R6 Festuscato: 2 Cornwall, part 2 of 3

Denzel, an old Cornish miner who had seen better days, walked the group to the cap of the hill.  “The shaft goes down a good long way,” he said.  “No one comes here anymore but me and my missus, ‘least not since the mine flooded out.  It was a good producer, too.  But you see the camp is all abandoned now and the men moved on.”

“I don’t know what the Saxons thought they would find in these mines,” Gaius said.

“A lot of fuss over money.”  Patrick’s voice underlined the foolishness of that choice.

“There was never any gold,” Festuscato added.

“But all these abandoned houses, all up the hillside. Makes it look like the Saxons came here,” Gaius said.

“Slash and burn,” Patrick agreed, and Festuscato nodded.

“I don’t understand.”  Dibs got on a different track.  “Why was the mine abandoned?”

Festuscato tried to explain.  “It has to do with the way the land formed in Cornwall, and Lyoness more so.  When the land cooled, it formed cracks all around, and the hot, molten mineral rich rock pushed up from below.”  Festuscato imagined one day all those cracks would give way and there would be a massive earthquake, but he said nothing about it out loud.

“The fires of Hell tried to escape,” Gaius teased and watched Dibs, who thought about it and got frightened by the idea of Hell escaping.

“Yes, well, you could say when the flood waters came everything cooled in place, so what you have is tall shafts of tin deposits, sometimes copper or arsenic, which means a little silver, but no gold. Not even a hint of gold.”

“But I still don’t understand,” Dibs said. “I’ve seen mines, and they dig underground to get to a layer of dirt that has the iron or coal or whatever, but then they dig sideways to extract the ore.”

“Not here.  It is all just up and down.”   Festuscato tried to show with his hands.  “Ordinary mines spread out, but tin mines here go up and down.  Anyway, when they dig deep enough to reach the ground water, however deep that might be, the mine floods out at the bottom and they can’t dig any deeper.  I suppose if they had a pump or some way to keep the water out, they might dig a little deeper.”

“You seem well informed for a stranger,” Denzel said.  “I thought you said you were a Roman?”

“I read,” Festuscato responded, with a smile for the old man.

“Yes, well that about explains it.”  Denzel missed the smile.  “Sometimes when they dig the vein they break through to some underground cavern, water made mostly, but that does not happen often.”

“That’s where the knockers live,” Festuscato said, casually to Dibs.

“Yes, they do,” Denzel nodded.

“What are knockers?” Patrick asked, always ready to learn something new.

“Pigsies, Piskies, Spriggans when they are bad,” Denzel used the words he knew.

“Think little goblins with wings,” Festuscato suggested, though they were more like gnomes and did not always have wings.

“Back when I was a boy we had a cave-in.” Denzel told the story as they climbed. “It was a bad one and men were trapped down there.  We dug for all we could but we were certain the men would run out of air before we got there.  You know, we found them alive, but they told the strangest tales about hearing knockers on the walls.  They said the knockers guided them to a place where they could punch a hole in the wall. There was a cavern beyond, and all the fresh air they needed until they could be rescued.  One man swore he saw a little green man running around just out of reach.  Many swore they heard sprightly music in the distance.  Of course, once the mine was open again, we all went to find this cavern, but no one ever found it.  It was like the pigsies sealed up the wall again once the crisis was over.  Old man Trevor said the pigsies moved the cavern itself so no one would ever find it.”  Denzel shook his head like he did not believe that tall a tale.

“Think anti-fairies, pixies dancing in the night,” Festuscato suggested.  “Think gnomes.  Most are nice fellows, you know.”  And many had wings, but like Greta’s friend, Bogus the Skin, the wings did not always work.

“I think when a man is in crisis, he will imagine all sorts of things.”  Patrick tried to sound reasonable.  Mirowen, Dibs and Gaius just looked at Festuscato and waited for a response. Bran caught the looks.  “What?” Patrick became aware that there might be something they were not telling him.  Simple logic would say a single man might imagine all sorts of things, but a whole bunch of men all imagining the same thing might mean something more than just imagination.

“Elowen.”  Denzel called for his wife.  The couple had a small cottage beside the great brick house that was the entrance to the mine.

“What a lovely home,” Mirowen praised the cottage, and the flowers planted all around.

“It is,” Gaius said, happy to change the subject. “I could not get my eyes off all the abandoned and burnt out homes on the way up.  I must say, I am not a fan of slash and burn diplomacy.”

An old woman came to the door.  “Denzel, have you seen Mousden?”

“No, dear.”  Denzel turned and explained to the others.  “He is a young lad we found two weeks ago.  We did not know what to do with him.  He won’t tell us where his parents might be, but he has a dreadful fear of the mine.  He screams when we go near it.  He doesn’t say much, but he screams a lot, and often screams in the night.”

“Mousden.”  Elowen called.  “He must have been through something terrible.”

“Mousden.  Boy.” Denzel joined his voice to the call.

Festuscato got an impression of who they were calling and saw a picture in his mind.  He looked at Patrick and Gaius understood something because he reached out, prepared to grab Patrick if necessary.

R6 Festuscato: 2 Cornwall, part 1 of 3

“So, what do you think of our new tag-along?” Festuscato spoke softly to Mirowen before he turned his head to eye the stranger.  Bran had yet to say two words over two days.  He just fingered his sword now and then as he rode.

“Big,” Mirowen said, without looking. Festuscato figured he, himself stood about five foot, nine inches tall, and that seemed big enough for fifth century Britain.  Bran had to be over six feet tall.

“Gerraint size,” Festuscato mused.

“As you say,” Mirowen responded before she added a thought.  “Not really a substitute for the four horsemen.”

“Constantine insisted,” Festuscato said.  “He was not going to let me go off to the wilds of Ireland without protection.”

“Dibs seems to be enjoying himself,” Mirowen pointed out.  Dibs rode beside the man and babbled away in his gregarious nature.

“But I bet he would be twice as interesting if he had someone to talk to.”  Festuscato turned his eyes to the front and spoke with a straight face.  “I’ve known husbands who have given more response than that.”  Mirowen almost smiled.

A soldier from the front of the column came rushing back calling out, “Lord Agitus.”  The man’s horse pulled up short.  “Tintangle is under siege.  Three or four hundred Saxons are charging the walls.”

“Fudge.  Well, there goes the surprise of riding above them and dropping down on their flank.”

“What’s up?”  Dibs pushed forward.

“Dibs.  Keep your men here and guard the priests.  Mirowen, stay.”  He pointed his finger between her eyes, but she just returned a pouting face.  “Bran, do you take orders?”

“Sometimes,” Bran admitted, noting Mirowen’s face.

“Well, you should come anyway.  You might as well learn now how all this works, assuming it works.”  Festuscato kicked his horse to get to the front of the column.  Julius and Hywel of Caerleon had dismounted, and hidden by the trees, eyed the enemy.

“A cavalry charge in their rear?” Julius asked as soon as Festuscato arrived.  Festuscato shook his head.  He noticed the Saxons had some ladders to put up on the wall, but they were not ready to make a serious charge.

“Set your scouts by the open break in the forest and keep them hidden.  With luck, the Saxons will retreat in that direction and your scouts can follow them to the main body of the enemy.  Take two hundred men around to the distant hill, there.  When the Saxons get serious about using their ladders, I’ll take fifty men and sweep them off the wall.  We won’t be stopping to engage, but hopefully we will make them mad enough to mount up and chase us.  We will sweep and run to the hill where the bulk of your men will be ready to counterattack.  Then again, if they don’t chase us, we will be in a position to come crashing down on their flank.”

“What about the third hundred?”  Julius had his three hundred, the best horsemen in Britain, Wales, Cornwall and Amorica, along with his fifty Romans, all of whom wore the dragon tunic.

“The third hundred need to have horses at hand, but be dismounted, bows ready, here to the rocks at the edge of the trees.  If we have to charge down on their flank, or if there are any Saxons who are too slow to mount and follow us, or if there are any who might be tempted to escape under the shelter of the trees, they need to be turned back, and preferably dropped.”  Festuscato turned to Bran.  “Meet with your approval?”

Bran grinned slightly.  “Thorough,” he said.

All the same, things never work the way they are imagined.  It proved very difficult to get fifty horsemen, without being seen, to a place where they could ride along the castle wall and sweep away the Saxon ladders. When they executed the move, though they were determined to ride through without stopping, many got stuck in traffic, so to speak, and had to fight their way to the open field.  Then, while a majority of Saxons grabbed their horses and gave chase, when the men from the wall got to the hill, the two hundred were not yet on the hill.  The two hundred did top the hill before the Saxons caught the fifty, but it seemed close. To their credit, most of the Saxons recognized the trap and turned around to flee as quickly as they could. The Saxons left by the wall also abandoned the siege and many made for the woods, which made the archers happy. In the end, the majority of the Saxons imagined they no longer had the advantage and made it out by way of the gap in the woods where the scouts were waiting to follow them.

Festuscato, Bran and Julius met Hywel and Mirowen just out from the castle gate.  Mirowen led her horse and had her bow in her hand.  “Good target practice,” she said, as she mounted.  Gildas, Lord of Tintangle, came riding out from the castle all smiles.

“Gildas, my friend.  How about a nice supper?”

“I knew it was you,” Gildas said, when he got close enough.  “Even before I saw the dragon emblem.  I knew it when I saw how you killed the bastards.”

Festuscato sighed.  It was Gildas’ favorite expression.  Some things never changed.

“Now we will see how those scouts of yours do in locating the main body of Saxons.”  Hywel spoke to Julius and looked around at the dead and dying.

“Hopefully when we find the main body, they will realize they are surrounded and surrender without further bloodshed,” Julius responded. He did not object to the bloodshed. He was a soldier, but one that knew peace was always better.

Constantine brought fifteen hundred British and Welsh men from the east.  Exeter sent out a thousand from the west.  Cador, Dux of Cornwall brought another five hundred up from Portsmouth, and Julius with his three hundred and Gildas with another hundred came down on the enemy from Tintangle in the north.  The Saxons resisted briefly.  There were casualties, but the end became inevitable.  In fact, it felt a bit like overkill for a little over a thousand Saxon raiders; but the point was made, and would be told throughout the Saxon claimed lands.

Greta came in the afternoon, and Dibs and Mirowen followed her, to protect her, while she tended to the wounded.  Cador took a bad cut in his shoulder, but Greta told him if he kept it clean and left it alone, he should make a full recovery. Constantine took one Saxon head in ten of the survivors, and stressed the message that next time he would not be so merciful.  Festuscato spared the Saxon Chief Gorund, so he could underline, “There better not be a next time.”

After that, Festuscato and the others said good-bye to their friends and followed Cador to the south coast where they planned a short visit.

“So, what is with the Priests?” Cador asked, casually on the first evening while they relaxed and sampled the Cornish ale.

“I promised to make a delivery,” Festuscato confessed.  “It’s my own fault.”

“True,” Mirowen said.  “The gods don’t make promises.”

Festuscato could not be sure what Cador heard, or how he took that statement, so he quickly covered the thought.  “The Archbishop of Londugnum, Guithelm asked so nicely, how could I refuse?”

“Yes, I am finding that the church can be very persuasive,” Cador seemed to understand.  “So where is this final destination for this delivery of yours?”

“I’m taking Patrick to Ireland,” Festuscato said, and Cador jumped.

“What are you mad?”  Then Cador realized that he was talking to Festuscato and had a second thought.  “Strike that. That is a daft question to ask you.”

“Of course he is mad.  Has been for years.”  Mirowen could not resist clarifying the matter.  Festuscato just looked back and forth between the two before he spoke.

“I need a new shtick.”

R6 Festuscato: Caerdyf, part 3 of 3

Constantine, the Amorican native Festuscato dragged to Britannia and appointed to be the Dux Bellorum, leader in battles, and the first Pendragon of Greater Britain moaned on seeing Festuscato return from his travels. “Small annual contributions are coming in from all over the island, and it adds up well enough, but I am damned no matter how I spend it.  If I build up and strengthen the fort here, I am being selfish.  If I improve the roads in Britain, then Wales and Cornwall complain. If I start a coastal watch around Wales as you insist, Britain and Cornwall feel undefended, like I am playing favorites.  King Ban here says we should strengthen and rebuild Hadrian’s wall where it has fallen down. Damned, no matter what I do, and the money just won’t spread to cover everything.”

“Doesn’t need to,” Festuscato insisted.  “Ten percent of the cost will tell the Welsh they have friends, they are not forgotten, and in time of need you will come to their aid.  No reason you should pay for it all.  The Welsh should be quite willing to pay for the bulk of the coastal watch since it will be their homes and families directly affected by Irish pirates or Pictish coastal ships or Saxon raiders.  Same with the roads and Hadrian’s wall and the rest.  You are here to promote peace among the many Lords of Britain, Wales, and Cornwall, and to call out the troops when needed.  You are not a king.  Roads and such will help the army move faster and better when needed. They will also promote trade and help bring prosperity.  But if a local Lord doesn’t keep his road in repair, it will be his neck when the army gets bogged down trying to come to his rescue.

“That’s right,” Constantine brightened.  “I am not a king, thank God.”

“That is right.  And Ban, if he starts acting like a king you have my permission to sit on him until the swelling in his head goes down.”  Ban laughed, but Constantine just moaned.

“But how can I possible keep all the accounts and contributions straight.  I can’t hardly prepare to defend the land if I am bogged down in paperwork.”

“Find some honest men to keep the accounts. Rome depends on a whole class of accountants.”

“Use clerics,” Patrick suggested.  “They can read and write, most of them anyway.”

“Exactly,” Festuscato supported that idea.  “And most of them are honest as well, as much as any man can be honest.”

“Entice them with paper and ink,” Patrick continued with his thought.  “Let them make copies of the scriptures in their spare time.”  Festuscato just grinned and thought, one small step for man, one giant leap for Medieval kind.

“That could work,” Ban said before he got interrupted by the word, “Father.”

Ban’s daughter, Princess Ivy came in with the baby in her arms.  Constans, Constantine’s son followed not far behind.  Mirowen got up to see the baby, and Festuscato imagined Ivy and Constans were never more than a minute out of each other’s sight since they married.

“Little Ambrose wants to see his grandfathers,” Ivy said sweetly as she stepped up and slipped the baby into Ban’s arms.  The gruff old king began to talk baby talk before he had a thought.

“He doesn’t need to be changed, does he?”

“Father!”  Ivy protested and turned to hold Constans.  He looked happy to oblige.  Then Constans’ friend, Vortigen came in and Festuscato lost his smile. Vortigen irked him for some reason, and he thought to take Patrick outside for the promised talk.

“We go to Ireland by way of Lyoness,” Festuscato said up front.  “Cornwall is the only land I have not yet visited and I don’t want Cador to feel left out.”

Patrick nodded, but he had something else on his mind. “Your Four Horsemen are not welcome in Ireland.  My job is to convert the heathen, as Palladius said, not to chop them into little pieces.”

Festuscato nodded.  “I have already talked to Julius and the men of the Dragon.  They are assigned to Constantine and will not be joining us.”

“Dibs,” Mirowen said.  She had followed them outside and sat on the steps of the great hall. “You told him about Hermes and Greta, and he thought he could do that.”

“Eh?”  Patrick had not heard the story.

“A troop got assigned to protect Greta and ordered to stay with her at all costs.  Hermes was the sergeant in charge, and when Greta went off on her quest, he went with her. He let his troop return to their commander with the word that he kept following orders and stayed with Greta at all costs.”

“Did that work out for him?  I mean, military types can be thick headed when it comes to the rules.” Patrick got curious.

“I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I find out.”

“So Dibs,” Mirowen repeated.

“Only in plain clothes.  No Roman uniform and no Dragon.”  Festuscato shook his finger and Mirowen nodded.  She would see to it, only now Patrick stared at her.

“Don’t even think it,” she spoke before anything got said out loud.  “I go where he goes and that is final.”

Patrick shrugged as Festuscato took up the conversation.  “I will speak to the Four Horsemen.  They can be stubborn and will be disappointed, but they will follow orders. At the same time, you want to get to Ireland safely and in one piece so you can begin your work, and I intend to see that you do.  That was Archbishop Guithelm’s charge to me.  At some point, I may have to overrule your stipulations and limitations. My judgment.  And don’t think I am going to drop you on the Irish shore and go away, either.  I will be staying long enough to see you make a good start.  You want to succeed at this enterprise and I want to see you succeed, so there is no need to argue about that.”

Patrick slowly nodded.  As Gaius reported, Patrick was the only Bishop who seemed to have some common sense.  This work might eventually kill him, but he was practical enough to know he needed to make a good start, and for all his sins and foolish affectations, Festuscato seemed to be the best man on the island, or in the whole world as he might say, who might be able to insure that.  No doubt that was why the pope anointed Festuscato to come to Britannia in the first place.

It took a week to get ready to move.  Festuscato felt nothing near the same hurry Patrick felt, but the wait turned out to be fortuitous.  Lord Pinewood, the fairy Lord that came with Festuscato all the way from Rome, flew into Cadbury with a message.  A thousand Saxons had come out of Saxon lands.  They were burning and slashing their way across the countryside, headed for the old tin mines of Cornwall.  Someone told them that where there were mines, there had to be gold, and the Saxon chiefs wanted it.  Refugees were already pouring into Exeter to hide behind the strong city walls, but in abandoning their villages, the Saxons found easy pickings and that encouraged them to loot and pillage their way across Devon.

Julius blanched at the news.  He had hoped since the planting of the sword in the stone in Londugnum, there might be peace in the land.  No such luck.  Constantine looked equally unhappy with the news as he sent out messengers to bring in the troops.  This whole enterprise of having a Pendragon, a war chief still felt like a new and fragile arrangement.  Only Festuscato grinned at the turn of events.  He knew that every success in driving the enemies out of the land strengthened the ties and resolve of all the British, Welsh and Cornish Lords.  He went to bed happy, and only felt sorry he had another engagement.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: Cornwall.  Tintangle is under siege.  The Saxons are out of their place.  The army gathers under the Pendragon to set things right before Festuscato, Patrick, and their companions trail into Cornwall and pick up a pixie passenger along the way.  Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday).  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Gerraint: The River Glen, part 1 of 3

Gerraint got no satisfaction at home.  His mother loved him and his sister missed him, but his stepfather Marcus, who styled himself the High Chief of Cornwall, though the title was not his to take, tolerated Gerraint at best.  He showed grace to the older men, Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn, and he acknowledged Arthur and pledged to send help the next time the call came; but even Percival noticed the man said nothing about what kind of help or how much.

About the only interesting thing during the visit became the arrival of Melwas the younger.  Melwas, the elder, high chief of Lyoness, was an old man and unable to travel.  He designated his eldest son, fully grown at twenty-one, to represent him at every opportunity.  Melwas the younger seemed eager to send troops to the call.

“I wanted to,” he said.  “But Father and Lord Marcus said we needed to wait and see what happened.  I am sorry I missed it all.”

“Don’t worry son,” Peredur spoke kindly.  “Given the turn of things, with enemies on all sides, I cannot imagine the next call will be very far away.”

Melwas said he heard about the Round Table and asked what he needed to do to become a member.  No one asked him how he knew about the club, but they understood he must have had some source at the battle who told him about Sir Kai and Sir Bedwyr.

“It is a Christian table,” Gerraint explained, and Arthur listened.  “As long as you confess your faith, you want only two things to prove you are worthy. One is an act of valor or courage which may occur in battle, but does not need to.  The other is evidence of keeping the ideals of Christ through an act of charity or piety or in defending the poor, the weak and defenseless. These two things may be shown in a single act, but usually are not.”  Gerraint paused and looked at Arthur, but Arthur nodded, so he continued.  “These two things show that a man is worthy of the Round Table, because they show the strength of a man’s arm, but more importantly, they show the strength of a man’s character.”

Melwas frowned a bit and rubbed the stubble on his chin.  “What you ask is hard.”

“It is,” Gerraint agreed.  “But the table will seat only the best, and I don’t think you would want it any other way.”

Melwas made a decision.  “I accept the challenge.”  Then he smiled and so did Peredur and Ederyn who listened in.

“Tell me true,” Peredur said to Gerraint and Arthur. “How did you two become so wise?”

“Almighty God,” Percival suggested.

“Him.”  Arthur pointed at Gerraint.

“Reading the backs of cereal boxes,” Gerraint said, and Arthur and Percival glanced at each other before they spoke in perfect unison.

“You’re weird.”

They traveled from Plymouth to Exeter, a nicely walled town, about as far as Rome ever penetrated into Cornwall.  Rome referred to the area as Devon, but it stayed under the Cornish King.  In Exeter, the city fathers, and especially the city mothers, gushed over the three young boys.  Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn conferred for a long time in that place, but whatever it was, it seemed something they hoped they would not have to worry about for a couple of years yet.

Percival and Arthur, though mostly Arthur, spent their time teasing Gerraint about how much his sister, Cordella, seemed taken with young Melwas.

“Good grief.  She’s only twelve.  He has to be twice her age,” Gerraint complained.

“Nine years,” Arthur counted, but still the boys had no idea what the Lords were on about.

From Exeter, the group made for Tintangle where Arthur got to meet his distant cousins, Tristam’s mom and dad.  “This is good,” Pelenor announced.  “We should travel the whole land this way.  He can meet the Lords of the land, and they can all meet Arthur.  That should make the ties stronger should a need arise.”  Peredur and Ederyn agreed, but they prevailed on Pelenor to wait until Arthur put some age on and made a better appearance.

“More man-like and less boy-like” Ederyn put it.

With that in mind. the group crossed the channel to Caerleon, where Arthur became terribly bored for the next three years. Gerraint and Percival were taken out all the time by Pelenor and Ederyn for some reason or another, or even for no particular reason at all.  Peredur took his squire out twice, once to show Arthur the homes of Pelenor and Ederyn, which Arthur already knew.  Arthur felt glad to see his adopted mother.  Meryddin forced them to take a dozen guards from the fort for that trip.  The other time was a quick trip to his older, half-sister’s house.  She lived in southern Wales, a day’s journey, which Peredur turned into three.

Poor Arthur felt like he was in prison, and to some extent, he was.  Gerraint called it protective custody.  Meryddin did not want Arthur out of his sight, and maybe more important, he did not want him out of his influence.  Peredur at least insisted on taking the young Pendragon to church every Sunday, and Arthur felt grateful for the chance to breathe.

Morgana came to visit Arthur at Caerleon several times. She spent most of the time arguing with Meryddin, and sometimes in rather rude and crude ways.  It was not until that one time when Meryddin got called away on Druid business up to Iona for a month, that Arthur became able to take a quick trip to visit Morgana in her own home.  He realized then that she had fully accepted that they were brother and sister, and she imagined, as his only true family, that she was going to defend him from the corrupting influence of that half man, which is what she called Meryddin.

“Too late for that,” Gerraint said later, and he wondered what the other half of Meryddin might be.  He did suspect that it was more like a quarter something, but he had no idea what that quarter might be.

One thing Arthur accomplished in those days was the selection and training of his RDF.  He brought in the best hunters, and taught the young men about the land, and how to move swiftly and unseen.  He brought in masters of various weapons, including a few Germans, and taught them how to fight and defend themselves regardless of what might be arrayed against them.  He taught them how to read, write and count, at least well enough to pass messages and estimate an enemy’s strength.  He also taught them to look for an enemy’s weaknesses.  Gerraint kept his mouth closed.  He dared not tell Arthur that normally teenagers and school did not mix.

Meryddin let Arthur play at soldier, since after all, that would be his purpose.  He claimed Arthur was to defend the land and bring peace and prosperity, but it seemed a thin disguise.  Clearly, Meryddin expected Arthur to reduce the people around the Gaelic lands to servitude and slavery.  Then, within the Celtic lands, Meryddin worked hard to restore the preeminence of the old ways.  He had some success among the Welsh, and in the North where the Scots had contact with the locals.  He proved less successful in Cornwall and Britain, especially the Midlands, Leogria and Somerset where the church remained strong.  He despised Arthur’s Christian Round Table, and in the years to come, he regularly attended the meetings to make his views known, though he certainly never confessed faith in the Christ.  Arthur allowed Meryddin as the one exception, he said, and the Lords understood it as a gracious act toward the old man, whom they respected, but often ignored.

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 3 of 3

Hywel made most of the introductions and the Welsh were cordial, but one man from the north of Wales had something to say.  “I don’t know exactly why I am here.  The Irish have been quiet these last few years.”

“But they won’t always stay quiet,” Festuscato said.  “And won’t it be good to have the British and Cornish to back you up?”

“We can handle a few Irish pirates,” he said gruffly, though one man quietly differed.

“Speak for yourself.”

“And the Picts?” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I understand they are getting to be a regular nuisance.”

“Well.”

“The thing is, Eudof,” he called the man by name having caught it in the conversation earlier. “We band together and take on one thing at a time.  Megla made an incursion into Wales last summer to test the waters.  You can be sure he will be back if he isn’t stopped. But after we take care of the Hun, we can then deal with Wanius and his Picts.  Make sense?”

Eudof slowly nodded, and then stepped aside to reveal his druid.  There came a moment of tension in the room among those who knew Festuscato’s rule, but Festuscato surprised them all.  “A druid.  Welcome.” He reached for the man’s hand. “You have a name?”

“Cadwalder.” The druid shook hands, but looked like he expected treachery.

“Cadwalder,” Festuscato repeated the name.  “Now listen, everyone.  Your attention please.”  The room quieted.  “No killing the priests includes druid priests.  Listen up.  Constantine, you explain.”

Constantine got startled, but then rubbed his beard.  “Well.  It is as I told you.  It is not my place to decide what can and cannot be taught to the people.  A man has to make up his own mind what he believes.” He looked straight at Eudof. “Hardly can be called a man if he doesn’t.”  Eudof nodded agreement.  King Ban laughed and placed a hand on Constantine’s shoulder.

“You have been spending too much time with the Roman.”

Festuscato underlined his words with a look to the Fathers Gaius, Felix, and Lavius.  “You understand.  No militant bishops.”

“Well understood,” Gaius said, and made a point of stepping over and shaking the druid’s hand. The poor druid did not know what to say.

“All right.” Festuscato moved on.  “Cador, the Lion of Cornwall.  I love it.”  All of the men of Cornwall had lions on their tunics.

“The dragon was already taken,” Cador said, and shook hands before he introduced his men. Weldig was High Chief of Lyoness. Baldwin was the Lord Mayor of Exeter, but he looked ready for war.  Dynod was from Glastonbury and building a fort on the Tor.  “And you remember Gildas, my cousin from Tintangle.”

“Of course. Gildas.  You ready to kill the bastards?”  Gildas grinned in a way that said he was ready.

“Constans,” Constantine called his son.  Constans was over with the women, speaking to a very animated young woman.  “Constans.”

“Father?”

“Come here, son. You will be in Cadbury after I am gone. You better figure out how it all works right from the beginning.”  The high chiefs sat around one long table where they had wine decanted, and glasses. There were three other tables in the Great Hall, and Festuscato made men move and mingle, because otherwise there would be a Cornish table, a Welsh table and a British table.  Julius, who came in two nights earlier, sat beside Festuscato.  Marcellus took one table, Tiberius took the second, and Dibs took the third, just to watch and keep things cordial.  When everyone got seated, Festuscato waited for Constantine to sit at the head of the table before he sat beside him, across from Constans and King Ban.  Cador asked why he didn’t take the top spot.

“You are the Imperial Governor, and Comes Britannarium.”

“I am an observer, mostly, and one who looks forward to one day going home.” Festuscato stood again to talk. “You are the people of Great Britain, and I am giving you a high chief for the whole island to help you sort out your differences.  Call him the head dragon.  In Welsh that would be Pendragon.  I have given you a place of Sanctuary where you can come and argue your case, and be heard by your peers who are seated all around this room.  And the lords of Greater Britain can decide, case by case, what must be.   The fact that Constantine is native Amorican is important.  He is not invested in your many troubles.  He is invested in peace.  But remember, he is not a king.  Every man here is equal, and can sit face to face, I hope in friendship.”  Festuscato saw Mirowen appear at the door and she nodded. “Constantine is a man invested in peace, but when it comes to war, I am appointing him Dux Bellorum, the leader in battles.  When he sends out the call to arms, you will bring your men here, or wherever they are needed.  And the Irish, the Picts, the Saxons and the Huns better beware.”  Festuscato picked up his glass of wine that Julius just poured, and he saluted Constantine before he downed it.  Then he made a face.  “We got any ale?”

Mirowen rolled her eyes, but nodded, and many of the men laughed, and a few cheered. “Before we get down to business on this fine day.  Let us feast as good neighbors should.”  He sat down. Servants started to bring in great trays of all sorts of food.  It was not fairy food, but the cooks had been practicing the art of cooking for several hundred years and were pretty good at it.

“Lord Constantine,” Ban said after a while.  “If I had your cooks I would weigh a hundred stone.”  That sentiment seemed fairly universal.

“Hey!  None of that!”  Dibs shouted.  Two men at his table were about to go at each other.  Constantine stood, urged by Festuscato.

“What is the trouble?”

“They both want the last Pig’s ear,” Dibs said and several men laughed.  “And they are about to cut each other.”

Mirowen, in the room, frowned and snorted the word, “Boys,” which got all of their attention. She stepped to the back table where she cut off a pig’s ear.  She came back to Dib’s table where she cut the other ear, every eye following her the whole way.  She handed one to each of the men and said, “Sit.”  It was a command, and they sat.  “Children,” she said, and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe one’s mouth like a mother might wipe her four-year-old.  “Now behave or next time it will be worse for you.”  She stomped out of the room and many of the men tried not to laugh.  Constantine raised his voice.

“All you had to do was ask.”  People stopped to listen.  “The answer might be no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”  He sat and sipped his drink before he spoke more softly.  “Remarkable woman, that Mirowen.”

Festuscato nodded, and King Ban spoke up.

“Speaking of which, that was a fine looking young woman you were speaking to earlier,” he said to Constans.  “She seemed taken with you.”

Constans gulped. “Do you think?  She is beautiful.  Ivy.  That’s her name.  Father, don’t you think that is a beautiful name?”  Constantine looked at his son who appeared lost in his own thoughts.

Ban leaned over the young man.  “My daughter,” he said.  “So do we plan for a summer wedding or wait until fall?”

Constantine appeared to think a minute while Constans’ face grew redder and redder. “If we have both the Hun and the Picts to deal with, I think fall will be best.  What do you think?”  He turned to Festuscato.

“I think when I was nine, Mirowen used to wipe my face like that.  It can hurt.”

“No,” Ban said, and turned his head briefly to look for her.  “She is much too young.”  No one responded to what he said.

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

Next Monday: R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House.  Don’t miss it. Until then…

Happy Reading

*