R5 Festuscato: Cadbury, part 3 of 3

Down on the plains of Cadbury, beneath the hill of the fort, two streams of men came warily forward.  Both had about a thousand soldiers with one in five or one in four on horseback. Festuscato sighed, but it was what the Romans taught.  Their legions fought on foot in phalanx formation, and they only had a small number of horsemen in reserve.  The world had changed since then, as Rome herself found out in the west. Festuscato knew the Western Empire was gone.  It became only a matter of time.

Festuscato went straight to the gate and bounded happily down the hill with Julius and the Four Horsemen, Cador and Constantine following.  Constantine’s son, Constans and his friend Vortigen trailed behind with Gildas who was probably judging the best way to kill the bastards.

Festuscato made the introductions.  “King Ban of Benwick in Britain, and I see you were able to convince some of your neighbors to join the party.”  Some of the men introduced themselves.  “And on this side, we have Lord Hywel of Caerleon and Lord Anwyn of Caerdyf, both in Wales.”

“My father was a centurion,” Anwyn said to Julius.

“My father was a plain farmer, and a hard-working man,” Julius returned the compliment.

“Come in, Gentlemen.  Set your camp on the plain.  Cornwall is over there and Amorica is over there.  Rome, what there is of it, is in the Cadbury fort.  We were just planning the destruction of the Huns.”  Festuscato rubbed his hands together and walked swiftly, like a child ready for Christmas morning.  But once inside, there were questions which almost ruined everything.

Cador held his hand up.  “Constantine, I understand.  Amorica has been a good friend and trading partner since before the Romans.  He and his people have an interest in bringing peace to our land.  Obviously Kernou, Wales and Britain need to be represented here.  But what I don’t understand is why you?  I don’t understand why, after thirty years, Rome should suddenly be interested in a province it abandoned.”

“Rome is not as callous as you may suppose.”  He got loud. “The emperor probably feels guilty hearing how stupid you have become, to kill and attack one another on the least excuse.  The church wants protection as well, and in case I need to say it again, burning churches and killing priests is a crucifixion offense.”  He made an effort to calm his voice.  “But why me?  Because my father, Lucius Agitus grieved when he was forced to leave this place.  I have come for him.  Because I have friends from here who wanted to come home and see their families before they died.  I have come for them.”  He raised his voice again.  “Because the western empire is falling apart and chaos is spreading, and I believe we can stop that from happening here.  Because I made a pledge to myself to see if the human race is hopelessly moronic, or if reasonable men can come together and behave like intelligent, reasonable men. so that, if I cannot get you to stop fighting, just maybe I can get you to fight together.”  He stopped to breathe.

“Quite an oration,” Gaius said as he stepped into the room.  Dibs came with him to report the practice field was set up.

“Gentlemen.” Festuscato took another breath. “You have common foes who will eat you alive unless you join together.  Cador, you have to deal with Irish pirates and slave traders, especially down in Lyoness.  Well, guess what?  Hywel and Anwyn are facing the same Irish pirates in Wales.  Hywel and Anwyn also have Pictish raiders coming down from the north in their coastal watch ships.  Well, guess what?  Ban and the British are facing the same Picts.  Ban, you are dealing with German immigrants coming to the southern shore of Britain and taking more and more land.  Well, guess what?  Cador is facing the same thing in the lands of the Dumnonii.  Don’t you get it?  Don’t you see?  Who cares if Teppo took your cow?  Teppo hits Zeppo, Zeppo hits Deppo.  You can’t get anything done.  You need a syndicate.  You need to pledge to work together.  By yourselves, you don’t stand a chance, but together, you can beat back the tide of chaos that is sweeping across the continent.  You can kick the Hun right off this island, but only if you work together.”  Festuscato took one more deep breath.  “I need some fresh air,” he said, and walked out.

The following morning, Julius had several hundred horsemen down at the practice field. They made an obstacle course full of straw men.  Marcellus showed them how to run it, riding and weaving between the figures, stabbing with his spear, fending off the enemy spears with his shield, or ducking under them. On the third to last straw man, his spear stuck fast in the straw.  He let it go as he had been taught and whipped out his bow.  The last two targets got arrows.  It was not the plan, but it looked impressive.  No one claimed they could do that, but one by one they tried their best.  Father Felix got the name, where they were from and kept the tally.  With luck, by the end of the week they would have three hundred men ready to ride.

Gaius found Festuscato on the wall of the fort, watching.  “You know, they are arguing about everything,” he said, as he turned to take in the action.

“Stubborn, pig-headed mules and morons.  What did you expect?”

“I expected my Senator not to just yell at them, but maybe show them a better way.”

Festuscato frowned and sniffed.  “I suppose.” He sniffed again.  He started to walk toward the Great Hall.  “Where is Mirowen?  And Pinewood?  Conspicuously absent.”

“Checking on local resources, they said.”  Festuscato nodded.

Festuscato took one more deep breath before he entered the room.  “Gentlemen.  I hope you have gotten all the arguing out of your system, and maybe made yourselves hoarse so you can’t talk and have to just listen.”  He looked around.  A few smiled, but most looked embarrassed, like they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  “You need to all get your horsemen over to the practice field by tomorrow to see who will qualify for the special assignment.  We shall see who has the best men on horseback, the Cornish, the Welsh or the Britons.  Meanwhile, first things first.  When I am not here, Constantine is in charge.”

“What?  Why him?”

“He stayed out of the arguments so far,” Cador said.

“Exactly. He is Amorican.  He is not invested in your petty squabbles.  He has no idea who stole the cow, or the land, or who insulted who, and if he is smart, he won’t care.  Now, I am going to invest him.  Constantine, you get Cadbury, the fort, and enough land around it to grow your daily bread.  That’s it. I talked to the town elders and they like the idea.  And listen, Cadbury is henceforth a sanctuary city.  You know what a sanctuary is?  Good. If any of you, or any of the Welsh or Britons or Cornish who are not presently here have a case of wrongdoing to present, you can bring it here and present it to your peers.  Constantine, you need to look at hard evidence, not just he said-he said.  And let the jury of peers decide things.  End of story.

“But—” Constantine wanted to say something.

“You have a month to bring your family here and as many horses as your father and brother are willing to send.”

“Cadbury was claimed by Cornwall.”  Cador said flatly.

“And by Somerset, and by Bath and Badon, and several others places.  Now it is settled.  Otherwise, you all would squabble over it until the fort fell down. Then it wouldn’t be worth anything to anyone.”  Festuscato stepped over and kicked a pillar.  It cracked.  “It is going to cost Constantine a bit of money to get this place back in shape as it is.”

Cador made no further argument.  “Sanctuary city,” Festuscato repeated.  “Open to any British, Cornish or Welsh Lord at any time, day or night.”  He shook a finger at Constantine but Constantine started looking around and seemed to be figuring the cost.  “Maybe the chiefs of Britannia can contribute some small annual contribution to fix up and maintain the sanctuary, and to arm and maintain a small force to act as a front line defense force when the Irish, Picts or Saxons get out of hand.  Something to try and minimize the damage while the call goes out to arms.  And the call to arms means you all need to come to arms.” He shook his finger at the rest of the men in the room.  “But I am getting ahead of myself.  We have Huns.”  He paused and looked around again.  “So, what did you come up with while I was gone all yesterday afternoon and all this morning?”

The men looked at each other until King Ban finally spoke.  “The Hun never came up.”

Festuscato went over to the cracked post and banged his head once against it.  “We got a lion in the house and you want to argue about whose pigeon pooped in the soup.”  He came back.  “All right. Here is how we are going to start this, anyway.  We’ll know more when we figure out what force we can train and put together by next spring.”

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Monday: Festuscato, Nudging the Future

Julius keeps the Huns busy, while Festuscato prepares the first pendragon…  Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: Cadbury, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Gaius spoke up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.  You can’t tell him that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, my lord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They do.”

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

“You could say that.”

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

“True enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I remember,” Mirowen said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eh?”

“Attila.  Do you know him?”

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

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

“Like house arrest?”

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

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

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

“Your word you won’t try to escape?”

“In the winter?”

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

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

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

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

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R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 2 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you thinking?” Mirowen asked.

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

“For you, not so odd.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is not what we are here for.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Young love should not be a pickle.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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