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 3 of 3

The trail turned out to be easy enough.  Festuscato thanked the goddess Diana, the huntress, all the same, for blessing his reflection with the hunter’s spirit.  It was a gift which reflected in him sufficiently so he never doubted the trail for a moment.

Deep in the woods, after nearly three hours, they caught up with the beast.  Even as the sun began to redden the Eastern horizon, they knew who it was.  Ragnard, the cook’s assistant had a stump for an arm where his arm slowly started growing back.

“Why?”  Festuscato asked the obvious question, while he and the others dismounted from their skittish animals. Bran already had his sword in both hands to support his strained wrist and Gregor clutched his spear.  Mirowen came up to stand beside Festuscato, but Mousden kept his distance while Vingevourt made an off-handed comment.

“Lake near here.”  He sniffed the air and muttered.  “Bad water.”

“My mother.”  Ragnard sniffed tears and shouted.

“What about her?”  Mirowen asked.

“She did not raise a thrall.”  Ragnard spat.  “I am better than any of them.  I showed them.”  His voice trailed off for a moment but the others kept silent so he started up again.  “She caught the wolf disease.  My father would not help her, so she took me to Heorot to be raised and trained as a warrior.  But they called me fatherless.  An orphan, they said, though some of them knew my mother well enough from the old days.  I showed them.”

“Your mother took you to the king.  Why did she not stay and fight for your rights?”  Mirowen felt confused.

“She caught the wolf disease!”  Ragnard yelled at her.  The anger rose up in his face.

“Werewolf,” Festuscato said, quietly.

“She did not want to hurt me.”  Ragnard went on.  “She did not know that I would change.  That was because of my father.”

“And who was your father?”  Festuscato asked, having a suspicion.

“Abraxas.”  Ragnard growled, and he began to grow and change into the beast right before their eyes.  “And now I must kill you.”

“Behind me.”  Festuscato shouted and pulled Wyrd with one hand while he pushed Mirowen behind him with the other.  The beast paused.

“This will cut more than fingers,” Festuscato said sharply.

The beast howled and took one step forward when Mirowen burst free of Festuscato’s grip and screamed at the beast.

“No!”  Her hands came up and the eldritch fire of old burst from her fingertips and set the hair covered Grendel instantly to flame.  The beast howled in surprise, but only for a moment before it began to grow even larger, nine feet, perhaps ten, and its’ missing arm began to grow back at an alarming rate.

“Its’ making him stronger,” Bran breathed, as indeed it appeared that the fire of old resonated with some spiritual legacy from his father.

Grendel growled, lower, louder and more fiercely than ever as Vingevourt soaked him with water intended to douse the flame.  The shock of it caused the beast and everyone else to pause.  Then they saw.  The fire got extinguished, and something broke in the beast’s face.  The arm which had almost become whole, shriveled again to near human proportions, while the beast himself began to shrink, not as it had grown, but almost like the Wicked Witch of the West melting under the sting of mop water.

Grendel howled once more, but it sounded like a mournful, pain-filled and pitiful sound.  Somehow, the combination of fire that appeared to strengthen him, put out suddenly by the water, overloaded the legacy inside of him.  The fire and the water did not mix.  It ruined him.  The beast shrank to eight feet tall, or more nearly seven, and appeared to be decomposing from the inside-out.  The others could smell it.  It smelled like death.  In a last dash, the Grendel turned and ran to dive into the nearby lake with the word “Mother” ill sounded on its’ lips.  And it was gone.

“But is it dead?”  Gregor asked.

“Yes,” Festuscato nodded.  “This time I think it is sincerely dead.”

“Poor Ragnard,” Mirowen said, and Bran nodded; but Mousden fluttered down to scream.

“Poor Ragnard?  That beast could have killed us all!  I want to go back to my caves where I only have bats and trolls and creatures of the dark to worry about.”

“Too bad,” Gregor said to Mousden.  He still clutched his spear.  “I was up for a good fight.”

“What is wrong with you?”  Mousden turned on Gregor.  “That creature could have had us all for breakfast!”

“Actually.”  Gregor waved the pixie in close.  “To be honest, I nearly soiled myself.”

Mousden paused in shock.  Then he patted his friend on the back.  “I would have protected you,” he said.

“Speaking of breakfast.”  Luckless spoke up, but he got interrupted by Festuscato.

“For the record, none of us were here.  This did not happen.  I will cast no aspersion on Beowulf’s honor or bravery.”

The others looked at each other and one by one they nodded.  Gregor was the only one who spoke.  “You’re the leader of this crazy expedition.  If that’s how you want it, Lord Agitus, its’ all right with me.  Not much of a fight for the telling, however you slice it.”

With that, they mounted for the return journey, but Festuscato came close to Mirowen and asked.

“Will you go to him?”

“That was very kind of you to preserve his honor and glory.”

“That was preserving history,” he said without explanation.  “But will you go to him?”

“My heart says I must,” she said, softly.

“And his heart?”  Festuscato asked.  Mirowen said nothing but bit her lower lip, slightly, and nodded.  Festuscato knew it was too late to turn back.  “It was bound to happen someday,” he said to her smile.  “I will miss you,” he added.

“I don’t understand.”  The ever-present Bran spoke from behind them.  Festuscato looked back once and wondered why Patrick and the new Pendragon both insisted he take Bran to Rome.  Surely it would be to watch Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato shook his head and spoke offhandedly.

“You see the fields and the trees.  You see the rising sun and the clouds drifting across the early morning sky.  And this is all I see, when I look; but what you do not see is the life that pervades it all and sets all things in fluid motion.  The universe is alive, and God help humanity when it decides the universe is nothing more than dead matter and energy.  Of course, since the Days of Dissolution, the work of life is being directed by the Spirit of the Most-High, and directly rather than indirectly through fallible agents.”  Festuscato paused to touch himself.  “But the work continues without ceasing.  I, on the other hand, sometimes make small, little bits of the spiritual world manifest for my own selfish comfort and company along the way of my interminable days, life after life.  But there are always consequences.  Jennifer gave up her spirit to live a few years with Aden the Convert, though I understand she is pregnant.  But I should say, Aden, the father, hasn’t been born yet.  Is this helping?”

“Not in the least,” Gregor said with a laugh, having ridden up beside Bran.

“Well, now Mirowen is in love and there appears to be no stopping it.”  He looked at her.  “Nor would I stop it.”

Mirowen could not hold back her smile, though her eyes spoke of something unsaid.  “My Lord is too melancholy, as usual,” she said.  “We count it a great blessing to participate in the life of the Kairos, even if only for a short time.  I have been blessed beyond reason, having known my Lord since he was a little child.”

“She was a second mother,” Festuscato admitted to Gregor’s skeptical look.

“Older sister, perhaps,” Gregor suggested.

“Seven hundred years older,” Bran remembered.

“No, like a mother to this motherless child,” Festuscato insisted, and then he understood what was unsaid in Mirowen’s eyes.  “But my poor childhood will have to do.  I am sorry.”  He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not deny him, reaching out to briefly touch his.  “Even if you choose this human, you will remain barren unless the almighty himself should ordain otherwise.”

“Do not think that impossible,” Bran said, to encourage her.  But Mirowen also understood.  She and Beowulf would have no children to follow on the throne.  It would be the last days of the Geats.  She smiled her acceptance, but she could not refuse one tear which appeared golden in the morning sun as it dropped gently to the grass.

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

MONDAY

Love is revealed, but the fight with the Grendel is not over.  They have to see what mother will do.

*

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 2 of 3

“Ragnard!  Fetch table and chairs.”  Aschere ordered for the king whose eyes were all on Beowulf apart from shifting once or twice toward Festuscato.

“Hail great king!”  Beowulf began, and Seamus wrote furiously.  Bran watched and smiled while a flushed Mirowen translated.  Mousden slept.  Luckless licked his fingers.  Gregor mumbled.  “Now we might see some action.” And Festuscato interjected the occasional, “Here, here!”

“I knew you as a child, a mere babe in arms,” the king said and smiled with great love and hope.  Indeed, everything appeared to be going swimmingly until Unferth the drunk shuffled back his chair to stand.  Hrugen sat with his father at that point, but there was no stopping the old man from acting like the bitter old drunk that he was.

“Braggart’s words.”  He shouted to gain everyone’s attention.  “The way I heard the tale, you lost in a simple swimming match to Brecca.”

“That wasn’t the way of it,” Beowulf growled and fingered his sword, but resisted his inclinations for the sake of the king.  “You tell a drunkard’s tale.”  He returned the insult before he returned his eyes toward the king.  “True, Brecca came ashore first, but I could have beaten him if it was a race.  In truth, we were both young and headstrong and full of the vigor of youth, not likely to heed the words of our elders, and thinking we could conquer the world, just us alone.  We were far out to sea in the midst of a roil of whales when the storm came up suddenly, as such storms are wont to do.  In truth, Brecca got washed overboard and cried for help and I dove in to rescue him.  And I might have, if the cold and cruel spirit of the nor’easter had not come up with a big blow.  We were separated then, and I saw no more of him.

“Here, here!”  Festuscato said, and Beowulf took that moment of distraction to look around the room.  He had an audience and he was not slow to take advantage of that.  “There I was in the churning deep, surrounded by monsters and the water nearly frozen.  The waves were as high as Heorot, the hall of Hrothgar itself.  And there I was in my chain with my sword at my side, struggling hard just to keep clean air in my mouth when I felt a slithering beast grab hold of my leg as if to drag me to my doom.  Glad I was then of my chain as the beast wound itself around me to crush my life and drag me back to its’ bottomless lair.  By the sword, I slew it and breathed again.  And nine others I killed after that first until at last, the sea itself had enough and spewed me out upon the shore.”

Beowulf paused to look again in Unferth’s direction.  “I could have won a simple race, if we had raced.  But I have heard no such glory come from your lips.  If you were half a man, this Grendel beast would not haunt the hall of your king.”  He went back to fingering his sword, hoping Unferth would make the first move, but Hrugen managed to pull his father back to his seat without further words, and the king spoke into the silence.

“Pay no attention to Unferth and his loose and envious tongue.  I am glad of your coming.  It was foretold to me by.”  He paused to look down.  “I cannot say, but I am glad you are here.  Only, I must warn you.  Your steel may have proved well against the serpents of the deep but it will not avail you against the Grendel.  They say the beast cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man.  You must face this monster hand to hand.”  He shook his head while a voice spoke quietly in the hall.

“Hand to claw.”

Beowulf said nothing, but shot a sharp glance in Festuscato’s direction.  Festuscato stared back, dumbly, so Beowulf turned his gaze toward Mirowen.  He smiled and nodded slightly as if making a pledge to his lady.  Mirowen smiled a little in return, did her best not to fear for him, and covered her reddening ears at the same time.

“But for now.”  The king still spoke.  “Let us eat drink and be merry.”

“Here, here!”  Luckless said.

“For tomorrow we may die,” Festuscato finished the quote.

“Die?”  Mousden lifted his head, but Bran laid his big hand against the back of the Pixie’s head for reassurance, and Mousden drifted off to sleep again.

“Did you get all that, cleric?”  Gregor asked.  Seamus ignored him and continued to write.

“But will he kill the beast?”  Mirowen asked Festuscato quietly.

Festuscato shrugged.  “I don’t remember, exactly,” he said.  “I don’t think so.  Not entirely.  I seem to remember it goes strange.”  Mirowen put her hand on Festuscato’s arm.  She looked upset.  Festuscato reached down and patted her hand.  “But he will be all right.  At least I’m pretty sure.”

“The queen.”  The word went up as Wealtheow came in bearing a cup of mead. She smiled, went first to the Geats, and starting with Beowulf she offered a sip to each of their new guests, as was the custom.  One of her eyes, though, stayed on the king to be sure he took the medicine Ragnard brought.

The king sipped a little before he pushed Ragnard away and almost knocked him to the floor.  He looked up at the crowd.  “Roman,” he said.  “Have you a tale for us today?”  Heinrich the Bard always got the last telling.

“I do.”  Festuscato spoke up quickly.  “But better still, allow my Lady Mirowen to sing the tale of the young lovers.  Her voice is far more pleasant than mine.”  The men in the hall were quick to ascent, but Mirowen pulled back a bit.

“How could you!” she whispered, accusing, but Festuscato’s eyes appealed to the queen.  The queen responded.

“Mirowen, dear.  Come and sing it for me,” she said, assuming that Mirowen was shy in front of such a crowd of men.  Little did she know, only one man made Mirowen shy.   “Say we two are in my room alone.  Come sing for me.”  The queen requested.  Mirowen growled at Festuscato, but now she felt trapped.  Festuscato merely smiled, knowing full well the one to whom she would be singing of young lovers.  So what if Mirowen was nearly seven hundred years old?  She was an elf, albeit disguised; but elves were always young lovers, when they were in love.

As it turned out, the song got so well sung, and with hardly a touch of magic, the men merely smiled when she finished, and didn’t dare to breathe for fear of breaking the spell.  The king and queen were holding hands and teary-eyed.  Even Unferth paused for a time to soak in something far more powerful than drink.  Poor Heinrich would have a tough act to follow.

Men began to leave the hall as the twilight came on.  Ragnard brought plenty of soft cushions and blankets for the Geats and then absented himself quickly.  Wulfgar paid his respects to Festuscato and even Aschere said that he finally understood why Lord Agitus took the woman aboard ship.

Festuscato and his crew were near the last to leave.  Only the king stayed to the bitter end to wish Beowulf and his Geats the best of fortune.  Then all was dark and quiet.

Seamus got left to guard the rooms where he could make sense of his notes before he forgot everything that had been said on that day.  Gregor, Luckless, Vingevourt and Mousden were left with the horses, well back from the city gate.  Mirowen was supposed to be with them, but she insisted on hiding in the bushes with Bran and Festuscato, not far from the main door to the hall.  They waited for hours.

Mousden fluttered up every once in a while, to look over Festuscato’s shoulder, to keep an eye on what might be happening at the hall.  Every time he came back to the others, though, he always reported the same.  “Nothing.”  One time he tried to relieve the boredom.  “I spy with my little eye something that is gray.”

“It’s all gray, you dingbat.  It’s night.”  Gregor ended the game.

It got near two in the morning before they heard noises in the hall.  A man screamed.  They heard a loud crashing and stomping of feet, and then a roar.  Then the hall seemed to erupt in a kind of madness of men shouting and what sounded like furniture breaking.  Mirowen hid her face in her hands.

“Courage,” Festuscato said.  “Wait for it.”

They heard a loud snap, like the sound of a great limb of a tree being broken, and it got followed by a howl such as they heard on that night in Mirowen’s room, only this sounded much louder and much more frightening.  A moment later, the front doors of the hall got broken down and the Grendel came running out into the night, still howling but obviously trying to keep quiet.  The beast appeared to be missing an arm, but the acidic blood came slowly.

The Grendel rushed toward the main gate of the city, and Festuscato stood.  “Shall we go?”  He asked the rhetorical question.  Mirowen wanted to rush to the hall, but Festuscato grabbed her hand.  “We are not here, remember?”  She reluctantly followed her Lord.

M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 3 of 3

Mirowen and Festuscato chose to spend the afternoon exploring.  They found Unferth the drunk passed out in a side room near the hall.  Hrugen was there, crying, and Mirowen and Festuscato spent a great deal of time hugging him and telling him it would be all right.  They took him to the kitchen because he had missed both breakfast and dinner.  He said he was not hungry, but the kindly cook gave him a plate and he managed to eat it all.

“I’m sorry about what happened earlier,” Mirowen said to the kitchen servant, Ragnard.

“Why?”  Ragnard shot at her, bitterness in his voice.

“It was so unfair,” she said, a little taken aback.

“No one cares for Ragnard,” the young man said, and he turned his back on her to focus on his work.

“I only meant a kindness,” Mirowen said to Festuscato.

Festuscato took her hand and smiled for her.  “I know,” he said.  “But feeling stupid can block the ears.”

“If that is the case, most fee, imps, dwarfs, and all ogres should not be able to hear at all.”  She returned his smile.

“I said feeling, not being,” he said and let her go.  “And I only meant in humans.”

She gave him a sly look, but kept on walking.  They visited with Svergen of the coastal watch before they woke Mousden in time for supper, which had to be consumed early so the hall could be vacated by sundown.  Queen Wealtheow made her appearance in time to force Hrothgar to take his medicine.  She smiled toward Mirowen, who nodded in return.

“Got along well,” Festuscato said, like a question, and Mirowen nodded.  “But how did Seamus do?  That’s what I want to know.”

Bran and Gregor looked over.  Neither looked to have moved an inch since the mid-day meal.  They each waited for the other to speak, but finally Bran took the lead.

“Well enough for an Irish cleric,” he said.

Seamus said nothing, but shrugged without looking up.

“I’m bored,” Gregor said at last.  “I say we find this monster and get it over or leave in the morning.”

“Leave in the morning,” Mousden piped up.

“A few days,” Festuscato said.  “Just a few days.”

When they had supped, and returned to their rooms, Festuscato stayed a bit with Mirowen and Mousden in Mirowen’s room.

“Nothing,” he confessed.  “Wulfgar the proud, Aschere the slime, Svergen the blind, Heinrich the unbeliever, and Unferth the unconscious.  None of them seems right.  I just don’t see a monster in them.”

“Your eyes are not infallible,” Mirowen said.

“Me neither,” Mousden confirmed.  “And I can smell a monster a hundred miles off.”

“I’ll bet,” Festuscato said with a smile.  “And maybe not infallible, but both Artemis the hunter and Justitia justice enhanced, remember?”

“I do remember,” she said.  “But if it isn’t one of them, then who?”

She hardly finished the sentence when something roared in the hall.  They heard a loud bang as Gregor got knocked to the wall.  Bran, being larger, got knocked through the door, the hilt of his broken sword still clutched in his hand.  Both men were only partially conscious as the creature came into the room, bending a little against the low, eight-foot ceiling.

“I see the elf.”  The creature said in a voice that sounded like a loud whine, but fog horn deep.  “I see the dwarf and the winged one.  They cannot hide from me.”

Mirowen backed away.  Mousden flew to the highest, back-corner of the room.  Festuscato called his armor and weapons to him and saw the creature laugh.  It sounded indeed like Curdwallah, he thought.  A Grendel.  A male hag.

“No weapon forged by man can hurt me.”  The creature said and ripped Bran’s broken sword from Bran’s hand and nearly took Bran’s hand with it.  The creature held out the broken sword and pointed with his right finger.  “And now, Roman, you will die.”

Festuscato did not hesitate.  Spurred in his spirit and strengthened by the huntress Artemis, his hand pulled his long knife and slashed across in one motion.  Everything appeared frozen in the room for the briefest moment before the monster’s finger fell to the floor.  The monster let out a deafening howl.  Mousden screamed and Mirowen covered her ears and closed her eyes.  A few drops of the monster’s blood fell to the floor and immediately began to burn through the stone like the strongest acid.

The monster howled again, looked at the place where its digit was missing, and turned and leapt off the balcony to the stones below, where it rushed around the corner and became lost from sight.

Festuscato recognized the blood made hole in the floor and quickly examined his blade.  It looked untouched by the acid.  The cut had been so quick and clean, the slow-moving blood never touched it, as far as he could tell.

Mirowen knelt beside Bran who held his wrist and grimaced.  Gregor came staggering into the room, holding his head.  Mousden quit screaming and started to threaten to fly back to Cornwall, not that he could.

“That was interesting,” Festuscato mused.

“Greta?”  Mirowen asked, and Festuscato nodded.  She was the healer that came nearest to his mind.  He closed his eyes and left that time while Greta came to take his place, his armor automatically adjusting to her shape and size.

“Let me see,” she told Mirowen.  She wrapped Bran’s hand in a splint so he could not bend it.  His wrist had been terribly strained, but not broken.  “You won’t be able to use that sword for a while,” she said.  “Once we get you a new one.”

“My Lady of the Ways.”  That was what Gregor called her.

“Hush, One-Eye,” she told him, and she wrapped his head, though he would only have a lump for a short time.  “Probably did you some good,” she said with a smile and vanished from there to let Festuscato come home.

Seamus and Luckless came in only moments later.  They looked around at the damage and the bandages, and Luckless spoke.

“What did we miss?” he asked.

Festuscato took a cloth and carefully picked up the drained finger.

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

MONDAY

Beowulf arrives, and so does the Grendel.  Nest Time.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 3 of 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONDAY

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

*