R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum, part 2 of 2

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

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

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

“You waited?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dane coiled a rope nearby and listened in.

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

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

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

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R5 Festuscato: The British North, part 2 of 3

That evening, Festuscato had three visitors to his tent, and all he wanted was a sip of ale and a good night’s sleep.  The first, a Dane brought in by Gregor the Saxon.  “I was taking a shit away from the camp and I saw this skinny fellow sneaking around in the woods.  I thought there might be a reward, though I don’t suppose he is worth much.”  He laughed a loud, hearty laugh.

“Do you speak any language I know?” Festuscato asked.

“I speak the British.  I was on one of the first boats that came to settle on the shore.”

“Are you a sailor then?”

The skinny man looked at Gregor, who appeared a big man in every way.  “I am an excellent sailor.  You might say my ship never would have crossed the North Sea safely without my help.”

Festuscato sat back in his chair while Gregor took an empty tankard and filled it without asking.  “What can I do for you?”  Festuscato was curious.

“You are the Roman.  I have heard you do not plan to stay on this island.  I was thinking if you take a ship anywhere near the Norwegian shore and my homeland, I could help you sail it.”

“Homesick?” Festuscto asked.

The man dropped his head.  “My name is Hrugen, son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf, and I came here more than ten years ago when my uncles were foully murdered.  I feared for my life, but now I fear more that my father is old and I am not there for him as a good son should be.”

“I see.”

“He has my vote,” Gregor said.  “I say we take this sailor home.”

“We?” Festuscato got ready to ask what Gregor meant by that, but Death stuck his head in the door and indicated he had another visitor.  Festuscato excused himself and stepped out.  He found Cadwalder, the druid.

“My master wishes to speak with you, but he does not wish to disturb you if you are in a time of Christian meditation, er, prayer.”

Julius stepped up with curiosity on his face.  “You better go in,” Festuscato waved at his tent.  “Keep an eye on Gregor and meet Hrugen the Dane, son of, grandson of, and so on.”

“A Dane?” Julius went in.  Festuscato waved for the druid to lead on.  Death started to follow, but Festuscato assured him he would be fine in the camp.  Besides, Death and Pestilence would probably be needed to fetch more ale and cups.

The man Festuscato found looked near forty, with the gray just beginning to color his beard and hair.  He was a druid, a master druid.  Festuscato knew him right away, of course.  “Merlin,” he said.  “Meryddin. Good to meet you again for the first time, but I wonder why looking at you always reminds me of Loki.”

Meryddin appeared confused.  “You are a seer?  You are a prophet?”

“Neither one. I spoke to the Raven.  I am just an observer, you know.”

Meryddin accepted the explanation, though it really did not make sense.  “You are not in the midst of any Christian activities?” Meryddin was being polite.

“Moi?  I was drinking.  What is it you wanted?”

“I have heard from several that you have certain friends…”

“No.  You can’t have one.  You can’t even see one.  They are shy you know.  And I am friends with lots of people, all different kinds of people too.  I just made friends with a Dane, I think.  I’m not sure.  I have to get back to my drinking.  Anything else?”

“About these priests…”

“All priests are to be respected, as far as it goes.  Killing a priest, christian, druid or pagan is a crucifixion offense.  No burning churches or temples or deliberately desecrating sacred spaces.  That is a quick way to get yourself killed.  And no, you can’t go around the island designating every square inch a sacred druid space, so forget it.  Now, I am going back to my ale.  Wake me up if you have a serious question.”  He walked off quickly.

The third visitor stood outside his tent, not quite ready to join the party going on inside. Hellgard the Jute, had questions. Festuscato did his best to be up front with the man.

“General Aetius in Gaul has some seventy thousand Romans and more than two hundred thousand Fedoratti of one kind or another.  He even has some Huns working for him, and maybe some Jutes.  Anyway, I might be able to borrow some of his men and could probably kill every Pict on the island, man woman and child.  The thing is, I will never do that.  I believe that men of good will, Celts of different sorts, Jutes, Germans of all kinds, Picts, and even Danes can choose to live in peace with one another, support one another, and prosper. Everyone wins.  Maybe I’m a fool, but I say it is worth a try.”

“It is an interesting idea.  My people came to this island as Fedoratti to you Romans two generations ago.  We left the continent because it became impossible to live.  Everyone hated everyone, and war never ceased.  Since you Romans left, I have seen this island break down into the same troubles.  There is too much anger, hatred, pride, revenge.”

“You have to start somewhere.  I’ve spoken to Constantine.  We survey the land and establish borders.  Let the disputes be settled by vote of the Peers rather than fighting. That way if one man is unhappy with the vote and chooses to fight, he will know the whole rest of the island will get together and crush him.  That should stop most of the fighting, anyway.  Once people agree to stay to their own land, then trade can happen. Taxes can be low because fighting costs money as well as men.  Free trade, low taxes, suddenly everyone prospers.  Peace is a good thing.  Our women can grow fat and our children can grow strong.”  Hellgard nodded.  He liked the idea.  “Now, lets join the party.  Come meet Hrugen the Dane.  Gregor says he is a skinny little thing, and maybe not terribly bright, but we have to start somewhere.”  Hellgard nodded again as they went in.

Noon the next day saw no answer from Wanius so Constantine called his counsel together. Many ideas were discussed, and Festuscato only said, “You probably like your idea, and will argue strongly for your point of view, but don’t be wedded to it.  The counsel may decide otherwise, and I will expect you to give your full support to whatever the counsel decides and the high chief approves in the end. Whole-hearted support, too.  No dragging your feet.  Maybe next time your idea will be the one that carries the day. Besides, I once knew a man who could only think, “Kill the bastards.”  When he finally got the chance, he did not find it as easy or as much fun as he thought.  So, argue your point, but don’t marry it.”