M3 Festuscato: Mother

Most knew something was up, but Festuscato had to stare down Mousden to keep his tongue quiet.  The Geats did not delay their departure, and as soon as they were gone, Gregor spoke first.

“What?” he asked.

Mirowen yanked her hand free and gave Festuscato a hard look.  She did not know why she could not have gone with the Geats.  She was virtually pledged to be their future queen.

“Not just yet,” Festuscato said, but he got interrupted by Mousden.

“Yea, what, what?”  Mousden squeaked.

“A werewolf cannot be killed by a simple stab through the heart.”  He reminded the ones who knew better and informed the others.  “I expect she will be along when the moon rises.”

“Oh.”  Mirowen lowered her eyes and accepted her place.  She would not desert her Lord when he might need her.  Mousden, however, was anything but happy with the news.

“Wait up!”  He shouted to the Geats, but Festuscato compelled him to stay.  “Not fair.”  He protested, and went high in the nearest tree to hide.  He wanted no part of monsters.

They waited, but not as long as before.  Soon enough, the moon came up, full enough for another night.  With that, the waters of the lake began to boil and Festuscato got out his bow.  Nameless, the old god of the north knocked on his consciousness from the time stream.  Festuscato shook his head.  As Gerraint had said in his own time, this was Festuscato’s life and Festuscato needed to live or die on his own.  He took one of the precious silver-tipped arrows from his quiver.  They were the gift of the goddess, long ago.  He set Bran to one side and Gregor to the other once it became clear where the beast would emerge.  Then they waited.

The hag came up out of the lake and stopped before them, just out of the water.  “You have a death wish.”  The hag’s grating voice sounded deep, and just barely under control.  “I will grant it, to the last drop of my son’s life,” it said.  Immediately, a serpent sprang from the water so Bran became forced to step back and defend himself.  Luckless ran to help.  At the same time, the hag slashed out at Gregor with remarkable speed.  Gregor’s spear shattered, and Gregor himself crashed against a tree to slump down, the wind utterly gone from him.

The hag paused to best consider how to tear the man apart, but the moment was all Mousden needed.  He landed on the back of the hag and both fore claws and hind claws dug deep into the fur and flesh.  The hag howled and flung its arms back, but it could not grab the pixie.

“Leave my friend alone,” Mousden screeched in the hag’s ear.  The hag arched its back. And by then it again faced the others and had stumbled a few steps from Gregor.

“Now, Mousden,” Festuscato shouted over the roar of the beast.  “Let go.”

“Clear.”  Mousden shouted back and Mirowen struck the beast with every ounce of fire she had.  The hag became instantly aflame, head to foot, and then Vingevourt put it out.

The hag paused, and then howled.  They could see it melt right before their eyes, but then something happened they only half expected.  The hag transformed to the wolf.

The werewolf snarled.  They heard the ravenous hunger and the bestial aspect, but they did not hear the mindless, madness that usually went with it.  In fact, the wolf understood something in that moment, and it spoke.  “You killed my son,” it said.

Festuscato decided the better part of valor was to live to fight again.  He surrendered, left that time and place altogether, and the Nameless god came to draw the bow.  Festuscato was good.  Mirowen was inhumanly good, but Nameless was mostly a god of war, and never known to miss.  He fired as the wolf leapt at his throat.  The wolf crashed into an invisible barrier the god had erected and collapsed to the dirt.  It changed back at last to the woman, and she looked curious.  How could this be?

“Silver tipped.”  Nameless told her, and she died at his feet.

As he did with the werewolf in the days when Greta trudged the forests of Dacia, Nameless caused a twenty-foot-deep hole to appear in the earth.  He made sure the woman and every drop of her infected blood went into that hole, and then he placed a boulder on top, effectively encasing her in stone so she could not be unsuspectingly dug up.  Last, he set dirt on top and caused two branches to hold together in a cross.

“I don’t know her name,” he admitted.

“Greta,” Mirowen said.

“How ironic.”  Nameless responded, and he caused Greta to be burned on the cross piece and set it up as a grave marker.

“And may God have mercy on her soul,” Bran said, as he joined them.  The serpents had gone again, but one had sunk into the deep with Luckless’ ax in its skull.

“Just my luck,” Luckless complained, and several smiled.

“And now, stay here.”   Nameless commanded, and no one argued as Nameless stepped about half-way up a small rise in the land.  He opened his mouth.

“Abraxas!”  It did not sound too loud at first, but the sound began to grow as it went out from that place, ever louder and in ever larger circles, like a pebble in a clear, calm pool.  The hall of Heorot shook, and men wondered.  The Jutes heard and reconsidered their planned invasion of Danish lands.  In Bavaria, the witches covered the ears of their children.  In the Crimea, the sound echoed off the waves of the Black Sea, and it reverberated through the Ural Mountains.  Among the Lapps, where men looked to the sky to see if the sky was falling.  And then Abraxas appeared, twenty feet further up at the top of the rise.

Dark haired, dark eyed Abraxas looked like a young man almost too lean for words.  He stared at the one who called him and would have spit and left if he could.  All he could do was spit; but it not only did not touch Nameless, some of it got caught in Abraxas’ goatee.

“Who are you?”  The words had an eerie echo to them, and the others were glad they got left behind.

“Who are you to trifle in the halls of Aesgard and Vanheim after the dissolution?”  Nameless asked in return.

“I have every right to be here,” Abraxas insisted.  “All of Europe is mine for the taking.”

Nameless took a few steps closer and Abraxas stepped back.  “I am the god now.”  Abraxas puffed out his slender chest.  “I rule over good and evil, over light and dark, over fire and water, and soon enough I will rule over the earth.”

“Your father?”  Nameless asked and guessed.

“Janus,” Abraxas said.

“The two-faced fool.”  Nameless insulted the God.  “So that gives you good and evil?”

“Yes.”  Abraxas yelled.

“When does the good start?”  Nameless wondered out loud.

“You will see,” he said.  “When I rule in the place of the old gods, the people will see how beneficent I can be.”

“But meanwhile, you need to break a few eggs to make that omelet,” Nameless said.  Abraxas nodded slowly.  “I killed your son.”  Nameless took a couple of steps closer.  Abraxas did take one step back, but that put him near the edge.  By taking the higher ground he gave himself nowhere to run.

“I am better rid of that dim-witted boy.”  Abraxas spat again, but the spittle stayed on his chin.  He got hemmed in, and he knew it.

“I killed your bitch.”  Nameless said, referring to the wolf.

“I am grateful.”  Abraxas smiled and tried to change tactics.  “She had become very tiresome.”

“Your son said you could have cured her.”  Nameless took another step.

Abraxas tried to brush it off with a laugh.  “Why would I cure her?  I infected her to force her to bring the boy to the city.  I had high hopes on creating chaos there.”

“All you created was death,” Nameless said.  He was only a few steps away.  “What right have you to trifle with the halls of Aesgard and Vanheim?”  He repeated his question.

“Every right.”  Abraxas said too loudly.  “My mother Morrigu was of the North and the Danna.  Who are you?”  He repeated his question.  “The gods are all gone.  You should not be here.”

“Morrigu.”  Nameless understood.  She was the daughter of his own father, Tyr of the One Hand and her mother was the greater spirit of battle.  Morrigu gave birth to the daughters of fury among the Tuatha de Danna, but when Danna’s own son, Nuadan died, she must have had a last fling before the dissolution.  That made Abraxas only a seven-eighths God and one eighth greater spirit.  It also made Abraxas his nephew.

“Who are you?”  Abraxas screamed at him as Nameless took one more step.

“Nameless,” he said.  “But you can call me Uncle.”

Abraxas’ eyes got big.  “But you should not be here.  The gods have all gone over to the other side.”

Nameless shook his head.  “But as the last of both Aesgard and Vanheim, I have decided you cannot make hags in every place you touch.  This world does not need to be torn apart by fear, blood and death.  You need to consider the goodness that did exist in your father Janus, and the nobility that was your grandfather, Tyr, who was also my father.  Therefore, I will let you continue for a time.  But I exile you.  You may no longer enter the land that was of Aesgard.  To do so will be instant dissolution, which is death.”

“You cannot do this,” Abraxas protested.

“I can, and it is done,” Nameless said, and Abraxas faded from sight, protest still echoing from his lips.

Nameless turned to walk back to the others, and as he did, he went home and let Festuscato return to his rightful time and place.  “Everyone deserves a chance at redemption,” he explained when he reached the others.

“I see slim hope for that one,” Gregor said and put his hand to his head.

“You have got to stop blocking monster blows with your head,” Mousden scolded him.

Bran, Mirowen, Luckless and Vingevourt all laughed, briefly, but Festuscato spoke softly, other things on his mind.  “Let us go to Heorot,” he said, and turned to Mirowen.  He added, “I am going to miss you.”  Mirowen began to cry, because she was happy, and because she would miss him, too.

 

 

M3 Festuscato: Chasing the Tale, part 2 of 2

“Oh, okay.”  Festuscato said.  One wave of his hand and the glamour fell from all present.  Mirowen’s points turned a little red from the way Beowulf looked at her and smiled.  Luckless looked around, worried about who might be watching.  Mousden fluttered up to Beowulf’s face and reached out to touch the man’s eyes.  He was not about to go down into that water or anywhere near the werewolf if he could help it.  Hrugen watched his father’s response.  To his surprise, Unferth did not blink.

“I’ve seen it all,” Unferth said.  “And more.  You would be surprised what drink can show you.”

Festuscato took that moment to speak what had been pressing on his mind.  “Remember, a hag can still think, intelligently.  This one may be able to do so even in wolf form.”  He meant it as a warning not to count on blind rage from the beast should the wolf attack.  Beowulf nodded that he understood, and then he had to think about it.

Beowulf blinked from Mousden’s work when Festuscato moved on.  “Luckless.”  He turned to the dwarf, having already discussed things with him.

“Yes,” Luckless said, and pulled something out of a bag which he did not seem to have in his hands moments ago.  “My Uncle made this.  It is sort of a family heirloom, so I hope you will take good care of it.”  Beowulf nodded.  It appeared to be a coat of the finest chain mail.

“Will it fit?”  Hrugen asked.

Luckless nodded.  “Like my Lord’s armor.  It always fits.”

Beowulf put it on without questioning.  It had been wonderfully made, and clearly the product of a master dwarf, the craftsman’s skill at its best.  “This is marvelous,” Beowulf said.  “Thank your Uncle.”

“Alas, Uncle Weland is dead.”  Luckless sighed.

“The chain of Weland.”  Unferth recognized the name.  He reached out and touched it, even as Mirowen translated into Geat and Beowulf shouted.

“The chain of Weland!”

Any number of Geats came over at that, though most kept their distance on seeing the dwarf and the elves.  Bran and Gregor nodded and waved from the lakeside, but Wulfgar was attracted to the shout, as was the king, and Seamus followed after.

“The chain of Weland,” Unferth said for the Danes.  They looked impressed, but Mirowen looked at Festuscato.  She considered the sword at his back, but he shook his head and she knew better than to ask.  Instead, Mirowen took her scarf and tied it around Beowulf’s arm.  He took her hand and spoke softly.

“I’ll be back,” he said, but Festuscato did not think he said it with the right Austrian accent.

“Here,” Unferth interrupted.  “Take my sword.  Its name is Hrunting.  It served me well in many battles and broke many swords.  May it serve you with equal strength.”  Hrugen looked surprised at the gesture.  Beowulf looked grateful.

“My thanks Unferth, son of Ecglaf,” he said.  He checked the time by the sun.  “I better go before the time passes by.”  He surprised Mirowen with a kiss before he turned his back on everyone and walked straight into the water.  He walked, until his head went under and he became lost from sight.

“How about you, Roman.  Does your sword have a name?”  Unferth asked as a jibe.  He just could not help being negative and wanting a chance to degrade others.

“Kismet.”  Festuscato nodded.  When Unferth wrinkled his brow, he tried, “Morae?”

“Wyrd.”  Bran, Gregor and Hrugen spoke in unison.  They gave the Norwegian name by which the sword was known in those parts.

“The sword of fate?”  Unferth said, hardly believing it.

“The sword of the gods?”  King Hrothgar said, half believing it.

Wulfgar stepped up to examine Festuscato’s armor more closely, but by then Festuscato had his arm around Mirowen and started leading her apart to a stone where they could sit, and wait.

“One of them,” Gregor said, as Bran stepped between Wulfgar and Lord Agitus to give him and Mirowen some privacy.  Wulfgar did not press.

“Now we wait.”  King Hrothgar voiced the sentiment.  And they did.  Some men took the horses back from the smell of the dead lake to where they could be safely tied.  Others paced.  Some occasionally fingered their swords as they kept an eye on the water for snakes or whatever else might emerge, and hoped against hope to see Beowulf again.

“Brave man.”  That was all Bran said in all of those hours.

“Aye.”  That was all the usually verbal Gregor added.

Mousden fretted by flying between two trees, like a bird that could not find a comfortable perch while Vingevourt sat and made a puddle, waiting, and shook his head at the bad water.  Mirowen was beside herself, but Festuscato held her and gave her what courage he had.  Luckless produced a leg of beef as big as his arm, but even he only nibbled at the shank.

“What is happening?”  Wulfgar asked out loud several times.

“Cannot be good,” King Hrothgar said at last.  About an hour before dark, he decided that Beowulf must have failed.  They saw no sign of life or movement across all the slick surface of the lake.  “We go home,” the king announced.  He eyed the sun.  The habit of being in and safe by dark remained too strong in the old man’s mind.  Of course, the Geats stayed, and Festuscato and his crew, but the Danes got ready to leave.

“We’ll catch up,” Festuscato told the king, and the king nodded.  Festuscato appreciated the fact that the king did not say it was hopeless, however strongly the king may have felt that way.  Mirowen was a wreck, and that might have pushed her too far.

“You are a strange one, Roman.”  The king said, Wulfgar beside him.  “For what it is worth, my wife guessed, you know.”  He waved at the little ones and turned and left, the Danes following.

At sundown, the Geats lost hope.  They were ready to turn toward home, the first riders ready to set out, when the surface of the lake came alive.

“What is it?”  Mousden shrieked and headed toward a higher branch.

“The serpents return at dark?”  Gregor asked.

Mirowen had her sharp eyes trained on the spot.  “It’s Beowulf!” she shouted.  “It’s him,” she said to Festuscato and the Geats.  The last two Geats came back, and a third went to fetch the others.  “It’s him!”  Mirowen shouted once more.

Bran stayed ready, wading as far into the deep as he could.  He grabbed Beowulf by the arm and pulled, but something seemed very heavy.  Beowulf clearly appeared too worn to speak.  Gregor jumped in after Bran, and then the two Geats joined them.  When they finally got Beowulf ashore so Mirowen could jump him, they found the head of the Grendel clutched firmly in his grasp.

“I found a sword of old, such as the frost giants used,” Beowulf said at last, when Mirowen let him breathe.

“Tell me.”  Seamus stood right there.

“Later.”  Festuscato suggested, but nobody listened as Beowulf went into a long story about his struggle, the breaking of Hrunting, and finally piercing the heart of the Wolf-hag, as he called it.  He told about the long struggle to get there and the struggle to return, but Festuscato wondered if the wolf had really died.

“It is dark,” Festuscato said at last.  “Seamus, go with Beowulf.  You will hear the story better when you have your paper in hand.”

“True, true.”  Seamus agreed, while Festuscato grabbed Mirowen’s hand.

“You two.”  He spoke to two of the Geats.  “Get that head up to carry.  A present for Hrothgar.”

“My thinking.”  Beowulf said and smiled at Mirowen.

“We will follow,” Festuscato said, and stepped between the lovers.  “We have much to discuss.”

Beowulf looked taken back for a moment, but he nodded.  “I will await your pleasure in the hall of Heorot.”  He snapped orders to his men and got his mounts, Seamus with him.

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

MONDAY

The final chapter…Mother.  Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Festuscato: Love Revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I could scream,” Mirowen said.

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

“Oh!  You’re impossible,” she pouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 1 of 3

It took a great deal of convincing to get Mousden to go up to his night watch on the roof of the hall.  Good thing he went, because he popped in about two hours before sunrise with great news.

“A sail,” he said.  “Struggling hard against the wind, but the ship is coming on fast in spite of the struggle.  It should be here by noon.”

Festuscato woke enough to recognize that Mousden was speaking.  He got up to get dressed, and Hilde woke enough to imagine a bat.  She shrieked and pulled the covers over her head.

Mirowen did not sleep at all.  She could not imagine sleeping after their encounter with the Grendel.  “You amaze me.”  She shook her head.  “Shall we wake the king?”

Festuscato had intended that, but now he thought to let the old man sleep.  “We can catch him at breakfast,” he said, and they got out the chess set, a game which Mirowen usually won.

Breakfast came and went without the king.  Mirowen and Seamus were inclined to worry, lest something happened to the old man in the night.  Festuscato told them to keep their places, and soon enough he became able to distract their attention as the others showed up.

“And where have you been?”  Festuscato asked, generally, as Bran and Gregor came from opposite directions.

“Snoring wonderfully.”  Gregor admitted with a satisfied smile.  Bran shot him a look.

“I’ve been searching for the one with the missing finger.”  Bran admitted.  He shook his head.  Apparently, he had no luck.

“I looked myself,” Festuscato admitted.  “All digits present and accounted for.”

Luckless spoke up.  “The only bandage I saw was around Ragnard’s finger.  The cook’s assistant.  But the poor fool burned it in the grease.  I saw the finger, all red and swollen.”

“So where does that leave us?”  Mirowen asked.

“Are you sure of your suspicions?”  Seamus asked at almost the same time.

“How else would the creature know of the new arrivals to the hall and which rooms were theirs?”  Gregor said, and lifted his one, uncovered eyebrow for emphasis.

“Ours.  Which rooms were ours,” Seamus corrected.

“So?”  Mirowen retook the conversation.  “Where does that leave us?”

“With a lizard’s tale,” Festuscato said.

Mirowen nodded and answered the unspoken question of the others.  “Cut off a lizard’s tail and it will grow back,” she said.

The king came in then, but after an hour it was still not convenient to get his attention.  Finally, Mousden, the boy came running in.  It turned about ten in the morning.

“They have landed,” Mousden whispered.  “Svergen is with them now.”

“Mirowen,” Festuscato said as he stood, and she stood and went immediately to her post.  Bran of the bandaged hand and Gregor of the bandaged head followed Festuscato to the little room on the side where they once found Unferth.  Seamus, Luckless and Mousden held the table, though Mousden took a moment to lay his head down.

After making sure the little room remained empty and secure, Festuscato went to wait with Mirowen by the gate to the hall.  He found Svergen there and the Geats had already come up from the shore.  Vingevourt came with them, and it explained how their ship could come on so fast against the wind.  Mirowen had already separated out the young Beowulf, and they were talking quietly, a few steps apart from the others.  Festuscato thought he had better move fast if he was going to catch Beowulf before they went into the hall.  He paused only to acknowledge the water sprite.

“Vingevourt,” he said.  “I am glad you have come back to join us in this adventure.”

“I may be small,” Vingevourt confessed.  “But my Lord can count on me to contribute everything I have.”  Vingevourt bowed low, and that got Beowulf’s attention, along with the eyes of several of the Geats.

“Svergen,” Festuscato spoke up, which stopped the man at the door.  Mirowen dutifully translated his words.  “Before you fetch Wulfgar, for the king’s sake, allow me a few moments alone with young Beowulf.”

Svergen paused.  The Roman had no standing, being himself just a guest.  Clearly, Svergen had a distrust of outsiders, but then these Geats were outsiders as well.  He spent a moment considering the request and staring at the water sprite.  “For the king’s sake,” he said at last and went into the hall.

“Beowulf.”  Mirowen spoke.  “My Lord, Festuscato of whom I spoke.”  Mirowen made the introduction, but before she could translate, Festuscato interrupted.

“This way,” he said, and they followed him to the room while Mirowen furiously tried to explain something along the way.

The room was across a walkway, so not in the hall, proper.  It served as a storage room of some kind, but big enough for their purposes.  Gregor and Bran stood outside and gave the all clear to show the room remained empty.  When they went in, Beowulf became vocal.

“What is this about?”  Mirowen translated, hardly giving the full translation of all Beowulf said.

“How is the young man’s wrestling skills?”  Festuscato asked.

“What need have I for wrestling?”  Beowulf asked.  He paused to look at Festuscato who dressed in a comfortable tunic and hardly appeared a threat.  “I have heard you Romans enjoy that sport, but my steel speaks for me.”

Festuscato and Mirowen both shook their heads.  “The creature cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man,” Mirowen explained.

Beowulf paused while Festuscato looked him over.  This was not the giant he had expected.  Beowulf stood shorter than Bran, and not much taller than Festuscato himself, but he looked very broad in the shoulders and clearly strong.  He looked like a lead cannonball, and probably as strong, though of course, cannons had not yet been invented.

“Turn around,” Festuscato instructed.  “And lift your arms a little.”  Beowulf did this as Mirowen explained, though the look on his face seemed wary.  “This is called a Full Nelson,” Festuscato said, and he slipped the hold on the man and barely got his fingers locked before the violent reaction.

Beowulf almost broke free at the start when he tried to lower his arms, but Festuscato wrapped his legs around his opponent and leaned in for more leverage.

“Don’t hurt him,” Mirowen cried, even as Beowulf tried to ram Festuscato against the wall.

“Not likely.”  Festuscato said as he gave a little more lean into the hold.  He felt afraid to put too much into it, for fear of hurting the man’s neck or dislocating one or both of the man’s shoulders.

“Wait.  Wait,” Mirowen said, and got in front of Beowulf so he could hardly move without hurting her.  He paused, and with that, Festuscato let go and ducked, just in case.

“My gift,” he said quickly and showed how his hands had been locked behind Beowulf’s neck.

“A gift,” Mirowen said to Beowulf who rubbed his neck and shoulders back to life.  He paused to smile for her before he left without another word.

“Nice battle,” Bran said, as they exited the door.

“Better you than me,” Gregor said with a grin.

“My arms feel broken,” Festuscato confessed.

“You could have hurt him,” Mirowen scolded, and Festuscato took her scolding to heart.  He heard something in her words which she did not recognize in herself.  All he thought was it was bound to happen, someday.

Back in their seats, one extra seat provided for perpetual to drip on, as Gregor put it, and they watched the Geats parade in.  Beowulf and his fourteen warriors did make an impressive band even in that great and glistening hall.

M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 1 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is what?”  Festuscato asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A hag?”  Seamus asked.

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

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

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

“So it is a hag.”  Mirowen nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Except Unferth,” Seamus said

“Hrugen’s father?”  Festuscato asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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