M3 Festuscato: Love Revealed

The celebration over the death of the Grendel was great, and went on all day and into the evening.  In the tradition of the Danes, men came to the king’s hall and the king’s table to be feasted and such feasting went on around the clock.  Blankets were available, and men generally curled up on the floor, the benches and the tables and slept until breakfast, when things started up all over again.

Beowulf was gifted beyond reason.  The arm and hand of the Grendel got nailed to the wall, and the others could hardly stop singing Beowulf’s praises.  They had an especially poignant moment when the sun went down and no one vacated the hall.  A great cheer went up, and it lasted a good ten minutes, sort of like Times Square, New York on New Year’s Eve; but then Beowulf excused himself and went to the room prepared for him.  He looked exhausted more than anything else.

Festuscato and his crew also left the hall at that point, having stayed up all night themselves; but before Festuscato could sleep, he took Mirowen to see the Geat.

“No, I can’t,” Mirowen said, and she pulled back a little, but not too hard.  She feared what Beowulf would say if he really knew the truth.  But then, she had already explained at least a little, so she did not resist too hard.  “Can’t you just fix it?” she asked, knowing the answer full well.

Festuscato could not imagine how she spent enough time with the man to even tell him a little, but he knew that love had a way of bringing lovers together when no one knew.

“I could go invisible and he’ll not know I am there, and he will think you are crazy,” Mirowen threatened.

“Not crazy, nuts, remember?  Don’t make me force you.”  Festuscato threatened right back.

“I could scream,” Mirowen said.

“Scream all you like.  I am sure he would find that picture most attractive,” Festuscato said.

“Oh!  You’re impossible,” she pouted.

He dragged her the last couple of steps to Beowulf’s door where she yanked her hand free and stood with her arms folded while Festuscato knocked.

The door opened slowly and Beowulf stepped aside to invite them in without a word, as if he had been expecting them.  Mirowen sat daintily on the couch, her hands folded and in her lap, her eyes closed as if she did not want to watch, only her red, pointed ears were wide open.  She would have to translate.

“Noble Roman,” Beowulf began.  “I see now your wisdom is far greater than I would have suspected.”  He paused to rub his shoulder.  Clearly his struggle with the beast had strained his muscles to the limit.  “I do not feel the least hesitation now in asking your permission for my lady’s hand.  I could search the world over and never find one so lovely and so worthy to someday be queen.”

Festuscato sat, though uninvited.  He had a hard time keeping a straight face.  “God!”  He said to Mirowen.  “I feel like your father.  There’s a switch.”  Mirowen did not translate.  She gave him a nudge with her eyes.  Beowulf waited.

“Tell me first what she has told you,” Festuscato said.  Beowulf paused.  He had not been expecting that question.  Perhaps all he expected was a yes or no.

“She has told me she is not human, that she is an elf of the light, and that you are her Lord and might very well say no.”  Beowulf spoke slowly.  Mirowen wanted to correct him on one point, but Festuscato had her hold her tongue.

“I need to know what he heard, not what you said.”  He told her, and turned again to Beowulf.  “And do you believe this?”  He asked.

Beowulf paused even longer than the first time.  “I will not doubt my lady’s word,” he said at last.

“But do you believe this?”  Festuscato asked again.  Beowulf had not answered the question.  “She may be mad you know.”  Festuscato suggested and ducked in case Beowulf, or more likely, Mirowen chose to hit him.

Beowulf actually took courage from the suggestion.  “Then I will have a mad wife,” he said rather loudly and went to stand beside Mirowen and held her hand before he continued.  “I came here on the word of a water sprite, one who calls himself King of the Whale Road.  Before then I thought such creatures were the ravings of men too long at sea.  But when I arrived, I saw this king bow to you and call you Lord.  However odd that may have seemed, I did not forget.  Then I fought with a creature which if any man had told me, I would have proclaimed him mad, or at best beset by nightmares.  And now, my Lady Mirowen has declared herself an elf.  I am in no position to doubt her.  What else can I do?”

“See with your own eyes and decide,” Festuscato said.  Mirowen shouted “No!” without rendering the words for Beowulf, but it was too late.  With a wave of Festuscato’s hand, the glamour around Mirowen fell away and she sat revealed a true elf, pointed ears and all, though the ears were a little red at the moment.

Mirowen dared not look at her man, but Festuscato saw the briefest moment of shock before the man fell to her feet.  “Oh, my lady,” Beowulf said.  “How I wondered in my mind and struggled against doubt with more trouble than ever with the Grendel.  I am unworthy, but I beg you to marry me.  You, alone, can teach my heart to believe.”

“I will, sir,” Mirowen said as the smile creased her lips.  Then she abandoned herself to fling her arms around his neck.  “I will, I will.”  Festuscato understood what Mirowen said, of course.  He would understand her words no matter what language she spoke.  But then, he did not know what Beowulf said.  That got told to him later.

Festuscato stood up.  “One thing you must know,” he said, and watched them separate a little so Mirowen could translate.  “And one thing you must do.”  He paused and they pulled apart, but never let go of their hands.  “It is likely that you may never have children.”  He said it straight out, and Mirowen gasped and nearly cried as she translated.

“We have spoken of this,” Beowulf said.  “I have brothers and soon enough there will be nephews.  The throne will not want after our days.  But for the lady, I will simply have to love her all the more, and surround her with children if this is her desire.”  Mirowen did let a few tears fall, then, but they were happy tears.  Then Beowulf stood like a man ready.  “So what must I do?”  He asked.

“You must finish your work here.”  Festuscato said.  “I will give you my answer only after the work is done.”

“But have I not defeated the beast?  Is the work not done?”  Beowulf did not understand.

“Not yet.  I don’t think so.”  Festuscato shook his head.  “But at least sleep on it tonight, and then we will see.”  Beowulf looked reluctant.  Festuscato turned to Mirowen.  “Make the fire dance in your hand,” he commanded.  She held up her hand and a small flame came up to dance for a moment in the wind before Festuscato took her by the hand.  “Sleep on it.”  He spoke again to Beowulf.  “There is much to consider.  Do not let your youth drive you into the water even to save a friend.  It is not a wrong thing to check the water first for monsters.  Sleep.”

Beowulf took a step back and reluctantly nodded.  “I will bow to the wisdom of age,” he said.

Mirowen and Festuscato were half way down the hall before Festuscato responded.  “Hey.  I’m not that old!”

Mirowen wanted to laugh, but found no laughter in her.  He took her all the way to her room before he talked to her heart.  “Well, it was bound to happen someday,” he said, with a grin and kissed her goodnight.  She beamed when she shut the door.

“So now?”  Bran stood in the hall, and Luckless with him.

“So now we see what mother will do.”  Festuscato responded, before he went into his room.

Around three or four in the morning, the still of the night got interrupted by screams.  A new and most grisly murder occurred in Heorot, the hall where Hrothgar was king.

M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 1 of 3

“I know what it is!”  Festuscato shouted and sat straight up in bed.

“Festus?”  Hilde snuggled down deeply under the covers.

“Not now,” Festuscato said, pushed her away gently despite her protests, and got up to dress hurriedly.  When ready, he went and banged on Mirowen’s door.  “Mirowen,” he called.  “I know what it is.”  He waited until Mirowen came to the door, her fairy clothes shaped into a comfortable white nightgown.

“In some places, they call it a harlot,” Mirowen said.

“What?  No, Hilde’s a nice girl.  No.  The monster.  I know what it is.”

“My pardon, Lord Agitus.  I am not yet awake.”  Mirowen raised her arms and her gown shape shifted and changed color to its former style, though it looked as if just cleaned and pressed, while her hair pulled itself up into a small bun that left a ponytail which fell to the small of her back.  Mirowen also looked like she had just bathed and been preening all morning, and she smelled of hyacinth and roses.

“You do that on purpose to drive me nuts,” Festuscato said.

“I can hardly drive you to where you already live,” Mirowen responded with a grin that ever so lightly creased the corners of her mouth.

“Like your hair,” Luckless said as he came around the corner with a fist full of pork loin.  “Sets off your ears.”

Festuscato paused to look out the window.  The sun just began to lighten the Eastern horizon.  “Breakfast already?”

“Pre-breakfast snack,” Luckless said.  “The cook likes to watch the little guy eat.”

“Who can sleep with all that snoring?”  Seamus came around the same corner, stretching and yawning.

“Gregor?”  Festuscato did not really have to ask.

“Makes me hungry,” Luckless admitted.  “Anyway, Bran can.”

“A good soldier can sleep anywhere,” Festuscato told him.

“Hold it!”  Mirowen shouted.  “Would you all like to come in?”  She threw the door wide open and moved aside.  The men looked at each other and Luckless swallowed.

“Er, thanks.”  Festuscato accepted the invitation for all.  He stepped in, followed by the others.  Mousden darted in just before Mirowen closed the door.  She ended up leaving it open a crack.

“I was wondering when you would show up,” Mirowen frowned.

“What did I miss?”  Mousden asked in his most excited squeak.

“You said you know who it is?”  Mirowen turned Festuscato away from the window and the sunrise and completely ignored Mousden.

“Who is what?”  Festuscato asked.

“You said.”  Mirowen started, and he remembered and hushed her with his hand.

“I said I think I know what it is,” he corrected her.  “I have no idea who.”  He began to ponder that question.

“Well?”  Seamus seemed the impatient one, probably from lack of sleep.

“It’s a hag, I think.  A servant of Abraxas.”  Festuscato came out of his reverie.

“Can’t be.”  Luckless spoke while licking his fingers.  “It’s a male.”

“All right.”  Festuscato took a step back.  “Then son of a hag, but the look, the strength, the speed, the size, it all fits.”

“Something near enough like it anyway.”  Mirowen did not disagree.

“A hag?”  Seamus asked.

“A Doctor Jeckel, Mister Hyde.”  Festuscato said and then he quickly had to wave off their questions.  “A normal enough person most of the time, but a secret devotee of the god, empowered by the god to take on enormous power and strength at times to serve the god’s nefarious purposes.  Here’s the key.  Unlike a werewolf or other such nightmares, a hag retains her mind, or in this case, his mind.  They can still think things through, and talk.”

“And how do you know this?”  Seamus did not question.  He got curious.

“Greta had to kill one once.  Cooked her in her own oven.  And Margueritte just faced down Curdwallah; but that’s the future.  I guess I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

“So it is a hag.”  Mirowen nodded.

“Or near enough like it,” Luckless repeated her words.

“I knew it!”  Mousden fluttered down from the ceiling, and he sounded and looked very agitated.  “Monster talk.”  He shivered visibly at the whole idea.  “I thought we weren’t staying or getting involved in that business.”

“We won’t, much.  Let the Geats handle it.”  Festuscato assured the little one.  “That’s why it is so important you stay on the roof at night and keep your eyes peeled for a sail on the horizon.  If the Kairos’ timing holds up, the Geats should be along any day now.”

“Yeah, but now I’ll have daymares and won’t be able to sleep.”

“Geats and hags.”  Seamus shook his head and sat in a chair.  “Who will believe it?”

“But the creature stayed quietly absent from the hall last night,” Mirowen pointed out.  “Unless the creature shows itself, how can we know who it is?”

“No trail to follow does make it tough,” Festuscato admitted.

“We could set Gregor to sleep in the hall as bait,” Seamus muttered.  Mirowen’s jaw dropped open.

“Such a suggestion.  And from a Cleric!” she scolded.

Seamus shrugged, and turned as red as Festuscato’s hair.

“Wouldn’t work,” Luckless said.  “All that snoring would just scare the poor creature away.”

Festuscato snapped his fingers to regain everyone’s attention.  He was again watching the sunrise, but he spoke to the point.  “I figure the best candidates are Aschere, the king’s Counselor.  There is something of slime about him.  Heinrich the Bard.  It is hard to tell how much of their own stories such men believe.  Wulfgar, the king’s Herald, though he seems a good man.”

“Svergen, the officer of the Coastal Watch.”  Bran spoke up from the open doorway.  “Shouldn’t be heralding this into the hall,” he said, as he stepped inside and shut the door tight.

“It isn’t the king,” Mirowen said.  “He is too old, and too sincerely crushed by it all.  Twelve years is a long time for humans to suffer.”  She looked up and saw the others looking at her.  “I spoke with queen Wealtheow,” she explained.

“Isn’t the cook,” Luckless said.  “I don’t hold for human food, but this cook is not half bad.”

“Can’t speak for the other half,” Festuscato mumbled softly.

“No, and that servant of his, Ragnard is afraid of his own shadow,” Luckless finished with a chuckle.

“The rest of the men are too transient.”  Mirowen said, by way of conclusion.

“Except Unferth,” Seamus said

“Hrugen’s father?”  Festuscato asked.

Seamus nodded.  “He wouldn’t be the first to use drink as a cover for something else.  And he has the reputation, at least in the alleged killing of his brothers.”  Most nodded, except Bran who smiled.

“Leave it to an Irishman,” Bran said.  It seemed hard to tell if that was a compliment or an insult.

“So then, that’s the short list.”  Festuscato wanted to get it right.  “Aschere the Counselor, Wulfgar the Herald, Svergen the Coast Watcher, Heinrich the Bard, and Unferth the Drunk.”  He shook his head.  Having tasted those names on his tongue, he was not sure if any of them felt quite right.  He went to the door.  “Suns up.  Breakfast time.”  He opened the door and found Luckless already in front of him.  Bran chuckled quietly from over his shoulder.

“Festus.  Festus.”  He saw Hilde’s head poke out from behind his door.

“Keep good notes, Seamus.  I’ll catch you up.”  Festuscato disappeared into his room to a roll of Mirowen’s eyes.

It turned high noon and time for the main meal in the hall when Festuscato finally did catch them up.  “What did I miss?”  He sounded a bit like Mousden.

“Nothing,” Gregor said grumpily.  “Can’t get any of these Danes to arm wrestle.”

That did not sound like jovial Gregor, but Festuscato did not have time to ask as Wulfgar came straight to the table on Festuscato’s appearance.

“Roman.  I would not have my king filled with false hope.”

“Quite right,” Festuscato responded.  “But sometimes there is only trust.  I would not want to see your king hopeless, either.  I have felt hopelessness.  It isn’t fun.”

Wulfgar thought about that for a minute before he responded.  “I hope that what you say comes to pass,” he said, and paused again before adding, “For your sake.”

“If I am wrong, I won’t be the first in these twelve years,” Festuscato said, and Wulfgar moved off with things on his mind.

“What have you been up to?”  Mirowen asked, but before Festuscato could answer, Aschere came up.  It appeared as if the Danes were taking turns.

“Roman.”  He began as Wulfgar began, but his conversation turned in a different direction.  “Yours is the strangest crew that has ever been seen or heard of.”

“A preposition is something you should not end a sentence with,” Festuscato said, with a straight face.  Mirowen stopped translating half way through and gave him a hard look.

“This woman who speaks the king’s tongue like a native is a beauty such as few men have ever imagined,” Aschere said.

“That’s true.  He’s got you there,” Festuscato said and delighted in the way it reddened Mirowen’s ears, though of course Aschere could not see her in her true elven form as Festuscato saw her, so he did not get the full ear effect.

“Tell him I thank him for the compliment.  You have always been like a big sister to me, when you are not acting like my mother.”  Festuscato said and gave the elf a kindly frown.  She told Aschere something.  Aschere nodded as if he understood.  He turned then to his mediocre Latin.

“And this little man,” Aschere went on.  “I see no good in him except to fill his stomach.”

“He is my tinker and blacksmith,” Festuscato said.  “He is as good with gold and silver as he is with iron and steel.”

“I have seen his tools.”  Aschere admitted.  “Some are very finely wrought.”  He made the admission.  “But then what of the boy?  Where is he?”

“Sleeping.”  Festuscato said and shrugged as if to suggest that was what all young boys did.  “He stayed up late.”

“In truth,” Aschere said with a sly grin.  “I found him this morning up on the pinnacle of the roof, though without a ladder, I am at a loss to say how he came there.”  The man clearly asked.

“All right, if you insist,” Festuscato said.  “In truth, as you say, Mirowen is a light elf, Luckless is a dwarf, and Mousden is a dark elf with wings.  He flew to the roof to look through the night for the sail I am expecting.”

Aschere looked taken aback at first.  He raised his eyebrows, but then he began to chuckle.  He left laughing, certain that Festuscato had to be joking, but fortunately he did not see Mirowen slap Festuscato on the shoulder or hear what she said.

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 3 of 3

Aschere’s thin lips curled a little.  “Wulfgar.”  He introduced the man who was every bit as big as Bran.  “The king’s herald.”  He gave the title.

“Mirowen.”  Festuscato said, and she stepped to the fore and in perfect Danish, introduced the group.  Wulfgar took it all in and only asked one question before he signaled them to follow.  Soldiers kept their horses.

The walk to the Hall of Heorot proved not far from that gate.  Indeed, the hall did not appear to be far from any gate, as it dominated the city more like a palace than a simple hall such as they found in the countryside.  They were told to wait in the entrance-way while Wulfgar went in alone.  They did not wait long, before the double doors swung open and they were invited to an audience with the king.  Mirowen stayed close to Festuscato’s ear and only just told him Wulfgar’s comment by the gate.

“He said he hoped Hrugen and his father might become reconciled, but he doubted it.”

“Come.”  The clear, but old voice rang out from the podium.  “Welcome.  Let me see.”  The man said, and he squinted hard as the crew walked within view.  “Yes.  I see the midget and the boy.  Yes, she is a remarkable beauty, isn’t she?”  Several voices quietly agreed while the king went on.  “I am Hrothgar, king of the Danes.  What brings you to my hall?”  He got direct.

Festuscato bowed.  “We are admittedly a strange crew, but we were bound for the Germanic shore when a terrible storm arose.  Our ship was wrecked off the shore near the place of Ingut the shipwright.  He sheltered us and guided us to this place, and told us of the great generosity of the king and how he does good for strangers and wayfarers in the land”

“Those belly boats of the British are useless on the real sea,” Wulfgar interrupted.  “You were bound to wreck.”

“No, it was taking the woman on the ship.”  Another man spoke up.  “There’s a real curse for you.”

Festuscato merely smiled.  “Would you leave her behind?” he asked, knowing all eyes were on her.  Mirowen’s ears turned red as she translated the words, and purple when, after a pause to consider and some little laughter, the man conceded the point.

“And the boy?”  The king asked, staring like he saw something more than the boy.

“My cabin boy.”  Festuscato designated him with a title unfamiliar to that day and age.  “A whiz with numbers.  Better than a dwarf.  The keeper of my accounts and something like a son to me.”

“Aw.  What do you know,” a man said, rudely, and staggered to his feet.  “Who are these fools?  I thought we were done with the days of fools daring to face the Grendel.  I get tired of hearing screams in the night.  A man can’t sleep.  Say, who are you?”  The rudeness of the man at the very feet of the king startled Festuscato a little.  He had been raised, thanks to Mirowen, to maintain proper respect wherever and whenever possible, but the king said nothing.  He had his head in his hand as if struggling against a terrible headache.  Wulfgar looked disgusted with the man, but said nothing.  Aschere appeared ready to explain, but gave way when Mirowen took a half step forward.  She repeated the introductions given at the gate, word for word, until she mentioned Hrugen, son of Unferth and the man’s eyes grew wide and turned wild.

“Hrugen?”  The man shouted and struggled mightily against the alcohol that flowed so liberally through his veins.  “That no good, runaway, coward.”  He reached the table and found a sword which he pulled and spun around almost too fast.  “Where is he?”

Hrugen stood in the back, trembling for fear of the moment.

“Now, Unferth,” Wulfgar stepped between the drunk and the crew, but Aschere pulled him back.  He wanted to see what would happen.  No other man in the hall moved, and even the king seemed transfixed by the scene, alternately squinting and rubbing his eyes.

“Boy!”  Unferth shouted again and brandished his sword.  “Did you come home with a wife to care for me in my age?  Did you bring children?  Did you get gold?  Treasure?  I better not find you an empty-handed loser!”

Unferth struggled to focus himself and could not seem to find his son who stayed mostly hidden behind Gregor and Bran.

“He brought something more precious than all of those things,” Festuscato spoke and gained the man’s attention with Mirowen practically shouting the translation.

“What!  What?”  Unferth said.

“Friends.”  Seamus responded and Festuscato took a step toward the drunk who unknowingly took a step back from the confrontation.  Gregor smiled and stepped forward with Bran beside him.  Seamus pocketed his quill for once and joined them, though the cleric proved rather useless in a fight.  Luckless came up.  No one noticed where he got his axe, but they all noticed how well he cradled it in his arms.  With a little judicious staring, Unferth dropped his sword which clattered to the ground, but then, in a moment of stubbornness, he pushed forward.

“My son,” he said and squeezed between Festuscato and the Saxon who did not stop him, now that he went unarmed.

Hrugen did not tremble anymore.  He looked at his father, and the man looked back at him.

“Loser.”  Unferth said and raised his hand to strike his son, but Hrugen shoved him and the man fell to the floor.

“Drunk,” he said.  “Sober up if you want to talk to me, otherwise I have nothing to say to you.”  Hrugen stepped to a table on the opposite side of the room from where his father drank, and he sat, and after a moment, all but Mirowen and Festuscato joined him.

“No.”  The king pushed away some tonic that a young man tried to force on him.  The king knocked the drink with his hand, though accidentally due to his eyesight.  “I have had enough of treatments and medicines,” he said, while the cup fell to the ground and spilled its’ contents.  “Ragnard, get back to the kitchen,” he commanded the young man, who looked embarrassed, like all in the hall were watching him, and laughing, while he retrieved the fallen cup and retreated from the hall.

“Now dear.  You must take your remedy.”  An elderly woman spoke from a back door as she entered the room.

“Queen Wealtheow,” Wulfgar announced, and every man in the room stood briefly to pay their respects.  The old woman walked up beside the king and leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but she did not actually touch her husband except with the sentiment as he waved her off and grumbled.  Then he raised his head to look at the Roman.

“Have you come to try your luck against the monster?” he asked outright.

“Gods forbid!”  Mousden squeaked from the table, and not too quietly.  A few men laughed lightly.

“We have only just heard of the plague on your magnificent hall,” Festuscato said.  “If it was in my power.  I will do all that I can, but alas, my ragtag crew would hardly be a match for this beast as I have heard tell of him.”

“Cowards, all.”  Unferth said, having resumed his seat and his drink.

“On the contrary,” Festuscato responded.  “Rome has always been practical about such matters.  Rushing headlong with promises is folly, and I am no fool.  I will wait until the opportune moment, until the time is ripe.”

“Wisely spoken,” the queen said, and Festuscato nodded his head as a slight bow to her well-aged beauty.

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

MONDAY

Festuscato and his crew figure out what it is, and have an encounter with the monster.  Until then, Happy Reading’

*

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 2 of 3

Festuscato called a halt to their progress before they reached the first house.

“Lord?” Mousden asked as he flitted back and forth between the trees.

“I was thinking,” he said.  “It is one thing to parade through the halls of a king, but quite another to have you traipsing through the countryside with the plain folk of this world.  A party like ours is bound to attract a lot of attention.”

“This is a bad thing?” Gregor asked with a smile.

Festuscato nodded. “The sightings of little ones is becoming a rare and special event, something relegated to the ancient days.”

“And that is how it should be,” Bran spoke up

“Indeed,” Seamus added.  “Rare enough that I hardly know what to put in the journal.  Who would believe me?”

“Mousden, get big,” Festuscato commanded.

Mousden looked clearly reluctant.  He flew in a circle before he settled down and landed beside the horses.  He did not look at his Lord, but took a deep breath and changed.  His wings vanished and he stood around three feet tall, his mottled skin turned into a ruddy complexion, with a few freckles.  For all practical purposes, he looked like a nine or ten-year-old boy, and he growled when Gregor laughed and let down a hand to take him on as a passenger.

Mirowen did not need to be told.  She effected glamour to make herself appear like a mortal woman and Luckless as a more ordinary little person, and in this way, they would walk among the people of the land, still a strange enough group, but not one beyond the pale. Ingut said nothing while they took on their disguises, but when they were set, he led them into the village.

All day, they had traveled the inland road, which Ingut said would be faster.  It was not faster, of course, but everyone knew he wanted to keep Festuscato away from his daughter, Inga.  Festuscato felt sorry about that.  That young woman had a real future on the rescue squad.

In this village, there were wild, unverifiable rumors about the monster that haunted the halls of Hrothgar.  Some thought it was the ghost of a man seeking revenge on the house of Hrothgar, and they could name several dead men that fit the bill.  Some, however, imagined it as a troll, or an ogre as Mirowen had guessed at first; but then a few thought it might be something worse, something which they would only identify with a whisper.

Festuscato stopped listening after a while.  He would get no real information there, or probably in any of the places they might stop along the way.  He would have to wait until they arrived to hear the truth, and maybe see with his own eyes, if he could figure out how to do so safely.

By evening, Festuscato got back to being his normal, slightly impish self.  When the chief of the hall apologized profusely for not having any bard or singers to entertain his guests, Festuscato volunteered his crew to provide the entertainment, and in this way, they paid their way, so to speak, all the way to the Danish capitol.

Festuscato told the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well, Mirowen translating perfectly.  It seemed a little awkward waiting for two sets of laughter, but even Luckless laughed more than once, and he had heard the story countless times.  Bran twice told the story of King David cutting the tassel from King Saul’s robe, and both the Jutes, and later the Danes were very impressed with David.  They judged him a king worth following.  Luckless once tried to sing the dwarf work song, the song often heard in the deeps, but it sounded so strange and alien to human ears, he chose not to sing it again. Mousden, on the other hand, had a sweet tenor, and delighted the people with his rendition of the cradle song.

When they came to their first Danish village, the reception felt less warm at first, until they discovered Hrugen as one of their own.  After that, their reception turned very welcoming, until they found out who Hrugen’s father was.  The chief of the village became quietly angry to the point where the crew began to fear for their companion.  The chief had been friends with one of Hrugen’s uncles, and he still bore a grudge against Hrugen’s father who, all these years later, remained under a cloud of suspicion of having killed both of his brothers.  Though the chief had a poet and myth-teller in the hall, and a very good one, Mirowen herself stepped up that evening.

All of the eyes of the men remained on the elf, that is, the woman, wherever she went. The glamour she wore did nothing to diminish her beauty, so it became no hard thing for her to gather everyone’s attention as she stepped to the center of the room.  The harp from nowhere came to her hand, and she stroked the strings like a mother might caress her child.  Everyone, Dane and Britain, understood her every word without the need for translation as both the words and melodies contained great magic.  She sang the tragedy of the lovers, and everyone in the hall cried, bitterly.  She sang the comedy of Raven’s Fall, and everyone laughed so hard, they began to cry again from the laughter.  Last, she sang the elfish lullaby so well-known and imitated, but never duplicated by the bards of the British Isles, and everyone in the hall, but Festuscato himself, fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.  Without a word, Mirowen laid down on one side of Hrugen, and Festuscato laid on the other side.  Thus, they slept well until morning.

With the light, they quickly went on their way to avoid any trouble.  Festuscato even relaxed a little, knowing that Bran ahead, Gregor behind, and Mousden overhead kept a sharp eye out against being followed and for any signs of treachery until they were well out of that territory.

When at last they came to the sea and the edge of the city which would one day be called Copenhagen, Ingut began to make noises that he had to be going home.  His job was done.  He said the king would expect his ship and payment was not yet due.  He said he should not enter the city because there was still a year and a day before the agreement concluded.  At last, he pointed to a gate, instructed Mirowen in some way, and wheeled around and rode off at some speed.

“I wonder what’s the matter with him?”  Festuscato mused out loud.

Mousden, who had been agitated during the whole journey, and not simply for being made to get big, chose that moment to finally speak what was on his mind.  “Do the words “bite sized pieces” mean anything to you?” he shouted.

Festuscato laughed.  “I did not say we were going to stay.  Just have a look.”  Of course, he had every intention of staying.  He had read the book several times in the future, and if things worked out, he should be seeing the young Beowulf within the week.

“Halt.” They were stopped at the gate. “What business have you in the city of the Danes?”  The guard at the gate looked sharp enough.  Festuscato responded in a straightforward way.

“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Rome,” he said and let Mirowen translate.  “And these are my traveling companions. Gregor One-eye of the Saxons, Bran the Sword of Britannia, Seamus the Cleric from Eire’s emerald shore, Luckless the Tinker of Wales, young Mousden of Cornwall in the West, the Lady Mirowen from the heather highlands, and Hrugen the Dane, son of Unferth.  As a member of the Imperial Senate of Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, I have come to pay my respects to your king.”

With that little speech, the guard at the gate no longer looked as sharp.  It seemed as if he had some difficulty trying to make all of that information fit inside his brain.  Fortunately, a well-dressed gentleman stepped out of the guard house and he appeared to have no such difficulty.  He ate a piece of fruit, and took a moment to look carefully at everyone.

 “I am Aschere, counselor to king Hrothgar.” The man said, in very imperfect Latin. “We have been expecting you. Indeed, I have been waiting all morning. Where is Ingut?”

“He mumbled something about the ship not being ready yet and left.”  Festuscato said in all honesty, not even attempting to disguise his thoughts.

The normally stoic Bran got blatant about it.  “Coward,” he said.  Gregor chuckled.

Aschere shared the chuckle.  “Yes, he is,” he said.  “But I take it you are not.”  Bran shrugged ever so slightly.  Festuscato could see Gregor was dying to say something, but his Latin was not nearly good enough.  Then all eyes turned as two men rode up quickly to the gate.  They dismounted, and Festuscato took the cue, dismounting himself, and his crew followed his lead.

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 3 of 3

Shortly, a new target got brought into the room and a Jute stood up with two spears in hand.

Gregor leapt at the chance.  “Gods I love this,” he said.  He really enjoyed the sport, like a football addict with seats on the fifty-yard line.

The man holding the spears looked at his king as if wondering if it would really be fair to contest with a one-eyed man.  The king merely sat back, shrugged and nibbled on a piece of fat from the deer set before him.

The Jute went first, and like the huntsman, he made a fair throw that landed in the target, not on, but near the center.  Gregor picked up the other spear and examined it as if he was not sure how to hold it. He fingered the point and winced as if it felt really sharp.  “Forgive an old man.”  He said, luckless translating for him.  “With one eye my aim isn’t what it used to be.”  He waggled the spear like practice throws all around the room.  Men ducked for their lives until he lost it.  He started laughing, loud, and some joined his laughter when they realized he was just having fun, until he suddenly turned deadly serious.  He bellowed a Saxon war cry and heaved the spear toward the target.  It hit dead center and split the target in two where the boards had been fitted together.  The rest of the target splintered and fell apart, and Gregor started to laugh again, paused on his return to the table to slap a Jute hard on the back.

King Hroden who had sat straight up and stopped chewing, squinted at the end of the room. “Can’t tell where it hit, exactly. Another draw,” he decided.  Again, Festuscato did not argue, but the Swede began to laugh, embarrassingly for the king.

“Axes.”  The king roared.  His anger started rising.  A new target got hustled into the room and a new man stepped to the line. Luckless came up to take his turn.

“No magic.” The king reminded the contestants of the rule.

Luckless looked at his opponent.  “Won’t need any,” he announced.  He threw first, and his throw proved as perfect as the arrows of Mirowen and Gregor’s spear.  The axe man of the Jutes just stared for a minute, and then angrily hit the dwarf on the head with the butt of his axe.  Luckless went down.

Festuscato leapt out of his seat and over the table before most people knew what happened. He reached out to the second heaven and called to his armor, cloak, helmet, sword and long knife and he became instantly clothed as one ready for war.  The sword called Fate jumped to his hand, and he slid on his knees to Luckless’ side. Mirowen stood on the table, another arrow at the ready.

Everyone in the room came to their feet, and two angry looking Jutes stepped forward to defend their Axe man, but discovered nothing they could do about Mousden.

Mousden flew around the axe man fifteen or twenty times before the axe man could turn a quarter turn.  But Mousden just built up steam.  In the next moment, the axe man rose a few inches off the ground and started spinning uncontrollably to the point of throwing up, carried along by his own little tornado.  He slammed into the wall, hard, and slid to a seat, unable to hold anything in his stomach.

The other two men came at Festuscato and the dwarf, but the first hit a wet spot and slipped, his arms flailed in the air as he fell back and banged his head, hard on the edge of the table.  It would have killed him, surely, if his head had not been harder than the wood.

“Perpetual!” Gregor’s gleeful voice rang out from behind.

The last angry Jute drew his sword as Luckless shook his head and came back to his senses. Most men backed up.  Festuscato grabbed Fate’s hilt with both hands and when the two swords met, though the Jute’s sword looked much bigger and meaner, it shattered like a piece of rotten wood against a grinder.  Festuscato then stood and slapped Fate sharply against the stunned Jute’s shoulders.  Immediately, the Jute’s chain and leather harness slipped to the floor and Festuscato pressed Fate hard against the Jute’s nearly naked heart.  The Jute looked to his king to plead for his life, and the king responded.

“Halt,” he shouted, nodded to Mirowen slightly before she got tempted to shoot one of those illusion arrows at one of his people.  “I told the Roman we have no quarrel with Rome.  That goes for his people, too. Is that understood?”  He did not really ask.  “Roman, you are my honored guest.”  The king pointed to the seat beside himself.  “And I have a proposition.”

Festuscato sheathed his sword and with everyone watching, brought his comfortable clothes back from the second heavens and sent his war suit home.  He deliberately took his time returning to sit between Mirowen and the king.

“Neat trick, that,” the king said.  “Though I would have gotten a better look at that sword of yours.”

“A gift of the gods,” Festuscato said.  That was all he intended to say.

“Made by the gods?”  He got that much.  “And how did you come by it?” he asked.

“It was a going away present,” Festuscato said.  “I’ve had it for about four hundred and some seventy years.”

Hroden looked serious, but only for a minute.  He decided Festuscato was joking and had a good laugh.  “You are everything friend Ingut declared you to be,” he said.  “And I think there is something I would discuss.”

Festuscato became all ears, but both his and the king’s eyes were where the gold had been. The king looked away, thinking someone had snitched it in the confusion.  Festuscato felt pretty sure Mousden had taken it back, or at least that the Pixie would get it back.

“It is the monster,” King Hroden said, to get his guest’s attention.  After all, the Roman won the competition fairly, even if it was one point to none.  “Grendel is the name, and he has been like a plague on the Danes for these past twelve years.  The ranks of their brave and strong have been decimated by the beast who they say is stronger than ten men and who cannot be cut by any blade forged by men.”

Festuscato nodded. The sword of the gods had not been made by men, but he decided for the moment to just listen.

The king downed his drink, but when he heard no response, he continued.  “You live with monsters, begging the good Lady’s pardon, eh?”

“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, quietly.

“Still, I have a feeling about you.  You know about these things.  I can tell. If anyone can help the hapless Danes, I believe you and your strange crew can do it.”

Festuscato finished his own drink and turned to stare.  “And why would you worry about the poor Danes?” he asked, flatly.

King Hroden slammed his open hand on the table.  “Because they are weak.”  He shouted and got some attention from the room.  “Surely you, a Roman, understand that.  Isn’t that the Roman way?”

“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, still flat in his voice.  “Rome understands when her enemies are weak, but she always finds an ally, a local people who have a grudge against the weak ones and Rome moves in to help.  Once the help is given and the weak one is easily overwhelmed, Rome never moves out, and the result is invariably two kingdoms for the price of one.  This is the way empires are built.”

King Hroden looked grim for a minute and then laughed.  “And here is Olaf, the Swede.”  He announced before he suddenly lost his laugh and turned his grim look on the hapless Swede, who shrunk in his chair.

“I will go south,” Festuscato announced to regain the king’s attention.  “For a comfortable stay for me and my people this evening and good care taken of my horses.  If in the morning, we are well fed and well rested, I will go.”

“Good, good.”  King Hroden said.  He put his hand on Festuscato’s shoulder.

“Of course, after Ingut’s daughter, it will be rather hard to sleep without some distraction,” Festuscato added.

“What? You?”  He looked at the shipbuilder who was fortunately just out of earshot, and back again at the Roman before he laughed at last, like Gregor, while Mirowen’s pointed ears turned deep red.

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MONDAY

The the Hall of Heorot.  Ingut the shipbuilder gets roped in for further duty, to guide the Roman and his crew to hall of the king of the Danes, where the monster haunts the night.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

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R5 Gerraint: Danes

“Heilbraun seems a good man,” Gerraint mentioned to Arthur as the two rode side by side in the evening.  One flaw in the plan was the lancers, which included the knights, their squires and the RDF, had to swing around in the dark and be in position by dawn.

“He is, and not terribly old yet,” Arthur agreed. “But he must have some persuasive counselors to push him into war.”  The leading lights, the fairy lights Pinewood provided, curved in to enter the back of the forest.  Come dawn, they would charge out the other side.  Arthur turned to the men behind him.  “Keep your eyes on the horse in front of you.  Pass it down the line.”

“What you are saying,” Gerraint continued.  “He must have his own version of Meryddin pushing and tugging him against his common sense.”

Arthur huffed.  He did not like that comparison, so they rode in silence through the trees.

At last, the fairy lights vanished and Arthur halted the column of riders.  Two of the lights then reappeared and came right up to face Gerraint and Arthur. They were two lovely women who Gerraint named as Rose and Mistletoe, and they had a report.

“The Norwegians in the woods are all dead. They got shotted full of arrows and moved away.”  Mistletoe covered her eyes like she did not want to remember.

“But the horses were all taken by the gnomes and given to Deerrunner,” Rose finished the thought.

“Deerrunner?” Arthur asked.

“The elf King,” Gerraint answered softly.  “Go on”

“Bogus said to tell you the way is clear on the other side,” Rose went on.

“But now there are scardy dark elves keeping their strange eyes on the enemies,” Mistletoe said.

“Goblins,” Gerraint said, before Arthur could ask. “Thank you Missus Rose and Miss Mistletoe.  Now we have work to do, but not until morning.”  The fairies vanished, even as a rider came up dangerously fast in the dark.

“Where did they go?”  It was Meryddin.  He was supposed to be back helping to get the nags and riders ready, but obviously he snuck along.

“Where did who go?” Gerraint asked as Arthur dismounted and sent word down the line to keep quiet and move up into position.

Meryddin yanked his horse around and rode off at not quite so dangerous a speed.

Meryddin did not catch a little one during the engagement, but there were some close calls.  Poor Gerraint felt more worried about his charges than he felt about charging the enemy.  When it got to actually moving out of the woods, though, his mind focused on the task. He drew Salvation when he lost his lance in the back of a fat, fleeing Dane.  He watched as the Danish and British foot soldiers clashed, and the Danish line crumbled.  Too much of the line was moving sideways and getting in the way, and soon too much of it started fleeing over the little rise in the ground.  Sergeant Paul and his thirty riders from Cornwall with Melwas with his twenty from Lyoness hit the other side and Gerraint felt Bogus’ frustration because few men would flee to those woods as a chance to escape. Gerraint stopped and looked up the little rise.  He had mayhem all around him, but he stood still for a whole second which felt like an hour.  Then he started up the hill.  Men ran before him and dove to the side to get out of his way.  Gerraint got there in time to see three men cut down with arrows, each one a perfect shot.

“Deerrunner!  Cut it out!” The arrows instantly stopped, but then the elves charged, about a thousand of them, and if Gerraint did not have to defend himself, he would have put his face in his hand

In short order, the Danes realized they were surrounded and began to surrender.  Even as Arthur accepted the sword of Heilbraun, Gerraint yelled go home to whatever fairies, dwarfs, elves, or whoever might be listening.  “No next time,” he added.  “That’s cheating.”

Arthur had seven hundred dead and wounded, and such were wounds in those days they often referred to them as the dead and dying. Heilbraun and the Danes lost over three thousand men, an astounding number, but Gerraint knew at least half of those casualties were due to the little ones.  The elves alone may have accounted for a thousand, a number equal to their own, and without losing a single man, or rather, elf.

Heilbraun’s forces were crushed beyond reason and he pledged that there would be peace as long as he was alive and remained King of the Danes.  Of course, in Gerraint’s mind, he imagined the Danes could send for more ships and more young warriors at any time.  By contrast, the loss of seven hundred Britons and Welsh felt irreplaceable. After two days, Arthur found Percival protecting Greta as she tried to bandage a leg wound that she feared would get infected.

“Goreu,” he started, but Greta growled at him.

“Do I look like Gerraint?”

Arthur started over.  “Greta.  I just got word from an RDF courier.  The Irish have come up against north Wales and they have poor Leodegan under siege.”

“Pirates, a band of brigands, or the whole Irish army? Gerraint is asking,” Greta said.

Arthur paused.  “I don’t know.”

“We need better information before we drag the whole army across the whole island,” Greta said, and stood.  “Percival, please escort me to Gerraint’s tent.”

“My lady,” Percival responded and put his arm out for her to hold.  Arthur watched and after a moment, closed his mouth.  Then he made a decision even as Meryddin found him.

“Who was that blond?” Meryddin asked.

“Greta.  A healer,” Arthur said, and walked off so Meryddin had to follow.

Arthur let the army go home.  He said they needed time to bury their dead and grieve for their losses.  “Three victories in three weeks,” seemed about the only thing he said the whole way across the island, but he understood, as they all did, that the last victory became one to cry about, not one to rejoice over.  Gerraint said nothing at all.  And poor Uwaine also remained silent because he did not know what to say.

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Wednesday…………Yes, WEDNESDAY, again

Skipping over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, the story will be posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week.  Arthur meets Gwynyvar.  You won’t want to miss that.   Until then:

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