“And how do you know what Attila will do?” Gaius asked the obvious question.
“We just spent the last eight or nine years mostly in the empire of the Hun. We saw more cowed people than you can count. Maybe we did not deal much directly with the Huns, but we heard all the stories.”
“Paper,” Felix came to the table, having stepped away for a moment. He set paper, a jar of ink and several quills on the table. “My wife keeps the accounts and keeps a supply handy.”
“Luckless,” Festuscato held his hand out to the dwarf. “Four pieces if you don’t mind.”
Luckless grumbled as he pulled four gold coins out of his vest pocket. “Not much left, you know.”
Festuscato nodded and handed them to Felix. “One for the rooms, one for the food, one for the care and feeding of the horses, and one for your wife, for the paper and ink, and maybe you buy her something.” No doubt, it was more gold than Felix had seen in a long time.
Festuscato took the paper and ink to a separate table, one with the afternoon light, and he spent the afternoon writing letters. Father Gaius helped some with the more diplomatic parts. He went to bed tired but woke up early and wrote some more. Then he sealed the letters and finally coaxed Tulip down from the rafters.
“Yes Lord, I understand, but we are closest here to the coastal fairies and I do not know who they might be,” she said.
Festuscato risked a migraine by reaching his thoughts out to the coast. He caught a few names and was pleased with what he found. “Treeborn and Goldenrod,” he called, and with a look at Tulip, he added, “And the son, Waterborn.”
Three fairies appeared on the table. It was still early enough in the day, so it caused no stir among the patrons. Treeborn looked old and seemed to be having trouble figuring out what just happened, but Goldenrod, his wife figured it out readily enough and turned him to Festuscato. She curtsied. Treeborn squinted at him. Waterborn did nothing since his eyes were occupied with Tulip. That was fine, because she just stared right back at him.
“Forgive me. I should have changed first,” Festuscato smiled and went away so Greta could take his place. “It is good to see you again,” she said. “But when did you leave the lake of gold on the Dnieper?” Goldenrod gave another curtsey and this time Treeborn seemed to recognize her. He gave a slight bow before he answered.
“When the Goths came south and slaughtered so many as they pushed through Dacia, all the way to the Danube. They built a settlement on the lake, and we went nomad, always moving to the northwest, until at last we found a place along the coast and among the Frisians.”
“Father?” Waterborn looked over and Tulip offered a curtsey of her own as they took a break from their staring contest.
“I see you have grown,” Greta said with a smile. In her day, he had hardly been a child of fifty. Now he had to be near three hundred. “Are you ready for another adventure and another battle?”
“Yes, Lady.” Waterborn finally offered a bow. “But I heard you had passed on.”
“I did. This is not my life. It belongs to Lord Festuscato Cassius Agitus, and he has some very important letters to be delivered. I need a dozen volunteers. Time is not of the essence, but time is fleeting, might you ask—”
“I know just the crew,” Treeborn shouted.
“Here,” Greta said in the right way, tapped the table, and closer to twenty fairies appeared as Waterborn frowned.
“Father!” Waterborn complained with the word, and Greta caught a glimpse that these were his friends and Treeborn thought of them as lazy lay-abouts.
“The lady has messages to carry, letters to be exact, and she needs volunteers to carry them.” Treeborn rubbed his hands together, while Goldenrod had a practical thought.
“Perhaps you should go in teams of two. You can pair up.”
“Where do you want them sent?” Treeborn already reached the next step.
“Only if you are willing,” Greta insisted, and she waited until she heard from them all. Then she prepared to tell them about the letters and about delivering them in private and not being caught, but to give also a verbal message to help underline the letter, but they got interrupted. A dozen Franks came in with swords drawn.
“Where is the Roman?” one man asked while Greta raised her voice.
“Bran and Gregor, don’t you dare resist. It is just my escort to my winter quarters, that’s all, so put your weapons back where they belong.” Fortunately, the Franks paused on seeing the fairy troop, so no one got hurt. One of the Franks ran back outside. He looked scared half to death. But a young man of about fourteen or fifteen years came right up to the table to watch. Greta looked and guessed.
“Childeric?” The young man nodded while Greta went right back to instructing the fairies about the letters. “I’ll be with you in a minute,” Greta said, and she saved Merovech’s letter for last. “This one is for your father,” she said. “He must be prepared to evacuate Tournai as soon as the Huns show their ugly faces.”
“The Huns work for the Romans,” Childeric said. “The Romans killed my grandfather, Clodio when I was twelve.”
“No, dear,” Greta said, and she raised her voice loud enough to be heard by all the Franks who were standing around the inn by then, thinking about getting a tankard of ale. “The Huns killed your grandfather, and now we have good information that they are going to rebel and start killing Romans. They want to take over Gaul. You might not like the Romans, but they are better than having Huns in charge.”
“At the risk of sounding like a Christian,” Gregor spoke up and winked at Father Gaius. “I say Amen to that.”
Greta turned back to the fairies. With the last letter gone, Tulip and Waterborn and three of Waterborn’s friends remained. Treeborn and Goldenrod also remained, and Greta told the elderly couple how glad she was to see them again, and how happy she was that they found a good home, away from all the fighting around Dacia. “I hope we can keep the fighting away from you this time. Please, may I borrow Waterborn and his friends for a while?”
“By all means,” Goldenrod said sweetly.
“Please,” Treeborn said, but in a way where it seemed hard to tell if he meant a polite be my guest or please get them out of my hair for a while.
“Now watch this,” Greta said, and Childeric leaned over to watch. Greta clapped her hands and Treeborn and Goldenrod vanished. They would reappear back in their home on the Frisian coast.
“How did you do that?” Childeric looked impressed, and vocal at fourteen.
Greta smiled and placed a gentle hand on the boy’s cheek. “A secret,” she said in a conspiratorial voice which only intrigued the boy all the more. She turned once again to the fairies and looked them over. Waterborn’s remaining friends were two younger boys, Clover and Ironwood, and a girl named Heather who looked so young. She just recently turned over a hundred-years-old and thus barely qualified as an adult.
“Now Tulip,” she said. “No more hiding in the rafters. You need to take your friends and introduce them to the others. Don’t forget to include Felix and Father Gaius, and Sergeant Dibs when he gets here. And be good to Luckless.”
“Yes, Lady,” Tulip said, and with some glee in her voice she grabbed Waterborn’s hand and dragged him over to meet Bran the Sword and Gregor one-eye.
“Now Childeric,” Greta turned and spoke up again to get the attention of the Franks. “I believe you came to arrest me.”
“No, not you,” Childeric said. “We were looking for the Roman, a man.”
“But that is me,” Greta said. She smiled again and went away so Festuscato could return in his comfortable clothes. Childeric shrieked. The two Franks who had taken seats to wait, jumped to their feet. The leader of this squad of men let out a bellow, like a buffalo driven off the cliff. Festuscato ignored them all and put his hands out. “I surrender,” he said.
The Franks escorted Festuscato to jail. It was a pleasant walk since none of the Franks dared touch him, and Gaius came along for company.
“There are enough Christians in town,” Gaius said. “I say mass every morning, extra early this morning in anticipation of finishing the letters. Merovech is accommodating, but I feel he just does not want to be on the wrong side of any gods.”
“Good.” Festuscato was not really listening. It took until they were almost there before Festuscato opened up and said what was on his mind. “I think we should have most of the winter for you to hear my confessions. Trouble is, everything indicates Attila will move in the coming year, but there is no telling how soon he will move.”
“Burn that bridge when you come to it, as you say,” Gaius quipped, and they arrived.
It looked like a jailhouse in the old American west. They even had an office out front, but through the big door at the back of the office sat a long room full of torture devices on the left and cells on the right where the prisoners could look out on the torture devices and think about it. The jailer, a man named Horeburt, appeared as big, mean and ugly as one might expect. Not having the experience of the fairies in the tavern, Horeburt thought nothing of reaching out to roughly grab the prisoner. The chief Frank himself stayed the man’s hand.
“I don’t recommend you touch this one, at least not before Merovech gets back.”
“I’ll take the cell on the end here,” Festuscato pointed. He had looked and this one was the cleanest and had a small, barred window through which Tulip could visit.
Horeburt got the key and the Franks stayed long enough to see Festuscato securely locked in. Gaius left when Festuscato assured him he would be comfortable. Then Horeburt got a chair. There were three other men in three other cells, but Horeburt only seemed curious about the Roman. He set his chair outside the bars that made up the door to the cell and he watched as several fairies fluttered in the window carrying a fine lunch. They set it on the small table in the cell, and carried on a conversation, which Horeburt recognized as Latin even if his Latin was not good enough to know what they were saying.
The fairies went away while the prisoner ate, but returned soon enough with fresh straw for bedding, several blankets and a first-rate pillow. Festuscato looked through the bars and told Horeburt he was going to take a nap and would appreciate some privacy. Horeburt watched as a troll rose up right out of the ground inside the cell. The troll had another blanket which he draped over the bars to act like a real door and cut off Horeburt’s sight. Horeburt decided the chief Frank had been right. He never would have permitted another prisoner to cut himself off so he could not be seen, but in this case, Horeburt decided he did not want to see anymore. He looked down where his feet touched the ground, slowly stood and put the chair back where it belonged. He went out to the office room and sat in the big chair there, then he pulled his feet off the floor before he tried for his own nap.
Festuscato does what he can from jail all winter long, because he expects Attila and his Huns to move in the spring. Until Monday, Happy Reading