M3 Festuscato: Chasing the Tale, part 1 of 2

The moon went down and the sun got ready to rise as people gathered in the hall.  Hrothgar looked like a man defeated.  The Danes looked to Beowulf and Beowulf looked to Festuscato who simply stood and seemed to look at nothing in particular.

“Mother.”  Gregor mouthed the word as he closely examined the blood splattered around the room.

“But with all that red, the trail should be easy enough to follow,” Bran said.

“What do you mean, mother?”  Wulfgar asked.

Beowulf turned his head and looked again at Festuscato.

Unferth said, “You failed.”  He shot the words at Beowulf but people ignored him.  Hrugen took him to a table.

“Aschere’s missing.”  Svergen pointed out.

“Lord, there are signs of forced entry at the gate.”  One of the Geats reported.  Festuscato smiled.  Beowulf had not been entirely just waiting.

“Damn gate’s about off its hinges,” the Gatekeeper said to no one in particular.

“How’s Mousden?”  Seamus asked.

“About to let go of yesterday’s lunch,” Luckless said.  “Can’t imagine there’s much left in there.”

“Poor little guy.”  Mirowen soothed his brow.

Wulfgar yelled and verbalized the fear that everyone felt.

Festuscato moved.  Beowulf followed, and because of that, Wulfgar and Svergen followed as well.  Unferth watched, and the entrance by the kitchen cook did not distract an eye.

“Sorry your majesty,” the cook apologized.  “Ragnard must have run off.  I guess the Grendel finally became too much for him, screams in the night and all.”

“Shh!”  The king watched as well while Festuscato picked a few hairs from a table.  They were not human hairs.  He brought them up to the wall where the arm of the Grendel had been hanging and where a few of the Grenfell’s hairs still clung to the nail.

“The Grendel was gray,” Festuscato said.  “These are brown and much coarser.”  Beowulf saw, but Wulfgar had to shove up front for a closer examination.  Festuscato gave him the hairs to examine to his heart’s content.  “Ragnard was the Grendel,” he said.

“Ragnard?”  Svergen spoke for many.

“But what does this mean?”  Wulfgar asked.  He seemed terribly confused.

“Mother.”  Bran and Gregor spoke together, Mirowen dutifully translating into Dane and then Geat.  Festuscato could see the light slowly dawn in the faces of the men around the room.

“No.”  The king objected.  “I knew the woman.”

“She has the wolf disease,” Mirowen said on her own.

“Fortunately, a werewolf is really not all that hard to track,” Festuscato said.  “Though I would not normally recommend it.”

“Are you saying we track down this ravenous beast?”  Svergen questioned their sanity.

“Such a wolf would be most vulnerable in the daytime,” Beowulf spoke at last.

“I’m coming,” Unferth yelled.  “Me and my son.”  Hrugen stood with a strange expression on his face.  His father finally accepted him, but he would have the burden of an alcoholic father for the rest of his days.

“We’re all coming.”  The king said, and no one said anything more.

Forty horses left the city around ten in the morning.  Festuscato lead the pack, tracking the beast, though he already assumed they would end up by the lake that Vingevourt had called “bad water.”  Vingevourt rode on his blanket behind Bran.  Mousden rode with Gregor, and needed until ten to settle his stomach and his mind for the adventure.  Seamus rode his own horse, and Luckless his pony.  Mirowen rode beside Beowulf and they were followed by the thirteen Geats, one having been killed by the Grendel.  There were eighteen Danes lead by the king and Wulfgar, Svergen having taken his place along the coast.  Unferth rode behind the king and Hrugen rode beside his father.

Festuscato thought the trail too easy.  He briefly wondered if the woman deliberately wanted to be found.  He changed his mind around noon.  They found Aschere’s head in a tree branch.

“It is a warning.”  Many felt it, but Festuscato shook his head.

“Probably all that was left of the man when the sun rose and the wolf changed.”  He eased a few minds saying that, whether he believed it or not.  All the same, the sight seemed enough to unnerve a man, whatever the reason for Aschere’s head being there.  Two of the Danes got it down and one wrapped it quickly in his cloak.

“Bad water.”  Vingevourt took the moment to sniff the air.  They were near.

They dismounted beside the lake.  It took half the men just to hold the horses.  The lake indeed looked covered in an oil slick.  Festuscato could smell the tars.  Vingevourt wanted no part of it.

“Dead water,” he called the lake.

“Why have we stopped here?”  The king came up.  “I see no dwelling.”

“The beast entered the water at this point,” Festuscato said.  “My guess would be an underwater cavern or cave of some sort.”

“No, Lord.  Don’t ask me.”  Vingevourt spoke up quickly.

“No fear,” Festuscato said.  He had no intention of risking the water sprite.

Wulfgar prepared to send men around the lake to see if the beast came up again at some point, but Beowulf stopped him with his hand.  “No need,” Beowulf said.  “It appears as if the lake is coming to us.”  He pointed.

The lake looked to be boiling.  Serpents came, and not a small one in the lot.  Men stepped back, and some barely kept from bolting when the boldest snake reared ten feet up.  Festuscato pulled his bow to the ready, but Mirowen shot first, a perfect shot that entered the lower jaw and exited the top of the skull.  The snake stayed up a moment before it collapsed.  In that moment of distraction, however, another serpent came up alongside them.  Beowulf and Wulfgar both hacked at it with their swords.  The snake shriveled under their blows and finally got cut in two.

With that, the other snakes hesitated, as if some intelligence guided them.  The bubbling began again, and soon they were lost from sight under the murky water.

“Beowulf.”  Festuscato pulled the man aside while Seamus distracted the king and Wulfgar stood with Gregor and Bran, looking for more serpents in the water.  Mirowen followed with Vingevourt who wanted no part of that slime. Festuscato had to wave Luckless and Mousden to join them as they sought out a place apart from the others.  Hrugen and Luckless had been conversing, and so Hrugen followed, and his father followed after him.

“Vingevourt,” Festuscato said.  “He will need to breathe under the water.”

Beowulf grabbed Festuscato’s arm, and not too softly.  Beowulf stared at him as if protesting.  He did not want to have to do this, but then he glanced at Mirowen and he knew, without a doubt, that he had to finish the job.  He surrendered to the inevitable.

Vingevourt floated up to face the man and laid his wet, gingerbread-like hands against Beowulf’s cheeks.  Then the sprite returned to the earth and spoke.  The water will not drown him.  Breathe normally. And the weight will not crush him, no matter how deep he goes.”

“I don’t feel different,” Beowulf admitted, but Festuscato already moved on to the next step.

“Mousden.  The man will need to be able to see in the dark.  It may be black as tar down there.”

“But Lord,” Mousden protested.  “I can’t with my big form gumming everything up.  And there are too many men around.”

Festuscato laughed without explanation.  After the Grendel, these men were on a hunt for a werewolf.  What would a couple of elves and a dwarf be compared to that?  “You will have to guide him, then,” Festuscato said with a smile.

“Lord!”  Mirowen protested while Luckless and Hrugen chuckled.

“No!”  Mousden shouted.  “Ungh!”  He really tried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What!  What?”  Unferth said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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