiment in time and genetics.  On good days, the Kairos averts a disaster.

Taken out of the hands of the most ancient gods, and placed in the hands of persons unknown; it is her or his job to see that history turns out the way it has been written.  With access to future lifetimes, as well as past lives, the Kairos knows the way things are supposed to go.  But getting it to turn out right is not ever easy.  Fortunately, the Kairos is able to borrow lives from the past or future that often have the skills and knowledge to meet whatever might arise.  No guarantees, of course.

SO

Enjoy the 20 weeks of story.  Posting on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of each week, a complete chapter, divided into 3 digestible daily bites.  Beginning next Monday, June 24, 2019.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum, part 2 of 2

Festuscato and Mirowen, with Mousden holding on, rode side by side over the many days it took to get to Londugnum, as the Brits called it.  Luckless on his pony and Seamus on horseback followed.  Bran rode beside Dibs and said almost less than he said when they first met. Julius and his men, along with the four horsemen, agreed to stay and defend the Pendragon; but Dibs’ men felt obliged to follow their commander now that he came back from his special assignment in Ireland, and Dibs was technically still guarding that Imperial rogue, Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus and Comes Britannia.  Dibs could not be sure if the imperial governor remained under house arrest, but if he was, Dibs understood that concept needed to be liberally interpreted to let Festuscato do his job.

Once in town, Festuscato rented out an inn by the port. The men slept downstairs in the common room.  Dibs and the travelers got rooms upstairs.  The first thing Festuscato did was find a young woman who kept him happy in the night.  The second thing he did was run into a man he did not expect to see.

“Gregor,” The man reintroduced himself.  He stood a big blond Saxon, almost Bran size, but older, and he had and eye-patch over his missing eye.  “I heard about your errand, and I waited your return from Ireland. Patience does not fit my temperament, you know, but here you are at last, and here I am.”

“You waited?”

“Aye.  I got the Dane on a short leash and can fetch him on short notice, then we get a ship and take him home, no?”

Festuscato only thought for one second before he took Gregor outside for some private conversation.  When he came back into the inn, Mirowen met him at the door.

“I don’t like the plan,” she said bluntly, but they had a bigger interruption to deal with.  Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius ran into their long-lost childhood friend, Felix. Last they heard, he started selling silk in Rome.  Apparently, he ran afoul of some rich patron and had to run.  He made it all the way to Frankish territory where he bought a ship, most likely with the lady’s money, and he had now been reduced to dealing in wool.  Reduced was how he described it.

“A long way from silk,” he admitted over a tankard of ale, but the others encouraged him, and Gaius even suggested he talk to the church.  If his stuff was any good, the church was always interested in quality cloth, even better if he still had some contact with the silk merchants.  Felix thought that might be possible.

###

One week later, a big British belly boat slipped out of Londugnum on the evening tide.  Dibs found a note that said, “Sorry.  Not this time.  I’ll be in Tournai in a few years.  Meet me there.  First I have a side trip, another delivery, then a good look around.  Blessings on Gaius and keep Felix honest with the church. From Tournai, I plan to return to Rome, so be prepared.”  Festuscato just reviewed some fond memories of his childhood friends when he got interrupted.

“Common sense says we should turn around,” Mirowen said, when she stepped up to the tiller.  The three sailors they hired to help them sail the ship took the longboat and deserted in the estuary.  Festuscato kept the ship headed toward the deep water.

“I assume they could not handle the company,” Festuscato said.

Mirowen nodded.  “An elf, a dwarf and a pixie do make a strange crew.”

“No.”  Festuscato shook his head.  “I was taking about Seamus, the Priest.”  Mirowen scoffed, but Festuscato had not finished.  “Honestly, at sea there is not much to do, as long as we keep the wind pointed in the right direction to keep the sails full.  I may ask for a little elf magic if things go contrary, but otherwise, what is there to worry about?”

“How about docking the ship without crashing it into the dock?”

“We will build that bridge when we come to it. Meanwhile, Bran, Gregor, and Hrugen all claim to know about sailing.  You and Seamus can tend the cargo, the important thing being the horses. Luckless can repair about anything, and Mousden can keep his eyes open up top.  Trust me.  I can follow the stars and the sun well enough.  We will be in Copenhagen before you know it, isn’t that right Hrugen?”

The Dane coiled a rope nearby and listened in.

“We must make for Heorot, hall of Hrothgar, King of the Danes.  Did I tell you about the monster?”

“Figures,” Mirowen said before Mousden screamed from above.  Apparently, he was listening in, too.

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Tomorrow: A preview of Greta’s continuing saga: To Grandfather’s House We Go.

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R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum, part 1 of 2

Festuscato, Bran, Julius, King Ban, Cador of Cornwall, and the Welshmen, Hywel and Ogryvan, walked the battlefield, remembering and honoring the dead.  Constans walked with them and tried to pay attention, but Vortigen sounded like a fly in his ear and kept distracting him.  Gaius and Seamus, along with two local priests, and a host of monks and nuns from the nearest monastery, also walked the battlefield, but they were giving the last rites and directing the soldiers to cart off those who had a chance of survival.

Festuscato kept one eye out for Gorund, but the Saxon was not to be found.  All the same, he imagined Gorund would not be a problem after this slaughter.  In fact, the Saxons overall should be quiet for a number of years.  There would be peace for a time, and Festuscato felt the need to point that out over supper.  He stood to speak.

“Take the time of peace to strengthen the ties between you.  Do not go back to your isolation and personal problems.  Visit one another, now that you have gotten to know each other, and support each other as you support the Pendragon and this place of sanctuary. The Irish, the Saxons, the Picts and the rest want to keep you weak and divided, but united you can beat back the tide of chaos that is overwhelming Rome.  With apologies to Constantine, I say use the Pendragon.  He is not there for any one of you, but for all of you together.  It is in his own best interests to judge fairly and not show favoritism.  The judgment might not go in your favor, but it is not his desire to piss you off.”

The chiefs and lords around the table understood well enough, so Festuscato added a last note.  “And do not fail to send your men out when the call comes.  Do not think they keep fighting far away from home, for other lords in other lands, because they will be fighting to keep the border secure, and that will keep your land secure even if you do not live on the border. Also, if the day comes when the call goes out because your lands are in danger, there will be plenty of fighters loyal to other lords and from other lands who will come and fight for you.” Point made, Festuscato sat down, and in the morning at dawn, he and his friends left town.

###

“I won’t see you again,” Constantine surmised.

“To be honest, the longer I stay in Greater Britain at this point, the more I risk screwing up history.”  Festuscato spoke straight forward, but only Mirowen understood because of years of long conversations when Festuscato was young. “But I tell you what.  Give Ivy a kiss when she has another son.”

“Ivy is pregnant?  Why would Constans not tell me?”

“Oh, I don’t know if she is pregnant, but given those two being so much in love, I figure it is only a matter of time.” Constantine smiled, and as Festuscato pulled away to ride off, Mirowen at his side, he whispered to her.  “I like to leave them smiling.”

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?

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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

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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.