M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 3 of 3

They had two soldiers there to row, and the centurion insisted on coming.

“Poemon,” Festuscato called, though he thought the sprite’s name should have been Pokemon.  A gelatinous blob that looked otherwise like a gingerbread man came up out of the water.  “Can you make a bridge so Dibs and I and the four horsemen can walk across the river?”

“Who is the boat?” Poemon asked in a sweet voice.

“Pope Leo, meet Poemon the water sprite, Prince of the Po River.”  The pope stared.

“Hello, your holiness,” The water sprite waved.  “Wonderful to meet you.  Sure, we can make a bridge, but only if the four horsemen behave.  They are very scary.”

Pestilence chuckled.

The boat started out, and Festuscato stepped on the water with complete confidence.  He took Dibs by the arm and brought him along.  The horsemen followed.  Gaius looked over and objected, because it looked like Festuscato walked on the water.

“That’s cheating.”

“Not,” Festuscato answered.  “I am just using the natural gifts that God almighty has placed in my hands.  There is no magic or witchery or any such thing here.  Anyone can do this, if the spirits are willing.

Pope Leo remained calm about it. He talked to Gaius.  “Apparently, the maker of heaven and earth made more things than I ever knew about.”

“There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Festuscato shouted.  “Those words were written by a playwright that will be born about eleven hundred years in the future.”

“Like I said,” Gaius spoke to the pope.  “Sometimes you just have to ignore him when he says things like that.  He has been doing that since he was a child, or at least since I was three and my father moved us from Tivoli.”

“I see.”

By the time they reached the other side of the river, a great crowd had gathered on the shore.  Attila stood there, surrounded by his generals and his shaman.  Attila looked old, his face covered in wrinkles of age and worry.  He looked stressed, and Festuscato wondered if the man’s left eye was perhaps a bit crooked.

“Dragon,” Attila said.  “I knew it was you.  Only you would have the audacity to walk across the water.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I am not the messenger this time.”

“You haven’t come to offer me my own life for a third and final time?”  Attila pulled a necklace from beneath his breastplate.  It had two rings on it, one big ruby and one diamond.

“Not this time,” Festuscato said.  “But in keeping with tradition,” he said as he pulled a ring off his finger.  It had a gaudy emerald in it.  “For your losses.” he handed it over and stepped back as the Pope finally got up the embankment.  Festuscato did the introductions.  “May I present his holiness, Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome and primate of the catholic church.  Attila the Hun.”

Both men looked at each other for a long time before Attila broke.  “So, what do you have to say, holy one?”

“I am here to tell you to leave Rome alone.  In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the city.”

“And I should listen to an unarmed old man in a robe?”  Attila laughed.

“Rome has been claimed by the one, eternal, ever living God as a holy city and his own possession. Do not desecrate the holy city with the spilling of blood or your blood may be required of you.”

“Are you threatening me?  I have been threatened by the very best and they all fill their graves, but two.”  Attila looked down at the emerald ring in his hand.

“I am not threatening you.  I am calling you to give up your pagan ways and recognize the one God who made heaven and earth.  It is to him that we will all have to answer in the end, whether we are destined for Heaven or for Hell.  Take care what you do, lest you end up where you do not wish to go.

Attila looked up and his eyes got big.  He saw something, and Festuscato had nothing to do with it.  “Your Peter and Paul,” Attila said.  “The one above wields the sword.”  Attila put his face in his hands and wept, and Festuscato, Gaius and Dibs knew enough to turn his holiness back to the boat, even if the centurion did not understand what was happening.

Festuscato whispered in Pope Leo’s ear.  “You are supposed to bang your staff and say, you shall not pass.  Next time.”  Then he let Gaius hand the pope to Father Falius.

Attila turned away from the riverbank, but Dengizic caught up with Festuscato before they left.  Gaius still stood on the shore with Dibs, and they listened in.

“Father is seeing things that are not there,” Dengizic said.

“I give him about a year, tops,” Festuscato said.  “You can waste your men on the walls of Rome where Aetius is dug in, or you can prepare for the future.”

“I can see why father fears you,” Dengizic said.  “You speak sense, and you speak truth, and he does not know how to handle that.  Plus, you see things that other men cannot see.”

“Sometimes men don’t want to see,” Festuscato said, and he shoved off the boat.

Dengizic nodded and left as Gaius protested missing the boat.  “Walk with me,” Festuscato said.  “Poemon, one more for the return journey.”

“Right you are.”  The water sprite head stuck up from the water, but nothing else.  “A pleasure to take the cardinal.”  The head burst back into water.

“There is no telling what Attila saw,” Festuscato said as he gently took Gaius’ arm.  “It may have been his sickness.  It may have been real.  But, you know, even if it was his sickness, it was mighty well timed.”  Festuscato took the first step.

“It feels squishy,” Dibs warned Gaius, and Gaius stepped out, but he looked down at his feet, expecting to fall through any minute.  He later castigated himself for his lack of faith.

###

Festuscato cried two years later when Aetius got murdered right in front of Emperor Vaentinian.  He cried again a year later when Vaentinian got murdered by Hun friends of Aetius.  That happened in 455, the year the Vandals sailed into Rome and sacked the city.  Festuscato tried to stay out of it and avoided the Vandal King Geiseric, but for the two times.

In truth, he avoided Ricimer, who became the general in chief in the west after Aetius.  He avoided all the subsequent western Roman emperors, as they came and went almost too quickly to keep up.  And he avoided the church, but that became difficult, because Hillarius became pope after Leo and Festuscato laughed and laughed.  Then Gaius had the bad sense to take the position and chose the name Simpicius.

“Simplify, simplify,” Festuscato told him, but he groused, because Hillarius spent all his time worrying about controlling the church, like who was bishop here and who was in control over there.  In Gaius’ mind, that was not what was important.

“Petty bureaucrat,” Festuscato called the man.

“He missed the forest for the trees,” Gaius explained with one of Festuscato’s expressions.

“I prefer, Lord, what fools these mortals be, these days.  That was penned by the same playwright fellow who will be born one thousand and eighty years from now.  My, how time flies.”

“But seriously.  All the Germans, the Vandals, Goths and even the Franks are Arian heretics.  And in the east, there are Monophysites heretics, and they all want to take over and ruin the true faith.”

“Not even poly-physites?”

“Be serious.  The true faith is at stake.  Chalcedon is in the scales.”

“A fish scale.  I was at Nicaea, I think.  I’m not sure if I was at Chalcedon.”

Gaius nodded, ignored Festuscato, and continued on his thought.  “There are some Arians and Monophysites among the cardinals.  The only good thing is they hate each other worse than they hate us Catholics. “

“You got Childeric,” Festuscato pointed out.  “I remember how excited you got when you showed me the letter.  That young fellow in Reims, the one you recommended for bishop despite his youth.”

“I worked with Childeric and his family during all those years we were waiting for you to show up.”

“Yes, well, wait long enough and maybe your heretic cardinals will die off.”

“I should live so long.”

“My wife keeps me young,” Festuscato said, as Morgan came in and sat beside him.  She just turned fifty and Festuscato thought she was as lovely as ever.

“It isn’t fair, you know,” she said.  “Sibelius looks as young as the day I first met her.”

“I remember the way you looked the day I first met you, with your knife, ready for action, and the sweat on your brow.”  Festuscato made a couple of stabs at the curtain with his empty hand.

“And you.  I thought, here is an arrogant fellow.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said.  “Arrogant cad.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Gaius said and stood.  “I must be getting back to work.  Thanks for straightening out that little misunderstanding.”

Festuscato heard, but as he looked at his wife, he already had other thoughts in mind.  Morgan caught the look.  “We have a daughter and four sons.  Isn’t that enough?”  She was past the point of having children, but that did not deter Festuscato one bit from trying anyway.

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MONDAY

We move about sixty years into the future for the final tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin in the days of King Arthur.  It will post over the next six weeks.  To tide you over until Monday, have a Dragon Tunic, worn by Festuscato and all Pendragons everywhere.

Happy Reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, what did you tell him?”

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

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

“Probably less,” Festuscato said.

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

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MONDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aetius is close.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 1 of 3

Festuscato stayed in his prison cell for a month, waiting for Merovech to return from Soissons. Gaius came to visit every day.  Childeric came almost every day, often with Gaius.  Luckless took up with a nearby dwarf clan so he was not around much.  Tulip and Waterborn were in love, so also no help whatsoever.  Tulip and Waterborn visited now and then, but their minds were far, far away, in love, and young fairies, meaning less than five hundred years old or so, have a hard time staying focused as it is.  To a human, it might have appeared like a whirlwind romance, but for fairies that was often the way it worked.  The fairy world never made the horrible mess of love and relationships we humans made.

Fortunately, the young male fairies Ironwood and Clover, and the young female fee, Heather, were a great help and company.  They often entertained Childeric when Festuscato and Father Gaius went into confession mode, and Festuscato had a lot to confess.  But Festuscato had to keep one eye open during his confessions because Heather in her big form appeared to be about seventeen, and beautiful, as all fairies are, and he feared it might be too much for Childeric at almost fifteen, hormones raging as they undoubtedly were.

Gregor and Bran settled in at Felix’ place, and Dibs fit himself right in when he and his troop of thirty men, all sporting their dragon tunics, returned from the meeting with Aegidius, the new Magister Millitum of northern Gaul, which is to say, the chief General of the Roman province in the north.  It looked for a while like Merovech, the king of the Salian Franks might settle in Cambrai for the winter, but come mid-November, when the last of the harvest came in, he returned to Tournai with some serious questions for his guest.

“Aegidius says I should keep you locked up and throw away the key,” Merovech said.

“I was not aware that cliché started this far in the past,” Festuscato mumbled before he spoke up.  “But to the point, why?  I am no threat to you.  I am only here to help you.”

“That is what I am afraid of.  We have had our fill of Roman help, all my life.  My father got tired of it and rebelled.  He got killed by Romans, not that many years ago.  So why should I trust you?”

“You don’t have to trust me.  You just have to prepare your men for the Hun hurricane.  Attila has brought his victorious armies up from the border of the eastern empire and is even now preparing to explode on to the western stage. My spies tell me he intends to overrun Gaul, and don’t think he will let the Franks be at his back.  I suspect he will take you down first before he ever meets a single Roman in battle.”

“But what evidence do you have?  Only the word of these dragon flies.”

Festuscato smiled.  “That is very good.  The dragon and the fairies.”

Merovech grinned at his own wit, then he left Festuscato where he was, in jail.

Six weeks later, around the new year, word came that the Huns laid siege around Strasbourg.  Merovech returned to hear what Festuscato had to say, or maybe to gloat.

“The Huns have entered Swabia.  It is a great army, as you said.  My report says ten thousand Huns and ten thousand others, Germans of all sorts, what the Romans call Auxiliary troops, like Bavarians, Goths and others.  But Strasbourg is a quick route to the heart of Gaul.  My men say from there he will surely fall on the Burgundians and pass us by.”

“Surely, he will not,” Festuscato responded.  “I have it from Maywood, King of the fairies along the Rhine, that the Huns have a second army, the main army coming up from the south and headed right for Worms.  Ellak, Attila’s eldest is leading the Huns, some fifteen thousand.  Ardaric the King has ten thousand Gepids and Valamir the Ostrogoth has some ten thousand men as well.  Keep in mind, these are battle tested and hardened troops that have defeated the legions of the east three times in the last several years.  What is more, the Thuringians and your brother Cariaric with his Hessian Franks are waiting just north of Worms, near Mainz.”

“To fight and try to turn back the Huns?”

“No.  To join the Huns, but sixty thousand troops is too much for the land to support, especially in February.  I would guess Attila will divide his forces more evenly into two or three groups, and plan to rejoin them after the spring harvest is in, maybe around Paris.  Exactly which direction they will head after they ruin Mainz is a guess, but they will have to take cities to steal the winter food store along with whatever loot they can pillage.”

“Why would Cariaric despoil Mainz?  It is his own city.”

“My spies tell me the city fathers rejected him and closed their gate to him.  I imagine he wants revenge for the insult.”

Merovech pulled on his beard.  “Yes, that sounds like Cariaric.”

“He is the eldest brother, isn’t he?”

Merovech nodded before he turned toward the door.  “My men say the Hun will turn on the Burgundians.”

“He is not going to leave you Franks like a big knife in his back,” Festuscato protested.

Merovech nodded again.  “But I am listening,” he said, and left Festuscato in jail for another month.  

When Merovech came back for the third time, he brought a chair to sit and face Festuscato, and he looked worried.

“As you predicted.  Mainz has been burned.”  Merovech threw his hands up and spouted his disbelief.  “They surrendered.  They gave no struggle.  They turned over everything they had, and they still were killed and burned.  The Huns are like wild dogs.  How can we fight them?”

“Very carefully,” Festuscato said.  “Go on.”

“Well, it looks like Attila will split his force in two, as you said.  How did you know?”

“Common sense.  Armies have to be fed, even in winter.  Go on,” Festuscato encouraged him.

“Well, it is too soon to say which way they will turn, but I would guess one will head down the Moselle and the other will come here.”  Merovech shook his head.  “What can we do to stand against him?”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know just the crew,” Treeborn shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“By all means,” Goldenrod said sweetly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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M0NDAY

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

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