R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 3 of 3

“The big bird is after the big worm,” Bogus said it, and they all ran to the door in time to see the dragon grabbed by the bird beak and tossed into the trees.  The dragon protested with fire, and it looked like it held its own for a while, but the bird kept grabbing it and shaking it and banging it against the trees, until at last, the big worm ran out of strength.

The bird picked up the worm with its claws and headed into the sky.  It punctured something, as the people smelled the gas.  The hydrogen bladder that ran along the whole belly of the beast had a leak. The dragon waited until they circled enough to gain some altitude, then Nameless said a quiet, “No.” as the dragon flamed himself.  There followed a massive explosion. People screamed at the horror.  Pieces of dragon rained down on the forest along with all of the insides of the Raven.  The bird plummeted in a streak of flame, and Berry and Fae raced out to where the dragon fell.  The rest of the crew followed.

Nameless saw something in his mind, picked everyone up with a thought and transported them to where the dragon head had turned into a very old and broken man.  Nameless also caught sight of the spark of light that came from the Raven.  It shot to the south, well beyond the dome, but he said nothing as Berry and Fae fell down beside the broken old man and began to cry.

The man could hardly speak, but he looked first at Bogus and breathed.  “Sorry father.”  Then he spoke to the girls.  “You have my permission and blessing.  They seem fine men, such as they are.”  Then he turned to Nameless and stumbled over his thoughts.  “None of the parts of Mithras mean good for the human race. They want to be the new gods and they all want to lead their way.  Beware Mithras.  He is the Pater.”

The old man’s voice trailed off and Nameless raised his head and commanded attendance.  “Willow,” he called, and his command went all the way to the Ural Mountains where a snow fairy vanished and reappeared at Nameless’ side.  The fairy spun around several times, but halted on sight of the Nameless god.  “Your grandson,” Nameless pointed to the old man, “And your great-granddaughters.”  He stepped back, and let Willow find her own way.

Willow flew up to face the old man.  She took on her big form, which made her appear like a beautiful, older woman, perhaps just shy of fifty.  She knelt beside the old man and looked briefly at Fae and Berry before she smiled for the man and spoke.  “You are Oren?”

“I am,” Oren whispered.  “And now my days are complete.”

Willow took Oren’s hand, the one Berry was not squeezing, and found one tear to protest.  “But you are so young.”

“More than a hundred,” Nameless said softly. “More than long enough for a half-human.”

Willow looked up at Fae and Berry.  “Berry,” she said.  “Queen Thumbelin has told me wonderful things about you, and young Mab said you were all right, which I think at her age is a great compliment.” Berry’s eyes teared up so she could not say anything.  “And Fae. I have heard from far away, from my dear old friend, Thissle, that you are a kind and wonderful person.  How you ever got involved with the old stinker, Hobknot, I will never know.”  Willow paused to wink at Hobknot, who scowled appropriately in return.  Clearly, they had some history.  “But love is a strange and wonderful thing, and that is worth holding on to.”  Willow turned her eyes toward Bogus who stood that whole time, quietly worrying his hat.

“Mother.”  He spoke when her eyes fell on him.

Willow smiled for her son.  “Sometimes love takes us places where we could never imagine. Love had its way with me and your father, and though it was only for a short time, he gave me you, my son.”

“I’ve been not much of a good son,” Bogus said. He lowered his eyes and shuffled his foot.

“But you have.”  Willow smiled for her son. “I have been thinking about it now for more than a hundred years.  I was wrong. You loved your human woman, Clarissa. The Kairos has taught us that we are not to mingle with human mortals, but even she knows that love will have its way. I treated her badly.  I was terrible.  I was wrong, and I went away, and I am sorry.  I missed my grandson’s whole life, and now I can never get that back.” Willow looked down and a few precious fairy tears fell to dampen Oren’s side.  Oren extracted his hand from Berry’s grasp and with a great effort, he covered Willow’s hand and patted it twice.  Bogus found a few tears of his own and stepped up to hug his mother. Nameless spoke.

“There are only two things in life that everyone experiences.  Love and death.  And we have no control over when they will come.”  Nameless went away so Greta could return and finish the thought.  “Who would have thought I would end up with a Roman?”  She stepped up and looked down at Oren.  “Sleep now,” she said.  “The old life has gone.  The new life has come.”  Berry reached for the cross she wore around her neck and Oren closed his eyes and stopped moving.  Immediately, they heard a howl.  The Wolv were not far away.  Greta lifted her voice to the sky.  “Nameless! You are mean.”  He brought her back to face her own Wolv.

“What are we going to do?” Hans asked.

“Oh, Hans.”  Greta stepped to the side and amended her word.  “Hansel.”  She grinned as she waved her hand in the air.  A great archway formed, a doorway to Avalon in the second heavens.  Greta and Berry had been there once.  Now, the others were coming, but then her little ones were always welcome.  “Hans and Hobknot, carry Oren,” Greta commanded.  “Quickly now.  Through the door before the Wolv catches us by the heel.”

People scrambled as another howl came, closer than before.  They heard the yip-yip of the Wolv before they crossed the threshold and stepped out on to a perfect, green lawn beneath a beautiful blue sky and a magnificent castle on a hill.  A small river ran through the grasses and emptied into the sea at their backs.  To their left were great rock pillars, like guardians against the sea.  To their right stood a field full of grain ready to harvest.  The air felt crisp in the late fall, but they saw no snow to cover the ground.  Directly behind them all, in the doorway to Earth, Greta stood and waited.

A Wolv ran up, but stopped as it tried to make sense of where it stood as opposed to what it saw through the archway.  A second and third Wolv arrived and stopped as well.  The third Wolv looked like an old gray-haired Wolv.  Greta spoke to the gray hair, and since she spoke from Avalon, she knew her message would be understood.

“You know this planet is off limits.  Your fleet will be destroyed in space before it can arrive if your commander is foolish enough to come here.  As for your transport, I have other tasks to perform, but as soon as I am free, I will attempt to repair your ship so you can leave. You would be wise to confine yourselves to the forest of the dome in the meanwhile.  Do not interfere with the war between the humans, unless you have a wish to die and be no more.”

Greta snapped her fingers and the door to Avalon blinked out of existence.

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

MONDAY

After a stay on Avalon, Greta and her family need to visit her brother who lives on the north border of Dacia.  She sees only blood being spilled, and fears the war to come.  Until Monday…

*

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 1 of 3

“Son,” Bogus began like he had a long speech prepared, but there came shouts and a great commotion among the horsemen in the distance.  The horses at the parley screamed and swords got drawn, and a hundred men broke from the ranks of horsemen and charged.

The dragon turned and slithered up between the two giants.  It rose up and held itself a matching twenty feet from the ground.  The snow and cloud giants looked briefly at the dragon while it looked back and forth between the two, then all three let loose with everything they had in the face of the oncoming charge.

The snow giant shot sharp pointed icicles, like a machine gun.  Those icicle bullets penetrated everything, wood, bronze, iron, leather, horsehide and human flesh.  The cloud giant let loose one lightning strike after another.  The ground, people and horses exploded, and the thunder boomed for miles.  Greta mumbled.

“There was a reason the ancient gods put all the little ones, the sprites in her hands.  They would not give them to another immortal because it would have made that immortal too powerful.”

The dragon, of course spewed flame and created crispy critters, but after only seconds, that whole line of horsemen turned and ran for their lives.  Greta shouted up.

“Oren, you must take us now.”

The dragon turned.  “I feel the strong urge to cook you and eat you,” Oren said.

“You are still half mine,” Greta responded.  “You have a powerful half that belongs to the sprites of the earth, and you can resist the control over your human half.”

The dragon turned its head up and shot flame into the sky before it lowered its neck for Greta and Bogus to climb on board. “Hold tight to my scales,” the dragon said.  “You will not hurt me.”  They held tight, and as they rose into the air and circled several times to gain some height, Greta got a good bird’s eye view at what happened down below.

The Scythian horsemen made a massive army. Greta feared for her friends, even if they had two giants protecting them, but then she caught sight of an army coming from the east.  Slavs, she thought, and quickly turned her head to see an army coming from the west. “Goths,” she shouted.  Then she looked once more and saw three horses racing back from the parley, and then she saw no more as they shot out over the trees.

After that, Greta looked side to side, but decided she would rather not look down.  She looked for Mithrasis, and felt surprised the goddess had not already picked them up.  She decided that she guessed correctly.  As long as Mithras and Mithrasis canceled each other out, they were vulnerable to more ordinary things.  Mithrasis probably feared the dragon fire, not to mention the dragon claws and teeth.

Greta finally looked down when she felt the dragon begin to circle for a landing.  She saw the river and had to think about that.  Four thousand years ago the river came down more from the north, above the dome.  Now it had shifted to south of the dome which no longer appeared a dome.  She saw no more than a few dozen blocks of stone, even if they were ten ton blocks, but even they started crumbling under thousands of years of relentless weather.

They landed, a rough landing for Greta and Bogus, though one the dragon probably thought of being as soft as he could make it. Bogus said nothing as he slid to the ground and raced into the gap between the stones.  Greta paused.

“Thank you, Oren.  I hope I live long enough so I can bring your grandmother here for a visit.” She wanted to say she would change the dragon back into a man, but she was not sure how to do that, and besides, the gods never made promises.  Greta learned that four thousand years ago when the dome was whole and the Titan who lived in it still lived.  She could do one thing though, and she leaned over carefully and kissed the dragon on the nose.  A great, hot tear rose in the dragon eye before they both heard something that made Greta jump and made the dragon lift its head.  The distant howl of a Wolv echoed through the trees, and someone started coming through the bushes.  Greta ran through the gap in the stones that let her inside.

Bogus closed his mouth.  He had been yelling at his granddaughters, and mostly Berry whom he knew so well from her years among the little ones of the forest.  But when Greta popped into the room, he quieted and everyone stared for an instant of absolute silence before they shouted and Berry ran into Greta’s arms, tears in her eyes.  Fae followed Berry, and a grinning Hans and Hobknot began to nudge each other, like they had some sort of bet.

Greta took a moment to look around that great round space.  Most of the wall looked one block high, though plenty of places still had part of a second block on top, or two whole blocks which made a wall as tall as Greta. A couple of places were three blocks high where Greta could begin to see the slight curve in the stone that once rose up to the top of the dome, but there were not many three block places. There were more blocks and worn down blocks and partially crumbled blocks on the floor of that space, and Greta could see where they were turned into seats and tables for their furniture.

“I never stopped believing,” Berry managed to say before she started to cry again.

“We all kept believing,” Fae said.  “It’s what kept us going on those long winter nights.”

Greta nodded, but she moved Berry into her grandfather’s arms so she could face the old man who sat quietly in the corner. He stood and spoke when Greta’s eyes focused on him.

R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 3 of 3

Greta sat alone.  She still had plenty to think about and she was not at all finished with her worry.  There were no guarantees here and she imagined a million things could go wrong. She felt panic coming on, but fought the feeling.  She did not do well in panic situations.

She thought she might be leaving her moody stage and entering her paranoid stage.  She wished Darius was there.  He always made her feel like everything would be all right, even if he had no way of knowing. He was her rock, and she missed him. She took a deep breath of the cold, fresh air, and set her mind to the task.

It did not add up.  She understood Mithras and Mithrasis trapped each other in the woods. When the two gods cancelled each other out, neither one could work many miracles.  She knew it had nothing to do with the old Gott-Druk electric fence because that equipment had surely rotted away after more than four thousand years, and she could not be sure if it had been picked up and moved to Avalon all those millennia ago.

Greta considered Avalon, her home in the Second Heavens, the Castle of the Kairos, her little island sanctuary where all her little ones were welcome to come and rest from their labors.  She looked at her companions who sat quietly, enjoying a wonderful meal.  She briefly thought she could open a door to Avalon, go there, and open a new door in the dome of the master, to step out and thus avoid the woods of the Wolv entirely. But she would not do that.  It would go against her every rule. Somehow, the need to burn her own bridges included walking her own walk.  As she often said, if she was supposed to die on the road so she could be born in her next life, then she had to be on the road to do it.

Greta blanched and thought again about Mithrasis. Mithrasis did not exactly threaten her life, truth be told, though she said it might come to that.  The Nymphus really just wanted to prevent her from coming. Then there was Lucius.  At first, Lucius kept trying to convince her to return to Roman lands.  True, he got a bit carried away with the rock slide, unless it really was the accident he claimed, but otherwise he did not get hostile, uncooperative, or even unhelpful. Jupiter seemed to want to kill them, but then he proved not as accurate with his lightning strikes as he got in her nightmare.  Maybe he just wanted to scare her.  She wondered. Certainly, she felt a strong urge to go home before she had that nightmare.

Greta stopped.  She started getting confused.  But she could not help thinking that even the Persian did not outright attack her, not counting that jackass thing.

“Lady?”  Her faithful centurion, Alesander, got her attention.  Greta looked up and appreciated his faithfulness over the years more than he would ever know.  She saw that Briana still sat by the fire.  She tried not to be obvious, but clearly, she payed strict attention, so Greta knew it was something she and Alesander discussed.

“And what have you and Briana decided?” she asked, and watched Alesander turn red.

“How did you—?”

“It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows,” Vedix spoke up.  Vedix sat nearby and listened in.  They probably all listened, especially Mavis.

“I cannot marry you two before I go into the Land of the Lost.  There is not enough time.  My ride is already on the way.”  Greta paused and stood.  “And we have company.”  Her eyes stared off to Alesander’s left so he turned to see what she looked at. Everyone looked.  An army of horsemen stretched across the south from one end of the horizon to the other, and they were drawing near.  Lucius appeared out front, leading them all, and Alesander spit, but held his tongue.

A fine mist followed by several clouds drifted down from overhead and formed into the shape of a giant between them and the oncoming horde.  The cloud formed figure stood twenty-feet tall, and inside the cloud they saw sparks and a kind of blue flame, which said the cloud giant had started to build up enormous amounts of electricity.  The horsemen in the distance slowed.

Then the snow gathered, even from beneath their feet, and it built itself up, higher and higher, until it made a kind of twenty-foot-tall snowman.  It had a grin with great, sharp icicle teeth.  A very small head, upper torso, and arms stuck out from the butt of the snowman. “We came down with the snow.  We were worried about you.” The baby snow person grinned and his own ice teeth filled the grin in a frightening way.

“Bubbles,” Greta named the sprite who disappeared again into the mass of the giant snow body.  Greta went on to speak her thoughts out loud while the rest of the crew got ready to defend her.  “I need to be gone.”

“They look to be sending out a group to parley,” Hermes pointed.  The horsemen stopped a thousand yards off and three men followed Lucius to a spot half-way between the horsemen and the giants.

“Briana, Hermes and Vedix,” Alesander took charge. “Get your horses.  Bogus, Pincushion and Mavis, guard your mistress.” The horses had to be saddled before the horses walked between the giants toward the meeting.  As the horses moved out of earshot, there came a great flapping sound heard from behind, like the leather wings of an enormous bat.  A dragon came over the tree tops and landed beside Greta.  It looked easily forty feet, perhaps fifty feet long, and it raised its head ten feet up to stare down at Greta’s party.  The snow giant and cloud giant paid close attention, but no one made a hostile move.

“Do no harm.  No fire,” Greta shouted in the dragon tongue that all dragons were engineered to obey.  Of course, when they got as big and old as this one, they tended to develop selective hearing.  “No harm.”

The dragon cocked its head, turning it much further than a human neck could turn.  “I still understand the words.”  The dragon spoke in the Gaelic tongue of the people of the forest.

“We need your help,” Greta shouted.  “Your father and I need to reach the dome to save your daughters.”

The dragon turned its head further until it stared, upside down.  It looked hard at Bogus.  “Father?”

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

MONDAY

Greta and Bogus enter the Land of the Lost.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 3 of 3

They arrived in the woods and held the men back so the chiefs and lords could get a good look.  Saxons covered the grass below the fort, looking as numerous as the blades of grass themselves.  Festuscato wondered how Pinewood came up with the number of five thousand, unless he counted everyone.  It mostly looked like a lot, and several men whistled softly at the sight.  It looked for the moment that the Saxons were stymied by Cadbury Hill.  They had to overcome the three or four terraces that ran all the way around the hill before they could get to the fort itself.  Presently they had no easy way up, but the Saxons had catapults and slings so it would only be a matter of time before the wall came tumbling down.

Festuscato grabbed a handful of grass and let it fall. He felt the wind in his face, and it felt strong, but he knew in Somerset it could be changeable.  He looked at the grass which felt dry, perhaps dangerously dry, and tall where it still stood despite the Saxon footprint. As far as Festuscato knew, it had not rained in the three weeks since he had been back on the island.  He called to his little ones.  Yes, they could keep the wind at ground level blowing in the right direction and could easily set fire to the grass.  He explained what he wanted them to do, and then divided his men.

He had five hundred horse and added five hundred foot men to the count.  He sent them through the trees to the head of the open fields.  Their job would be to prevent any Saxons from escaping, especially horsemen.  The other fifteen hundred men had bows, or prepared themselves with long spears to protect the bowmen.  When things started, they would happen fast.

“Not a very good siege to leave these woods unprotected,” Mirowen commented.

“It isn’t a siege,” Festuscato said.  “They figure the Welsh are busy fighting the Irish, and York and North Britain are too far away to bother, and even if York sends some men, they still have the advantage in numbers.  Obviously, they have their men concentrated in these fields because they have brought the necessary equipment to smash down the walls. Once that onager, that primitive trebuchet makes a big enough hole in the wall, a concentrated charge with massive numbers of men will get the Saxons inside well enough.”

“And now?” Dibs asked.  He knew what an onager was.

“Now I want the siege engines burned along with as many Saxons as possible.  I expect the Saxons to try and escape out from the line of fire.  So we have a thousand men, half on horseback to hunt them down.  I expect most to make for these woods, and we might not survive such an attack, but we should take most of them with us, and the ones who break through will find Dumdiddle and his dwarfs waiting.  I expect some will try to jump the line of fire, but they won’t live long.”  He did not repeat the part about their not surviving, and no one asked, so he gave the signal to begin.

A long line of fire rose up on the other side of the fields and started to move across the field like disciplined soldiers on parade. The Saxons fought the flames, but fire sprites kept it burning and the wind stayed relentless, blowing smoke in the Saxon faces.  When the fighting got fierce on the edge of the woods with all those Saxons that slowly decided to try to escape, Festuscato got word that Constantine and Cador of Cornwall were ready to come out of the fort and attack the Saxons head-on if Festuscato could stop the moving fire.  He did, and sent word to his foot soldiers on the end of the fields to hit the Saxons from behind when those Saxons turned to fight off the men from the fort.  The elves stayed behind the fire line, so any Saxons who tried to jump the fire would be picked off.   Festuscato brought up his dwarfs to hold the trees while he organized a charge of his own.

When the men with the dragon tunics and the men with the lion of Cornwall tunics poured from the fort, the Saxons turned to meet the threat, as expected   The fire hemmed them in, but there remained plenty of room to fight.  When the five hundred fell on the Saxon rear, the Saxons were shaken. When Festuscato lead a thousand men from the woods to hit the Saxon flank and push the enemy into the fire, the Saxon resistance fell apart.  Some tried to force past the five hundred and escape south, back to Sussex, but the Welsh and British horsemen tracked them and caught many.  Others still found the woods their best bet, if they could make it past the dwarfs.  Not many escaped, but some did.  When the Saxons found enemies pressing in on every side, one great line of Saxons jumped the fire at once with the plan to make for the far woods and turn south under cover.  Some got passed the elfish archers, but only by sheer numbers, and they got tracked by Pinewood and his fairies in the late afternoon, and the goblins and trolls after dark.

Only dribs and drabs of Saxons returned to Saxon lands tell the tales, and they were tales to frighten the children, tales of the Roman and his sorcery, of elfin magic and demon terrors in the night. One tale that made it back to Saxony on the continent, and from there up into Danish lands and across the water to the Swedes and Geats was the tale of miraculous dwarfish armor, magical, made with such skill and cunning no sword or ax could break it.  In truth, six dwarfs caught sixty Saxons trying to escape through a gully near the fort.  Six Saxons survived and four made it home alive.  Of course, the tale got stretched, in a literal sense, and expanded until the chain of armor came with a whole trove of cursed treasure, but that came later.  In the near term, the chain of Weland showed up again, but that is a different story.

In truth, Luckless found his Uncle Weland in a pool of blood.  The unbroken chain did not protect everything.  Weland was missing a hand and a foot and leaking from innumerable cuts around his face and neck.  “The jinx of the family,” he breathed out his recognition of his nephew.  “Make your way well in the world.  I never believed in that unlucky stuff.  Here, take the chain.  It may protect you and bring you luck.”  That was all he said when he died, and Luckless cried in the night and said his Uncle was the only one who ever believed in him, and what was he going to do now?

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum:  After the battle is cleaned up, and the people of Britain, Wales, and Cornwall are convinced that this Pendragon idea might work after all, Festuscato and his crew escape to London…and then, from London.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 9 For Peace, part 2 of 3

Danna spanked Talesin so hard he took to the air, involuntarily, and landed somewhere out in the channel.  “Now, Addaon,” she smiled for the boy.  “Never forget.  That was your sire, but Dyrnwch is your father.  Always honor your father.”

“Dyrnwch is my father.  I will not forget,” Addaon said, and he added, “Mother.”

Danna put her hand to the boy’s cheek again, and patted it softly.  “Good boy. Marry and have children of your own, and I cannot say if I will see you again.”  She turned away and shouted and clapped her hands.  “Rhiannon.”

“Now what?”  Rhiannon appeared.  “I was just about to take Clugh for a good wing stretchy.”

“I know,” Danna said.  “You can do that here.  Do you see those towers, building?”

“Of course.”

“I would appreciate it if you and Clugh practiced setting them on fire.”

“Yes.  But there are men there.  Aren’t you afraid we might be teaching him the wrong sort of lesson?”

“Perhaps.  But you know Festuscato.  He crosses one bridge at a time.”

Rhiannon nodded.  “He makes it up as he goes along.  By the way, I heard Talesin scream all the way in Amorica.”

“He broke the rules, a thing you should consider as long as you still have work to do.”

Rhiannon changed the subject by peeking around Danna. “Addaon.  Hello brother.  I think I will call you brother A.”

“Hello?”  Addaon got the word out in the face of the goddess, but he did not sound to certain, as Rhiannon vanished and Danna let Festuscato come home.

“All right,” Festuscato shouted and saw the various Lords of Wales were dismounted and waiting patiently.  They all saw what happened, but Danna made sure they did not hear, and she made sure Addaon knew they did not hear.  “Ogryvan,” Festuscato called.  They were hearing now.  “When the dragon attacks, the rest of us will attack this end of the Irish line. Ogryvan, I want you and your men to take the town.  Try to kill only the Irish, and there is nothing wrong with driving them to their ships and letting them cut loose.  Do not burn the Irish ships.  Anwyn should be allowed to keep them as a small payment for his troubles.  Okay?”

Ogryvan nodded.

“Bryn and Dyrnwch, you and your men take the point. You men from the coasts need to back them up.  The idea is when the Irish run away from the dragon, the rest should be running away from us, and when the two groups run into each other, hopefully, in the confusion, they will surrender.  Allow them to surrender.  We don’t want an all-out war with the Irish.  We just want to hurt them enough so they don’t try this again.  Got it?”

Men nodded, and Bran whispered.

“Good plan.  Good luck.  They are not trained Romans.”

Festuscato heard a scream come all the way from the back of the woods.  “Dragon! What do you mean you smell dragon!”

“I was kind of hoping the clerics would keep Mousden quiet.  I forgot about the dwarf’s nose,” Mirowen said.

“You better go see to them,” Festuscato told her, and she gave him a dirty look for using that as an excuse to keep her out of it, but she took her horse and went without arguing.  “Mount up,” Festuscato yelled, and it took only moments before they charged the Irish line.

Things did not go as expected, which was expected. Ogryvan’s men took no prisoners and burned the Irish ships, the docks, several fishing boats and one merchantman from Lyoness which happened to be in port when all of this started.  Ogryvan apologized, profusely, but could not hide his pleasure.  When Festuscato pointed out that Ogryvan would have to pay for the fishing boats and merchant ship, he lost his smile.

“Of course, you can appeal to the Pendragon, but I would not expect sympathy from the lords gathered there.”

It took more than expected to get the Irish to give up their position and collapse the line, and when they gave up ground, they did not run in panic but pulled back, slowly.  Bran lost his horse to an arrow early on, but that proved worse for the Irish as he showed what an artist he was with that big sword of his.  Dibs and the monks Cedrych and Madog joined him as he led a company of men along the wall of the fort where the horses could not go. Meanwhile, men ran well enough from the dragon, but Clugh got distracted by all that motion and fried a number of men. Rhiannon tried to keep her baby to task, but did not begrudge him some fun since getting the Irish to run was the plan.

In the end, there were plenty of Irish soldiers who tried to escape to the woods.  Half of their ships were a number of miles away in a cove the Saxons would use in Gerraint’s day.  Festuscato knew the escapees would never make it to their ships, and indeed, the guards they left around the ships would not survive the night, and he felt bad about putting his little ones in danger, but he also felt bad about the fact that his little ones interpreted orders in whatever way felt convenient.  He knew surrender would not be convenient.

The only thing Festuscato insisted on was finding Sean Fen.  It turned out to be easy.  The man had been killed by an arrow the day before Festuscato arrived, and he said so in the letter of condolence he wrote to MacNeill.  Then they had to get everyone to Cadbury, because the Saxons were definitely moving, an army of about five thousand strong.  Fortunately, there were twelve hundred men coming down from the north, from York and Fort Guinnon and Edinburgh, and Festuscato thought if he timed it right, he could meet up with them somewhere around Bath.  With his little ones added in, he might move three thousand to meet the Saxon threat, and hopefully south Britain, Cadbury and Cornwall could make up the number difference.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 3 of 3

Once inside the gate, Festuscato grabbed the old man from the group that appeared around the parley.  “Macreedy,” He knew who it was.  “Why are you here.”

Macreedy put up his hands to forestall any anger. “There are only thirty of us, and we have come to protect my niece, Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden, and that’s all. You humans can play whatever game you want, as long as Mirowen is safe.”

Festuscato frowned, while Macreedy waited to see how his half-lie got taken.  Festuscato decided keeping Mirowen and Mousden safe was a valid concern, but Mousden would probably hide.  Mirowen would pull out her bow and wade into the midst of the fighting, but if Macreedy and his supposed thirty elves could keep her from serious injury, Festuscato would not quibble about how many Saxons they killed.

“All right.  Spread your men out along the wall, only keep a strong glamour on to appear human, please.  The best way to protect Mirowen will be to keep the Saxons from breaking into the fort.”

“Yes, Lord.”  Macreedy let go of his breath.  “To the wall,” Macreedy shouted, and his men appeared with dragon tunics, already on the wall, anticipating the attack.  Festuscato rolled his eyes, but said no more until Mirowen stepped up beside him and confessed.

“You wouldn’t let me go to the parley, so I called my uncle.  Sorry you weren’t here to ask.”

Festuscato only said one thing.  “Elf.”  It did not get kindly spoken.

MacNeill and Patrick looked over the wall at the gathering Saxons.  The Saxons had no siege equipment, not even ladders to scale the nine feet of wall, but even with men from the village added, the Saxons had twice the number of defenders.  The Saxons probably also thought that apart from the twenty or thirty men who worked more directly for MacNeill and acted something like soldiers, the rest likely did not have the stomach for a real fight.  They concluded that this would not take long, and the only reason the Saxons paused before attacking the fort was to visually determine where the weak spots might be in order to concentrate on those places.

Festuscato walked up and down the length of the wall. “Keep down,” he shouted.  Get your bows ready, but don’t stand and fire until I yell fire.  Don’t expose yourselves until I yell fire.  Bows ready, but heads down until I yell fire.”

All this time, Donogh kept Clugh entertained in the lair, and kept him quiet, but it became impossible to avoid the tension and excitement in the air.  Donogh felt it just outside the cave entrance, so Clugh certainly felt it. People say dragons can smell fear, but the truth is more complicated than that.  They can actually sense things like stress, worry, apprehension and the like and feel the general emotional state in the air around them, even if there is something near, like someone invisible that they cannot see or smell or hear.  That is why it is all but impossible to sneak up on a dragon, unless the dragon is sleeping, but as said, waking a sleeping dragon is not recommended.

“Wait until I say fire.  Ready.  Heads down,” Festuscato jumped up beside the Lord and the Bishop.

“I see you found some friends,” MacNeill said and pointed at a nearby man in a dragon tunic.

“These are not like the glorious ones that shined even in the dim light of dusk,” Patrick said.  “There is something more earthy and humble in these.”

“Like Mirowen,” Gaius said, as he stepped up beside the others.  Festuscato said nothing.  He took a good look at the enemy and jumped down to continue his walk up and down the back of the wall.

“Heads down.  Bows ready.  Wait until I yell fire.”

Clugh came out of the cave despite Donogh’s protests.  Seamus was there, but it did not help.  The people who did not find a place inside Lord MacNeill’s manor house, or in the barracks, or out back by the blacksmith’s and other shops, backed up as far as they could.  Some screamed on sight of the dragon, but not many noticed, concentrating as they were on the coming battle.  Festuscato ignored the interruption and kept walking up and down the back of the wall, yelling in as calm a voice as he could muster.

“Keep down and be ready.  Not until I yell fire.”

“Donogh, lad.  Clugh can’t be out here,” Seamus said,

Donogh had one hand on the back of Clugh’s neck, where the dragon liked it, but Clugh squirmed and Donogh appeared anxious himself, so the scratches behind the ears did not really help.

“Ready,” Festuscato yelled.  They heard the Saxons begin to scream their war cries.  They would scream wildly for a minute or so, a technique intended to unnerve their enemy.  “Ready,” Festuscato repeated as he jumped up to the back of the wall.  He raised his hand and waited while he looked up and down the line.  Men here and there could not help a peek at the assembled Germanic horde.  Some chose not to look.  Generally, the only heads above the wall were MacNeill, Patrick, Festuscato and Gaius, and they stared, and not one of them looked concerned.

“Ready.”  Festuscato yelled, though it became hard to hear him above the Saxon din.  The Saxons charged.  They did not have much ground to cover, but Festuscato immediately lowered his hand to point at the enemy and he yelled, “Fire!”  Knowing he would be hard to hear, he yelled it several times, up and down the wall.  “Fire. Fire.”  He knew the elves would hear, and spaced as they were among the men, when they stood, the men stood and the arrows flew.  He did not know Clugh would hear, and fire was one word the dragon knew.

More than thirty Saxons got dropped in the first volley.  Whether they were dead or wounded hardly mattered.  They were taken out of the action.  Another twenty fell quickly, but then the Saxons raised their shields and began to fire back, so the third volley looked much less effective.

The Saxons chose their targets well.  There were a few places along the wall where the wood had sufficiently splintered from age or got wobbly in construction so men could get handholds and climb.  The gate got the makeshift battering ram the Saxons made from a whole log taken from a house in town.  But even as Gaius started suggesting it would be inevitable that the Saxons get in, Clugh could not contain himself.  He took to the air when Festuscato yelled and, on seeing the Saxons roaring, Clugh roared and came in like a dive bomber spewing flame everywhere.  Part of the fort wall got set on fire, and one Saxon became totally crisped while quite a few were badly burned.  To be sure, when Clugh landed and roared, every Saxon within flame range turned and fled.  That seemed all it took to get the whole lot of Saxons to run.  They dragged off some of their burnt and wounded, to their credit as soldiers, but they did not stop long enough to see if some of their men might be saved.  The ones who could not even limp were abandoned.

Once Clugh landed, he slithered to the crisped Saxon and bit off the dead man’s head.  No doubt he found it tasty, but with that, Festuscato sighed.  He knew once Clugh got a taste for human flesh, he would not be contained, no matter how well the Agdaline command words were pronounced.

“Lord.  Save Clugh,” Donogh yelled as he came up alongside the others and stood on his toes to look out over the top of the wall.

“I cannot help the dragon.”  Festuscato spoke gently to the boy.  “But maybe the Lady can.  Maybe mother can help.”  Donogh and Seamus thought he spoke of Greta, but he meant Danna, and he traded places with her through time and immediately became invisible.  She floated down to the dragon where she became visible again and calmed the beast.

“Mother,” Clugh said, but Danna shook her head and lifted her voice.

“Rhiannon.  Come here. I need you.”  She spoke, not a harsh call, but a request, and Rhiannon appeared, her face full of curiosity.  “Rhiannon, dear.  You need to take this beast and keep him from people.  He has tasted human flesh, so now there is no turning back.”

“Mother.  I have nowhere to keep such a creature.”

“Well, it is either that or I have to put him down. And he is still such a youngster, you know, a child in need of a good mother.”

Rhiannon screwed up her face.  “You cheat,” she declared.  “What am I going to do with a dragon?”

“I was thinking.” Danna folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.

“A dangerous sign,” Rhiannon admitted, but she waited for the shoe to drop.

“There is a lake on the edge of Amorican territory in the forest called Vivane.  Do you know it?”  Rhiannon nodded so Danna continued.  “The naiad there is getting elderly, but she is very nice.  I am sure she would not mind if you built a castle on the small island in the middle of the lake.  There are plenty of spirits who live in the forest.  You could hold court there and keep Clugh as a pet.”

“And why would I want to do all that?”

“Because your work will come to you there.  I have seen it.”

“You have seen the future?”

“No, I live there, remember?”  Danna stepped up and kissed her many times distant daughter. “I have tweaked the image of mother in the dragon’s mind so you will fill the role, only don’t get too attached. Leave him in Amorica, and one day this male will sire babies, I think.”

“But you just told me to go to Amorica.  Now why are you telling me to leave him there?”

Danna shrugged.  “Just don’t get too attached.”

“Mother.  Why do you have to be so mean to me?”  Rhiannon reached out to pet the dragon and Clugh purred.

“Because you don’t belong here, you should be over on the other side.”

Rhiannon said nothing.  She looked unhappy but disappeared, and took the dragon with her. Danna reappeared on the wall and went away so Festuscato could return.  He smiled for his friends before he hugged Donogh.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “Rhiannon will take good care of Clugh.”

“The goddess?” Donogh wiped an eye. Festuscato looked briefly at Patrick.

“And should no longer be here, but out of Ireland at least.  And Danna should not be here, either.  She knows that.  I’m sorry. The new way has come.”

“The old way has gone, though stubbornly I see.” Patrick turned his back and said no more.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor.  Don’t Miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 2 of 3

The gate to the fort got closed and locked when the last of the villagers straggled in.  They knew Sean Fen was MacNeill’s cousin, so he and his men were not there to loot and pillage, apart from stealing whatever brew they had; but they were pirates, and it was generally not safe to be around pirates, especially for young women.  The courtyard of the fort presently teemed with young women and Festuscato could not help pausing and admiring a few.  He turned to look outside the fort when he heard Sean Fen’s voice.

“Roman.  It would save us both a lot of trouble if you just came out and gave yourself up to the sword.”

“Give me some time to think about it,” Festuscato said, as he looked around.  The sun looked nearly set and Sean Fen’s men started lighting torches, as did some of the men in the fort.

Sean Fen looked like he might be thinking.  “I will give you until the sun is fully gone, and that is more than generous, and only because I don’t want the bother of having to fetch you.”

Festuscato said nothing when a strange, Asian looking man stepped up beside him.  Mirowen noticed and curtsied for the man.  Festuscato frowned.  “Yin Mo,” he said.

“Lord Agitus.”

“Macreedy sent you, didn’t he?”

“As you say.”

“This has got to stop.  The knights have no business being here, of all places.”

“Yes, Lord.  But the Knights of the Lance might send your enemies to various places around the island without actually injuring them.  I had thought an end to the trouble that avoided shedding blood might be preferable.”

“There is that.”  Festuscato thought about it while the druid shouted up to the wall.

“Crooked heads, come down.  It will be my privilege to remove the crookedness from the land by taking your heads from your bodies.”

“Tell him those that are with us are more than those that are against us,” Festuscato offered, and Patrick repeated the words before responding to Festuscato.

“What?  So now you are Elijah?”

“I don’t remember.  Was it him or Elisha who said that?  Anyway, just watch.”  He turned to Yin Mo and gave his okay and Yin Mo waved his arm.  As Festuscato figured, well more than a hundred Knights of the Lance appeared just outside, at the base of the castle wall.  They charged.  Most of Sean Fen’s men had the good sense to run for their lives, not that it did them any good.  Every man vanished as soon as he got touched by a lance, and the knight vanished as well. The knights did not stop, however, until they got to the docks.  Where Sean Fen’s three ships went was anyone’s guess.

When the action finished, an action very hard to see and follow unless you had night vision like a goblin, or Mousden, Yin Mo also vanished and Festuscato spoke again.  “I would have told him no more than in Greta’s day, like Gerraint told him, but he snuck about five or eight hundred into that battle.

“When was that?” Gaius became curious.

“Oh, about a hundred years in the future.”

“As you say.”  Patrick had picked up the phrase.

Sean Fen and the druid were the last two still out front, but men with torches came from the village and MacNeill and his men came out of the fort so there seemed nowhere the two could run.  It got hard to hear the yelling that went on when they met, but Mirowen likely heard with her good elf ears.  It also got hard to see exactly what happened, but at some point MacNeill pulled his sword and chopped off the druid’s head.  He later explained.

“I knew the man.  He would have devised some poison or some ambush, and he would not give up until the deed was done.  Removing his head simply removed my headache.”  MacNeill headed them back inside to salvage what was left of the meal. “I hear in Britannia, the one they are calling the Pendragon has forbidden the killing of priests.”

“That includes druid priests,” Festuscato said.

MacNeill shrugged.  “Well, maybe starting now.”  The man smiled for his mother.  “But who would kill the druids there?  I am told the Christian God is all about love and peace.”

“Never fear,” Patrick said.  “The church has its share of militant priests.”

“Really?”  MacNeill smiled.  “There may be something to this faith of yours after all.”  Festuscato just laughed and prepared himself to answer questions about the Knights of the Lance.  Those questions did not come, but from that day, all over Ireland, scattered here and there, pirates appeared and told about a man named Patrick and the power and the miraculous army of his God.

###

At the end of the second month, Clugh started taking to the air in anticipation of his visitors.  He found the fire pit fairy quickly, and on scattering it, he almost set the fens on fire, wet though the swamp was.  The men had to build a new pit out behind the tavern, and then with MacNeill’s permission, in the courtyard of the fort itself.  He had men dig out a great underground chamber, lined with stones and with a great bed of stones and broken and rusty spears and swords, plows and axes for the dragon’s bed.

Clugh actually arrived only two days after the construction finished.  Some were not sure he would come into the midst of so many humans, but Clugh had become accustomed to his brothers and his one sister, and he showed that perhaps humans were not the enemy.  Whether or not he considered humans to be edibles remained to be seen.

Festuscato figured it would only be a matter of time once Clugh went airborne.  He kept day-old, burnt meat in the nest, and he called it a nest for Clugh when he arrived. The dragon slithered in and squealed, flamed the walls and roared, which made MacNeill and most of his people doubt the wisdom of making a home for the beast.

“It is frightening,” MacNeill admitted.

“Nonsense,” Festuscato responded.  “All that fuss just means he likes the new nest.  Just think what the other Lords around will say when they realize you have your own personal dragon guarding the place.  Why, I bet Leinster will get so jealous, he will run out and try to get one of his own.”

That made MacNeill grin.

Clugh settled in for about two weeks.  MacNeill lost a couple of good hunting dogs, and he had to move the stables further away.  He also took back his old barn from Patrick, though Patrick did not mind because of the church they were building.  Overall, Clugh stayed good, and Donogh was there every day to play with his brother and keep him somewhat contained.  By then, Clugh knew how to say “Donogh”, though it came out more like “Dalnaw.”  For his part, Donogh learned a reasonable amount of dragon words.  He learned to say come and stay and stop and no and Bran suggested the boy was learning parenting skills.

 After two weeks, Festuscato knew it would not work.  As much as the people might be willing to give it a try, and as good as Clugh could be, eventually the dragon would get big enough and old enough to where he could not be contained.  Given the circumstances and the regular feedings, he imagined Clugh might stay good for another fifty or so years, or at least as long as Donogh remained alive. But there would be incidents, no doubt including some crispy people along the way, but after two weeks, circumstances changed.

Festuscato, Dibs and Gaius sat in the tavern, reminiscing, when the Saxon long boats were spotted, headed for the port.  They had little time to evacuate the village before the Saxons landed and began burning and looting everything in sight.  People crowded into the fort, but left a wide area empty around Clugh’s home.  Donogh and Seamus went down into the dragon’s lair and tried to keep the beast calm, but it was not easy given the air of excitement and distress all around.

It did not take long for the Saxons to gather outside the fort.  Mirowen counted about two hundred which seemed quite a sizeable group for a raiding party.  Festuscato knew that Saxon raiders were much like the Vikings that were to come centuries in the future.  They tended to avoid direct conflict with large groups of armed men and avoided forts, unless they had something to gain.  Raiders, like pirates, struck hard and fast, took what they wanted, and left before any serious opposition could be raised.  In this case, though, the Saxons looked like they had something in mind.

Festuscato, MacNeill, Cormac and Murdoch went out to meet the Saxon leaders before hostilities erupted.  It turned out Festuscato and the Saxon knew each other.  It turned out to be Gorund, the chief who wanted the Cornish gold that did not exist.

“Take what you want from the village, but leave my people alone and you can go in peace,” MacNeill said.

“But what I want isn’t in the village,” a big fellow named Herslaw countered.  “We have been very well paid to come here and do a job, and when we bring back some heads, we will receive the other half of the payment.”  Gorund simply watched and kept his eye on Festuscato.

“Leinster.”  Cormac spit.

Gorund grinned.  “I am thinking you don’t want to fight any more than we do.  You can send this Dragon and his priests out to us and we can go away, and nobody needs to get hurt.”

MacNeill folded his arms and looked at Festuscato. Festuscato took that as permission to speak.  “Listen, Gorund, Coleslaw.  The problem with the priests is they have been declared off limits for killing by Lord MacNeill here, and as for myself, the one some call the dragon, you see, there is an actual dragon, a real dragon behind the fort wall ready to defend the people here.  The real dragon came from Rome, burned his way across Gaul and has been terrorizing the Fens for some forty years, until we made peace with the beast.  Leinster wants you to get the real dragon.  I am sure you don’t want to get involved in that, though I see where you might have been confused.”

Gorund did not budge.  “I heard a rumor about a real dragon, but I figured it was just you. I heard you only have two men with you, and that seems a small price to pay for a village.”  He turned and saw the smoke rising near the docks.  “What is left of it, anyway.”

An uncomfortable silence followed for a moment as MacNeill thought through a number of options before he spoke. “Nope.  You have already done your damage to the town.  There isn’t much more you can do unless you want to waste your men attacking the fort.  As my friend said, the priests are off limits, and as for the dragon, now I am talking about the man, I figure he has a few tricks up his sleeve that none of us can imagine, so I’ll stick with what I’ve got and you can go back to Leinster and tell him you changed your mind.

“Ah, but I can’t do that, you see,” Gorund responded with a wave of his hand.  There was movement in the Saxon line until ten men appeared out of thin air around the group, and each man had a bow with an arrow pointed right at Gorund.  “Hold it,” Gorund shouted for his life.  “No tricks.  We do this the proper way.”

Festuscato and MacNeill walked casually back to the fort. Cormac snickered and Murdoch nodded in agreement.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 1 of 3

It took two months for the dragon wing to heal. Donogh went almost every day.  He would have gone every day, but sometimes he had too many chores.  On those days, he made sure whoever went took something special for Clugh.  “A boy and his dog,” Festuscato quipped.

Festuscato went himself every day at first, and Dibs, Bran and Seamus went often.  Mirowen said they were all mad, and Mousden screamed the same thought every time they invited him to tag along.

They kept Clugh fed by building a fire pit near the boulders where they could burn whatever deer or other generally smaller animals they could catch.  In the second month, Seamus went one day by himself with a book he made of blank parchment. He tried to get a sketch of the dragon, but Clugh would not leave him alone.  He wanted to be petted, and only took a break when he inhaled his daily offering of food.

Clugh slept for a whole week in the second month. Festuscato explained that dragons stuffed themselves over several months or years before they finally had to hibernate and digest it all.  The older Clugh got, the longer the time of hibernation.  He was aware that after ravaging a countryside, some big old dragons could sleep for a whole generation, about thirty or forty years. Clugh sleeping for only a week showed how young he really was.  Festuscato also pointed out that when a dragon awoke after a long sleep, they were very bloated with gas and tended to flame everything in sight for a while.

“It is not a good idea to wake a sleeping dragon,” he said.

“It is not a good idea to go anywhere near a dragon,” Mousden shrieked.

Festuscato kept one eye on the dragon during that time, but the other eye stayed on Patrick.  The Bishop seemed to be making good progress and even converted the local Lord MacNeill’s mother.  MacNeill complained about it to Festuscato.

“Time will come when every Irishman will be a Christian, and then we won’t be able to fight anymore.”

Festuscato laughed.  “I wouldn’t worry about Irishmen fighting.”

Chief MacNeill’s home looked something like a fort, a good-sized manor house, barn and stables, barracks for the men that worked for him, and a short wooden wall around the complex.  Needless to say, he was not happy when he heard about the dragon in the swamp, but he and his men were stymied as to what to do about it other than hide behind their wall.  They were honestly afraid; all of the people who heard were afraid, but Festuscato and the others assured them they had things well in hand and would resolve things before they had any trouble.  The people did not exactly trust the Roman, but they were willing to hold back for the sake of any man who could command elves and pixies to do his bidding.

“Ha!” Festuscato nudged Mirowen one evening when they were feasting in MacNeill’s home with Patrick, Gaius and MacNeill’s mother. They were six weeks into the dragon business at that point, and the dragon was into his long nap.  “Since when do you do what I tell you?” he asked. Mirowen said nothing, but Patrick interjected a thought.

“I don’t know.  She and you seem to end up in the same place even if you come from completely opposite directions.”  Mirowen and Festuscato looked at one another and shook their heads.

“True enough,” Gaius agreed with Patrick.  “She is pure and you are anything but.”

“That might have been true in the past, but not now that he has taken up with a dragon.  Madness.” Mirowen looked away.  MacNeill’s mother, Fianna dropped her eyes and wiped away a small tear, and MacNeill took a moment to show his concern for her.

“I am sure you have heard,” he said.  “My father was killed by the dragon some forty years ago when I was a small boy.  Many people died, including his druids who thought they could devise a way through magic and such things to control the dragon.”

“They were the first eaten,” Fianna interrupted, and Patrick responded to her.

“Trust in the Lord, the Almighty. He is the only sure and certain help in time of trouble.”

“Anyway,” MacNeill began again with a hard look at Patrick, not happy with the interruption of his tale.  “They say the dragon began in the Alps, burned its way across Gaul, and eventually crossed over the sea to settle in our fens.  Some say there were two of them in that rampage, but some say only one.  I can tell you, there was consternation in the lands all around here for forty years, on and off.  Leinster got burned regularly.”  MacNeill snickered at the thought.  “Anyway, about ten years ago it appeared as if the dragon moved north.  Ulster suffered, and maybe that encouraged some to accept the Roman offer cross the sea to live between the walls, I don’t know.” He paused to grin.  “I remember Lord Giolla, Leinster’s right hand man, sent a small army against the fens.  They did not fare well.”

“They got bogged down,” Festuscato joked, and to the looks of the others he added, “Well, someone had to say it.”

“Anyway,” MacNeill continued.  “About a year ago, almost two I suppose, everything stopped. No one knows why, but there has not been any word of any dragon in the fens for ten years, and for the last two, no word of any dragon in Ireland at all, until now.  Now, people are afraid to go into the fens again, and I say I can hardly blame them.”

“It isn’t like that,” Festuscato said.  “I can make a good guess what happened two years ago.  First of all, I would guess two dragons, and I would guess Mama dragon had her babies in the fens.  Papa dragon did his best to feed them for forty years, but by then the babies started getting old enough and big enough to be worth eating.  I would guess Mama dragon took her babies elsewhere, and Papa dragon followed.  No telling how it ended up.  At that age, more or less, the babies are old enough to escape and make their own way in the world if it comes to that.”

MacNeill and his fellows, Cormac and Murdoch all groaned at that thought of having the whole countryside covered with dragons.

“Anyway,” Festuscato used MacNeill’s word.  “I don’t know how it turned out between Mama and Papa dragon, but little Clugh got left behind because his wing was broken. He probably hid from Papa, and likely would not have survived if young Donogh had not found him.  The boy fed him and nursed him as well as he could for at least a year before we arrived.  Now, with Greta’s help, the wing will be properly healed, and then I just need to decide what to do with him.”

“We’ll make a raft so you can take him with you when you leave,” Cormac mumbled and Murdoch nodded in agreement.

“I should whip that boy,” MacNeill mumbled at the same time.

“The opposite, I would say,” Patrick objected to MacNeill’s thought, and Festuscato picked up on it.

“Donogh has proved himself to be clever and capable and fearless.  I would think you should help raise the boy.  He may prove very valuable in the future.”

“We may take him for the church,” Gaius suggested.

“Now wait a minute,” MacNeill put his hands up to hold off that thought.  “What the Roman says makes sense.  If he is as capable as all that, I may bring him into the fort and train him myself.”

“Lord MacNeill.”  A man stood in the doorway, reluctant to interrupt the event.  “The people from the village are coming in the gate. Sean Fen has sailed into the port with three ships and a hundred men thirsting for blood.”  Everyone stood except Festuscato and Mirowen.

Festuscato first threw his wash cloth down on the table. “What is it with this pirate?  Why does he feel obliged to interrupt my dinner parties?”  Before MacNeill could give answer to his man, Mousden came flying in, screeching and screaming.  He went straight to Festuscato and Mirowen where he squeezed between them and shivered. Mirowen did her best to calm the pixie. She got him to get big and made a place for him between her and Festuscato even as Bran, Dibs, and Seamus came tumbling in the door.  Dibs still carried his sword, and it looked used.

“They off-loaded some men in a cove a mile down shore and they came up to take the tavern at dusk,” Seamus reported.

“We would not have gotten out if Mousden had not distracted them with all his screaming,” Dibs added.

“Lord MacNeill.”  Another man came into the room.  “A message from Sean Fen.  He says send out the dragon and his men so he can exact justice for his men that were murdered.”

“Dragon?”  MacNeill looked confused until Cormac whispered in his ear.  “Of course, I had forgotten.”  He turned to Festuscato who sat looking calm and undisturbed. “Actually, that explains a little bit.”

“Lord,” the man was not finished.  “The druid with Sean Fen says send out the priests. There is a price on their heads.”

“Tell him,” MacNeill paused and looked at Patrick and his mother.  “Tell him I will do no such thing.  He will have to fetch them himself.”  MacNeill and his men sat again at the table and Gaius helped bring up chairs for Dibs, Bran and Seamus.  Dibs, Bran and Gaius looked and sounded almost as calm as Festuscato, but Seamus was new.

“What are we going to do?” he asked.

MacNeill got their attention.  “I cannot help you,” he said.  “Sean Fen is my cousin.  He was born in the fens, but when the dragons came forty years ago, his father, my uncle took him to sea, saying a dragon would not be interested in all that water with so little to burn.”

“Now Sean Fen has taken over for his father,” Fianna interrupted her son.  “He spends his days raiding Wales and sometimes Cornwall and Lyoness.  He is a horrid man.”

“He doesn’t get much for his efforts,” MacNeill added.  “And what he gets he wastes on drink and women, and buying the favor of men like Leinster.”

“But you can’t help us because he is your cousin.” Festuscato made it a statement, but MacNeill answered it like a question.

“Yes.”

Festuscato sighed and stood at last, so the other members of his company stood as well.  “Might as well go see what Sean Fen has in mind,” he said.

“Might as well,” Patrick agreed, and the priests followed Festuscato and his company out the door.  Mirowen held tight to Mousden’s hand, and Fianna followed her and remarked how she was not aware Mirowen had a son, and so big, and she was so young.  Mirowen did not bother to correct the kindly old woman, but with Fianna along, MacNeill and his men also followed, curious about how things might turn out.

Festuscato let go of his comfortable clothes and called for his armor and weapons as he exited the home.  Dibs and Bran took a bit longer as they unwrapped their dragon tunics that they kept folded and hidden in a secret pocket they had built into their own version of armor.  When they climbed the five-foot rise that was just inside the nine-foot wall that allowed a man to stand and look down on an enemy, Mirowen put Mousden in Fianna’s hands.

“You stay with this nice lady,” Mirowen said. “She is the mother of the Lord of this castle and there are no safer hands you could be in, so stay with her and stay big.”  Mirowen meant it.

“Yes, mother,” Mousden teased, and stuck his tongue out at her.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 3 of 3

Festuscato kept his hand on the dragon’s neck and the top of the head where he found a spot that made the dragon purr

“Clugh glewg,” Festuscato said the mouthful.

“Glewg,” the dragon repeated.

“Brother look.  Brother help.”  Festuscato said that several times, since Clugh got preoccupied with swallowing the raw beef Donogh laid on the rock.  Festuscato noticed the dragon did not flame the beef first, and he wondered if there might be something broken more than the hurt wing, like something wrong on the inside.

“What are you telling Clugh?” Donogh finally asked. He apparently made some peace as his hand returned to scratch under the dragon’s chin.

“Well.”  Festuscato looked at the wing with his hands and felt glad the dragon made no hostile move when he touched the break.  That had to be painful.  “First, I told him we are his brothers, like family so he won’t eat us.  Dragons have a natural sense about not setting family on fire, at least when they are as young as this.  Now I am trying to ascertain the damage and see if I can help him heal, but I can’t hardly think straight because Greta keeps yelling “no” and “no way” in my head.”

“Greta?” Seamus asked.

“She is the healer,” Festuscato told them.  “I’m surprised you can’t hear her from Dacia, three hundred years ago.  She is that loud.”

“What can we do to help?” Bran asked the more practical question.

“Well.”  Festuscato turned toward them and put his hand back on Clugh’s neck to stroke him some more.  “You and Dibs can go bag a deer, the sooner the better.  Being like family is a help, but not if the dragon gets hungry enough, and this one is a bit thin.  About any game will do.  Seamus, you could try praying for Clugh instead of for your own skin, and Donogh, talk nice to the dragon.”

“Will you teach me to speak in dragon words?” Donogh asked as Bran and Dibs slowly backed away.

“Yes, but first I am going to bring a friend of mine to help and see if we can heal the dragon wing.  She is a fine lady, and she will try very hard not to scream in the face of the dragon.  Donogh and Seamus, you must not scream either.  We want a calm and peaceful dragon.”  He turned to Clugh.  “Clugh. I bring sister to make wing better. Sister help.  Let sister make wing better.”  It seemed a complicated thought and Festuscato was not sure if Clugh processed it all, but he went away and a very reluctant Greta came to stand in his place.  She wore the full armor of the Kairos, but for the helmet, and that full armor included the cloak of Athena which, among other things, had proved seriously fireproof.

“Sister.  Family.” Greta said quickly in the Agdaline language.  “Sister.”

Clugh took the transformation in stride.  He stuck out his nose to get a good whiff of sister while she squinted and stood perfectly still.  To be sure, in that armor she had to smell very much like brother. Seamus yelped at the transformation, but softly lest he startle the dragon.  Donogh said nothing.

“I think this is foolish,” Greta said, as she examined the wing with her own eyes and hands.  “I have no idea how dragon anatomy works.”  She paused to pet the beast.  “Pet,” she said, and thought.  “Well, maybe I do know a bit where one or more of my lifetimes knows something.”

“Pet,” Clugh wrapped his serpent tongue around the word.

“Sister help,” Greta said, and added in the Gaelic, “I hope.”    She had a bag over her shoulder and got out some ointment.  The first that she found was something that would work like a general anesthetic and deaden the pain—or at least it would have that effect on human flesh and blood.  She talked while she worked, because it kept her fear at bay.  “Dragons are not native to Earth.  They belong to a people that fly between the stars.  They were bred to guard the ships in deep space while they traveled slower than light between the stars and the paranoid Agdaline sleep in cryogenic chambers.  When they land on a planet, they expel the big ones in space, but save one big one for touchdown, just in case the natives are not friendly.  I don’t know how this young one got expelled, unless it went out with the big one, which means there is likely some big mama out there, somewhere.”

“I don’t understand most of those words,” Seamus admitted, as he finally took a step closer.  Clugh took another whiff of the cleric and Greta grabbed Seamus’ hand and placed it on the dragon’s neck.

“Gently, but don’t be afraid to scratch.  You can’t hurt him, and he likes it” she said, as she returned to her work on the wing.  “Dragons are not really serpents, like reptiles, despite their appearance. They are really more like insects. The scales are like an exoskeleton and they have very few internal bones.  If they had bones, they would be too heavy to fly, you see?  And they have more help with flying as well.  They have a bladder of a sort that runs along the belly, the full length of the body.  When they digest, the bladder fills with hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The hydrogen gives them lift, like an old zeppelin, but they have to expel some now and then to keep from becoming bloated.  They have a valve in their throat like we have that lets air into the lungs but swallows food into the stomach.  The valve lets them expel hydrogen as needed, but the thing is, they are oxygen breathers and the hydrogen is like a toxin to them.  I guess the bladder acts like our liver and kidneys and strains out the toxin. But anyway, they have this great thing, two little bones connected to the valve that rub and spark like a flint when they let out some gas.”

“And that spark sets the gas on fire,” Seamus understood.

Greta nodded.  “It is all automatic, and a great defense mechanism, don’t you think? There.”  Greta stepped back and Clugh turned his head, practically knocking Seamus down to give Greta a great, slobbering lick.  Greta’s response will remain untranslated.  It came out in her native Dacian, so no one there understood it, anyway.  She traded back to Festuscato, and he came dressed in his casual clothes.

“He feels better,” Donogh suggested as they heard Dibs in the distance.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Dibs was correct in thinking it best not to come up on a dragon unannounced.  They did manage a deer, and in such a short time, Festuscato had to ask.

“We found a small herd not far from here,” Bran confessed.

“I was surprised,” Dibs said.  “I would figure the whole area for miles around a dragon would be deserted.”

“It probably was,” Festuscato said.  “But it doesn’t take long for the animals to figure out the dragon is inured and not up for hunting.  News travels fast in the forest.  Now, put the deer on the rock.”  They did and Clugh whined a bit.  It had not been cooked, and too much uncooked meat could give a dragon a belly ache.  “Mother come,” Festuscato said in Agdaline, and he stepped aside so Danna, mother goddess of the Celts could step into his shoes.  She immediately blinked Dibs, Bran, Seamus and Donogh ten feet away, and put an invisible wall between them and the dragon, anticipating the dragon’s response.

“Mother is here,” Danna said, and touched the dragon on the nose as she tweaked her image in the dragon’s mind.  Clugh began to bob his head up and down in excitement, and then it could not help expelling a bit of fire.

“Lady!” Seamus shouted, but the fire merely warmed Danna.  Danna was rooted in the fires of Mount Etna.  She was Vesuvius on volcano day.  She was not a sun goddess, but contained the sun within her, and she had children like Gwyn and Lugh who reflected the very essence of light and radiant heat.  Danna, mother dragon, turned to face the deer and toned down her flame to almost nothing. She let it pour from her mouth which she thought of as very dragon-like, and cooked the deer to perfection.  That made Clugh get very excited, but he would not move until Mother gave permission.

“Baby eat,” Danna said, and the dragon squealed in delight and attacked the deer.  “Stay.  Nest.” Danna said, and she expanded the place in the rocks where Clugh slept, and filled the floor of the space with pebbles and rocks, an uncomfortable bed for humans, but well suited for dragons. “Stay.  Nest.”  She made sure the words penetrated Clugh’s brain, and she added, “Brother and sister will return tomorrow.”

Danna backed away and let Clugh feast.  When she left and Festuscato returned, he moved the others away from that place.  “The dragon will heal slowly,” he said.

“Of course, the question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of healing a dragon?” Bran asked.  It was a long sentence for him, and deserved an answer as Dibs and Seamus both looked at the big man with faces that said they just then realized what they had been doing and wondered if it was wise.

“Because,” Festuscato drew out the word.  “I hate to see anyone suffer, man or animal, and you never know how an act of kindness might be repaid.  Karma, you know.”

“As you say,” Dibs shrugged when Donogh interrupted.

“Remember your promise.  You promised to teach me dragon words.”  Festuscato smiled and tussled the twelve-year-old’s hair, while he thought the first words he would teach would be no fire, do no harm, friend and brother.  He imagined he might get the boy to call the dragon “Brother Clugh” to remind the dragon every time that Donogh was his brother and not to be eaten.  Brother Clugh, he thought.  Maybe the dragon could be an early Dominican.

R6 Greta: In the Middle of the Night

In the early hours before dawn, Greta got up and stripped out of her armor.  She washed herself thoroughly to get the dragon slobber off.  Mavis came instantly awake, of course, and could not help the whispered comment.

“I smell dragon.”

“Shut up and go back to sleep.”  Greta sent her armor back to Avalon, where it came from, and recalled her own dress and red cloak.  She laid down with her mind full of emotions.  She felt heartbroken for Enid and angry at Merlin.  She felt afraid for young Donogh and for her friends, but soon enough she went back to sleep, and slept well.  It had been a long day.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons.  Patrick does well, and Festuscato stays out of it, but they left a trail, and some are determined to catch up.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 2 of 3

“I heard you are the Dragon,” MacNeill spoke first.

“I was, but I have given that title to a man named Constantine.  He is now the Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall.  I am retired.  But tell me, aren’t you afraid the King of Leinster will get mad when he finds out you have made a place for Patrick?”

MacNeill and his roughs grinned.  “I hope so,” MacNeill said.  “I hope this sticks in his craw and he chokes on it.”

Festuscato glimpsed the political workings and slipped his arm around MacNeill’s shoulder.  “Buy you a drink?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” MacNeill responded, and they all went in to an early, liquid supper.

The Fathers Gaius and Seamus caught up with them in the tavern, and after Gaius finished scolding Festuscato for his drinking, the Fathers joined them, with Gaius instructing the cleric Seamus throughout supper.  “We have to give leeway for Lord Agitus.  His is a life not like any others with many great and grave responsibilities that we cannot imagine.  You need to pray for him every day.”

“The jury is still deliberating,” Bran interrupted, and took a long swig of his beer.

“Like whether he is an angel or demon,” Dibs added with a wink.

“If only it were that easy,” Festuscato said. “Alas, I am utterly human this time around so nothing is easy or obvious.”

“Praying for him twice a day would not hurt,” Gaius added to the bewilderment of Seamus and the confusion of the Irish.  There followed silence for a second before all eyes got drawn to the end of the table.

“Milk?” Mousden groused, but Mirowen insisted it was good for him.  The men laughed, but Mousden, looking like a stubborn nine-year-old, knocked the glass and sent the milk flying.  No one got wet, thanks to Mirowen’s quick magic, but then no one especially noticed the magic.

Mirowen pulled out her handkerchief and began to clean Mousden’s mouth.  Dibs squinted as he remembered how that could hurt.  Mousden looked at Festuscato with pleading in his eyes, but Festuscato would not have it. “Go to your room,” he said in his most gruff tone, but Mousden determined to be rebellious.  He took his natural pixie form right in front of everyone, and the Irish at least shoved back and stood, prepared to run.

“I mean it.  Nap time.”  Festuscato pointed his finger at the pixie, and Mousden let out a wail and frightening shriek before he flew for the stairs.  Dibs put a finger in his ear.  Bran took another long swig of his beer, and Gaius held Seamus to his seat while Mirowen apologized.

“He is still adjusting to living in daylight hours. He still naps and is up some at night, but he is usually better behaved.”  She bowed to everyone and headed for the stairs.  Every eye in the room followed her, and Festuscato thought Mirowen could not help it.  The glamour that made her appear human did not disguise her beauty, and only made it worse in some ways.

“Come.  Sit.” Festuscato encouraged the Irish and they sat but looked wary.

“You will be staying here for a time?” MacNeill asked in a way that suggested he would not mind if Festuscato sailed off with Captain Breok.

“Yes, Lord MacNeill.”  Festuscato disappointed his host.  “There was a woman, Keela, the daughter of the tavern master in Wicklow. Three of Sean Fen’s men caught her out back and planned to rape her.”

“What happened?” MacNeill asked, curious enough.

“I killed all three,” Festuscato said, owning the work of Mirowen and her arrows.  “Now I have to be sure he does not follow and blame Patrick in any way.”

“Oh, Lord,” Seamus spoke up like a man who suddenly remembered his errand.  “I came to tell you, I was with the King when word of the Bishop came to him.  He got angry at first, thinking Palladius returned, but he did not act much better when he found out it was a different Priest. He said, “Are these men like ants where every time I squish one another takes his place?”  I was gaining a hearing with the King’s wife and son, but when he had time to consider the matter, he ordered me out of his kingdom. That very morning, I went to pack my few things and planned to say my good-byes by early afternoon, but I steered clear of the King because Sean Fen the pirate and his mate had come to the King’s table.  It was not long on that day, and I was not yet out of the town, when a rider brought word of Sean Fen’s losses.  I don’t know how the King took it, but be assured Sean Fen fell into a rage and would not be calmed down.”

“Great, you see?  I allowed Sean Fen to keep his head at Caerdyf, and this is the thanks I get.” Festuscato sipped his wine and made a face.  It was not very good wine.  “Looks like I may have to kill him after all.”  One of MacNeill’s roughs looked like he thought that might not be so easy, though the other looked like he was not sure he believed the story about killing three men. MacNeill looked like a man stymied, not knowing what to believe or do, but then the tavern keeper stepped up to the table, and Festuscato wondered which of his little ones put the man up to it, because only they were able to time things so perfectly.

“Lord Agitus,” the man said in a humble tone, and he knew exactly who Festuscato was.  “My name is Hugh and my wife is Clary and my son Donogh is a fine boy of twelve years, and we want to thank you for what you did for my niece Keela, down in Wicklow.  I heard the true story and how you saved her from a terrible fate, and I think I want to give you back the money you paid for rooms and to stay here.”

“Don’t you dare give me any money back,” Festuscato interrupted.  “A man is worthy of his rent, and I would be insulted to live off your good will.” Festuscato grabbed two more gold coins from his pocket.  “In fact, you and your family will also be under my protection, should it come to that. Here, for your trouble, because I will be staying for some time and I may have some strange or unusual visitors while I am here, so just be a good host and everything will be well.”  He handed the man the coins and the man smiled and went off to fetch another round of drinks.

“Generous,” MacNeill said, having eyed the gold.

“It’s only money,” Festuscato said.  “Life is much more precious, and I pray I don’t have to kill Sean Fen or any more of his men.”  He lifted his glass in a toast.  “Here is to the Amorican, British, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Saxons, Picts, Scots, Angles, Jutes, Galls, Danes, Goths, Franks and Romans.  May we all learn to live in peace.”

Everyone drank to that, and Gaius and Seamus added, “Amen.”

###

It did not take three days before young Donogh prevailed upon Festuscato to come into the swamps just south of town.  Bran and Dibs said they were up for an adventure, being tired of the tavern life after the last time.  Seamus, the cleric turned out to be a scribe, a bit of an artist, a writer and poet.  Being able to read and write explained why he had been employed by the King of Leinster. But he said he always wanted to have an adventure so he could have something worth writing about. Festuscato chuckled at the thought, knowing the way his lives went.

“Good luck with that,” Festuscato said, but the mystery Donogh presented at least sounded intriguing.  Donogh said he had a special friend named Clugh who lived in the swamp.  That was all he said.  They would just have to come and meet him.

The land proved to be all inhospitable muck and ferns, with occasional bits of rock that appeared here and there like strange weeds or bushes in the way.  Festuscato could not imagine what geological upheaval might have shoved the rock up from below.  Then again, he thought the boulders might have been dropped off in the last ice age. He wondered if any of his other lifetimes knew anything about geological formations.  Anywhere else in the world and he would have kept one eye open for serpents, but Ireland remained a place where the only serpents grew in the shape of a man.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Donogh called for his friend like a boy might call for a lost dog. “Clugh.”

They came to a particularly large outcropping of rocks, a kind of stack of boulders that left spaces in and though the various rocks. The spaces around the boulders were enough for several trees to grow up in between the stones.  Festuscato jumped back when he saw Clugh’s head.  It looked as big as Festuscato’s head, and the body looked seriously serpent-like, about fifteen to eighteen feet long, and the nostrils were smoking. Bran froze where he stood.  Dibs looked like he wanted to run away, but he did not dare.  Seamus fell to his knees in the muck and appeared to pray.

“Come on, Clugh.  I want you to meet my friends.” Donogh appeared fearless, but it obviously came from ignorance.  He put his twelve-year-old hand right up to the dragon’s head and patted down the feathers. He had no idea about serpents, and less so about dragons.  No telling what sort of beast Donogh thought Clugh was.

“Friends,” Festuscato spouted in the Agdaline tongue, the language bred into dragons millennia ago.  All dragons were designed to obey the right words, and the clever things did when they were young.  Of course, when they got older, they got grumpy and stubborn, and sometimes became pretty slow in the obedience department.  “Brothers,” Festuscato changed the word when he looked to see that Donogh was all right.  “Brothers, family.”  He added the word when he realized this one seemed quite young, to still be sporting so many feathers.  “Family. Brothers.”

“Family,” Clugh mouthed in response to the words. It pulled from the rocks and took long whiffs of those present to be sure to identify these as family.

“Brothers,” Festuscato repeated and he dared to add, “Pet.” He reached out despite his better judgment and stroked the beast on the neck beneath the head.

“Pet,” Clugh said.  He seemed to like that.

“Isn’t he great?” Donogh said, excited.

“Great,” Bran managed the word as Clugh currently sniffed Seamus who had his eyes shut as tight as possible and appeared to be shivering.

“Clugh?” Dibs asked.

“Glewg” the dragon said.

“It means hurt in Dragonspeak,” Festuscato told them, and he took a moment to examine the beast.  It had a broken wing.  It could not fly, which was why it had taken up residence among the swamp rocks. The boy had some fresh beef in his pack and he laid it out on the rocks.  Obviously, the boy found the injured beast and made friends by bringing it food, generally a dangerous idea.  If Clugh had been bigger and older, at some point the dragon might have decided the small offering was not enough and eaten Donogh for desert.

“Clugh is a dragon,” Festuscato spoke plainly. “But a youngster, not yet a hundred years old I would guess.”

Donogh pulled his hand back which showed he had no idea what kind of animal Clugh was.  Bran and Dibs hardly flinched on the word dragon, but Seamus got back to his feet.  He just made sure the big Roman Sergeant and the bigger Bran the Sword stayed between him and the bulk of the beast.