Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 6 of 6

Elder Stow arrived at about the same time as the lead dwarf reached the group.  Elder Stow got right up on Mudd.

“Welcome travelers,” the dwarf said.  “Sanyas has been informed of your presence. Chief Pavhara is talking to the Princess, there.”  He pointed toward Boston.  “I think Sanyas wants us to escort you to her, but first, you should come inside for the night.  The grub-diggers won’t find you in the underground.”

“Grub-diggers?” Lockhart asked.

“Humans,” Alexis said.

“You got a name?” Katie asked.

“Yu Me,” a second dwarf said.  “His family is all immigrants, but Yu know how immigration works.  Get it?  Yu knows?”

“Got it,” Katie said, and managed a smile.

“Can I give it back?” Decker asked.

“Underground?” Lincoln complained, but it was not so bad.  The dwarfs had a big cavern, well lit by fires and plenty of torchlight.  They also had plenty of food, as might have been expected.  Best of all, they had a long tunnel, big enough for the horses and wagon, that led to the far end of the pass and the hills of Gandhara.  The Swat River was not far.  There, on the first hilltop, they found Sanyas and her camp.  She had roughly three hundred soldiers hidden among the trees.

The travelers moved slowly into the camp.  Soldiers saw them, but also saw the dwarfs, so they waited for orders from higher up to make a move.  When it appeared that the dwarfs were leading these strange people straight toward the command tents, a large number of soldiers got in their way.

A woman in her fifties pushed through the line of soldiers and yelled that these were old friends, and the soldiers should go back to whatever they were doing.  The soldiers parted, without question, and more than a few bowed as they walked off.  The travelers figured this had to be Sanyas.

“Boston,” Sanyas said, with a happy smile, as the red head jumped into her grandmotherly embrace.

“Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi?” Lincoln carefully pronounced the name.  He had to ask, just to be sure.

Sanyas frowned.  “Roughly translated, that name means I renounce being ruler or goddess.  As for Ruler, my older sister Yasomati is queen, and her husband is king, and that is as close as I want to get to running things.  As for goddess, I cannot deny the sprites of the earth, air, fire, and water, but I will never be counted as a goddess over people.  Never over people.  The gods have gone and what is done is done.”  Sanyas smiled.

“And yet, here you are with several hundred soldiers who obviously take your orders,” Lockhart pointed out.

Sanyas frowned again.  “My husband, Brahmagupta is supposed to be in charge, but he has no military heart or mind.  I love him for that, but someone has to be in charge.  Come, I will show you.”  She yelled and men hurried to collect the horses, the mule and wagon, so all the travelers could follow her.  Several soldiers also followed, old friends or not.

They came to a ledge and a fifty-foot drop that gave a view clear of trees.  To their right, they saw a camp in the valley, and men on horses.  When they got the binoculars out, way in the distance on their left, they saw what looked like a city.

“Peschawar,” Sanyas named the city.  “The valley is made by the river from the Khyber.  It joins the Swat not too far from here.  The Alchon Huns still rule in Gandhara, though they have pulled back from the Punjab.”

“We saw Huns fighting on the other side of the Khyber,” Katie said.

Sanyas nodded.  “I managed to get the Nezak and Alchon to fight each other, but after the Alchon from the Punjab returned to their capital in Kabul, the Afridi moved back into the pass and now the Alchon that are still here on this side of the pass are cut off from their home.”

“We got held prisoner by the people in the pass for a while,” Lincoln said.

“Tell me,” Sanyas turned to Lincoln, and he gave a fair telling of the story.  Lockhart interrupted to tell the important part.

“The chief worked for the Masters.  He wanted our guns, not necessarily us.  I shot him.”

“You were right to kill him,” Sanyas said, even as she looked down, and would not look in Lockhart’s eyes.  “There is no telling what damage he might have done if he lived, and if he lived and had your weapons…”  She did not finish the sentence.

“Huns in the valley?” Katie asked.

“Yes,” Sanyas said.  “I had hoped trouble in Kabul might have encouraged them to abandon this side of the pass altogether and go home.  They are cruel and intolerant toward the people.  They make great demands and show neither grace nor mercy.  Now, if I can’t get them to abandon Gandhara because the pass is blocked, I don’t know what I can do.  They might not even know there is trouble in Kabul if the messengers can’t get through.”

Lockhart noticed again and pointed before he stared through the binoculars.  That same alien ship they had seen a few days earlier rose into the sky not far from the city.  Lincoln had the other pair of binoculars while Katie and Decker used the scopes for their rifles.  The ship quickly entered the clouds and disappeared from sight.

“Not your concern,” Sanyas said.  “They have been told and will leave this world alone.”

As she finished speaking, a troop of roughly thirty men rode up.  One of them turned out to be a fourteen or fifteen-year-old boy, who came running to Sanyas to meet the strangers.  One of whom looked Sanays’ age, or maybe sixty.  He walked.

“The Huna are leaving their camp and going back to the city,” the boy reported in an excited voice, as he hugged Sanyas and took in the travelers from the safety of her arms.

“The thing is,” Sanyas finished her thought.  “With the Huna fighting each other, if I can get these last ones to go back through the pass, I might be able to help the local Afridi people close down the pass to all but merchant caravans.  Then we can have peace.”

“Peace is a good thing,” Alexis said, and looked at the young man.

Sanyas introduced him.  “This is my nephew, Harsha.”

“Good to meet you,” Lockhart said, as the older man arrived.

“My husband, Brahmagupta,” Sanyas introduced the man.

“They are headed back to the city,” Brahmagupta said.  “The way should be clear tomorrow.  We should be able to leave in the morning.”

“Lockhart.  I need you and the travelers to escort my husband, my nephew, and thirty assigned men as far as you are going.  They are going to Magadha.”

“Must I go?” Harsha asked.

“You must learn more than just military matters.  Yes,” Sanyas said.

Boston pulled out her amulet to take a look and offered a thought.  “But, if you go with us, that will just push the time gate further and further away.”

“I will not be joining you.  Brahmagupta wishes to see his family and where he grew up one last time before he dies.  Harsha has many things to learn, and Brahmagupta can teach him, if he will listen.  And I will stay here and deal with the Huna.”  She looked once again at the sky.  “But there is time before the morning.  Let us eat and rest and tell stories until then.”



8.1 Rain and Fire The travelers find themselves in the Yucatán and among the Mayan people, all of whom seem to want to cut their hearts out.  Until next time.  Happy Reading



Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 4 of 6

Lockhart studied the two armies as the travelers hurried to get out from between them.  “I can’t see any difference between the two groups,” he admitted.  “How do they know who to fight?”

“There are subtle differences,” Katie said.  “But they are both Huns.”  After a minute, she added, “I think the one on Elder Stow’s side is the bigger army.  Of course, that may not matter.  I haven’t seen this kind of battle, and the scholars describe how they think it worked but they really don’t know how it worked.  I can only guess.  The scholars mostly just report the winners and losers.”

After another minute, Boston said a bit too loud.  “What are they waiting for?”

“I don’t know,” Lockhart said, “But we better hurry and get out of the way.”  He hardly had to urge people to hurry.  Even Ghost, the mule, moved as quick as he could, the tension in the air being as thick as it was.

Finally, the travelers squirted out from between the two armies.  Still the armies waited, until the travelers were beyond harm’s way.  Then, all at once, with no discernable sign given, both armies charged each other across the road.  The travelers paused to watch.  It soon looked like a killing free-for-all.

“How do they decide who wins?” Lockhart asked the rhetorical question.

Decker shrugged.  “They will fight for a while, but they can’t keep it up at that level of intensity for long.  Shortly, one side will signal a withdraw, and the other side will also pull back.  They will rest for an hour, or maybe several hours before they form up and go at it again.  They will do this until sundown.  No one fights after dark.  Then one might sneak away in the dark, if they have lost too many men, or feel they are losing the battle.  If both still feel they can win, they will be right back at it at sunrise.”

“The thing is,” Katie said.  “If one side starts to withdraw, because maybe they are losing too many men and they need to regroup, if the other side is not ready to break, or maybe feel they are winning, the withdraw can become a full retreat, and in these days, retreat risks becoming a route, where it’s every man for himself.  In that case, the winning side will give chase, and they usually end up slaughtering the retreating army.”

Decker grunted.  “Unless the losing side escapes in the night under the cover of darkness, they will end up being slaughtered, retreat or no retreat.  Some commanders don’t know when to quit.  That can be a good thing, or really stupid, depending.”

“We need to move on,” Lockhart said.  They rode a little up into the pass before Lockhart called for them to get down and walk the horses.  That was when Katie shared a thought.

“I bet the two armies waited for us to get out of the way because the three witches on one side, and Elder Stow and Sukki on the other side put a real fear of God into them.  They waited until we were far enough away so we would not be caught up in the battle.”

Lockhart looked back at his group.  “I suppose that is very possible.”


In the afternoon, the travelers came to a narrow way in the pass.  Shale mountain cliffs pushed in, and the road narrowed.  They discussed stopping and building a camp before entering that strip.  Elder Stow had put away his scanner, but Lincoln had the relevant information in the database.

“The narrow spot is not that long.  It should open up again on the other side and we should be able to find a place to stop where we can watch, but not block the road.”

People went with Lincoln’s suggestion.  Ghost appeared to make it up to the high point without too much trouble, and as the saying suggested, it was all downhill from there.  The rest got down from their horses and planned to walk through, in case they came to a spot that got exceptionally narrow.

They got about half-way into the narrow place before men stood up and came out from behind the rocks.  The travelers found men in front and behind.  They became surrounded with spears.

“Don’t resist,” Lockhart ordered.

“Do they want us to pay the toll?” Lincoln asked. He read about that and may have mentioned it to the others a day ago.  He picked up a leather pouch in one of the villages they passed through and filled it with what he imagined was a generous number of coins.

The men said nothing.  They immediately began to strip the travelers of their weapons, including their gun belts. Decker was reluctant to let go of his rife, but he honestly had no choice.  When the men tried to grab the reigns of the horses, Alexis’ horse, Chestnut, and Boston’s horse, Strawberry, balked.  It took a minute to get them settled down.  Ghost refused to move at all.  Tony had to lead the mule by the nose, and he explained to the mule.

“We have to cooperate, or these men might make you into mule stew.”

They went to the end of the narrow place and got taken to a hut on the hillside near a shallow cave.  The travelers got pushed into the cave and a simple door got closed across the entrance.  Clearly, the cave had been used for sheep.  Katie pointed to the dry water trough, but the general smell of the place gave it away.

“I hope they take care of Cocoa,” Sukki said of her horse.

“I still have my things,” Elder Stow said.  “But what to do is the question.  There are about eight guards outside the door.”

“I have my wand and stuff in my slip,” Boston said.  “I haven’t done it much, but I could try going insubstantial enough to slip through the door and maybe check on the horses.”

“No,” Alexis said, firmly.

“Sukki could use some of her strength and break the door open,” Nanette was thinking.

“But then what?” Decker asked, and people quieted to think.

Katie finally asked, “Elder Stow, how many of those discs do you have where you can make us all invisible?”

“I have a whole pocket full of multi-purpose discs,” he answered.  “I just have to tune them to the invisible spectrum.”

“Do you have enough for all of us, our horses, Ghost and the wagon?” Alexis asked.

After a moment to calculate, Elder Stow shook his head, “No.”

“Maybe we should see what they want first,” Lockhart said, and people sat down to wait.  They waited for an hour while the sun started toward the horizon.

At last, they peered out between the gate railings and saw a small troop of something like soldiers arrive.  One man got down right away and marched with a swagger to the door.  The guards opened up, and he came inside with two rough looking men with swords drawn flanking him.

“So, these are the travelers,” he said.

“Are you charging a toll to let us move on?” Lincoln asked, and the man laughed in his face.

“Do you use money on Avalon?” he said.  “I never would have imagined that.”  He laughed again at his own thoughts.  “Besides, I have all your money, and everything else already, including all of your guns.”  He shook a finger at them.

“The Masters,” Katie said to identify the man.

“You have been noticed and interfered once too often.  I decided, instead of making more guns and powder for you to come along and blow up, I would just steal your guns.  After using you for target practice, we will make our guns, and model them after the ones you so graciously provided.”

“What do you hope to gain?” Katie asked.

The man paused to look over the travelers.  He did not seem to care if he told them or not.  “We sit at the center of the world between east and west.  The Alchon Huna already did me a favor by tearing down the Gupta in what you call India.  Now, after the Alchon Huna and the Nezak Huna beat themselves to exhaustion. we will move in.  I have men working on the Turks further north.  I expect they will join us for the riches they can gain.  We will invade Sassanid lands to break the back of the New Persians and reestablish the Kushan Empire.  Then we will cross the so-called Persian Gulf to Yemen and drive up the Hejaz to burn Mecca.  After that, only Constantinople far in the west and the Sui Dynasty far in the east will remain to pose a threat.”  He stopped talking and smiled.  “You get the idea.”

“Lord Bobo,” someone called from outside.

The swaggering man and his two guards left, and the gate got tied shut again.  Lockhart frowned and stuck his hand out.

“Elder Stow get out your discs,” he said.

“Boston.  You need to go invisible using one of Elder Stow’s discs, like the rest of us,” Alexis insisted.  “If you go elf invisible, we won’t be able to see you, and we will all need to keep in touch without having to talk.”

“That’s okay,” Boston said.  “Being elf invisible, as you call it, is still very draining.”

Alexis smiled for the girl.  “You’ll get used to it.  You know, being invisible and insubstantial at the same time is how the little spirits of the earth get around and do most of their work in the world.  You will get the hang of it.  Soon enough, it will become the most natural way to be.  Manifesting into a visible, physical form will feel awkward.”

“Not awkward,” Boston said.  “But like a second choice.  That’s what Roland told me.”  She flipped her emotions, as fairies and young elves do, from happy to sad in a blink.  “Roland said being physical still feels natural, and takes no effort, even if it is second choice.”  Boston let a tear fall.  “I miss Roland.”

Alexis gave her a hug.  “I miss my brother, too.”

Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 3 of 6

The next day, Lincoln made everyone gather around.  He said they would have to go by Kabul and Hadda to reach the Khyber Pass, the only viable way through to India.  “The thing is, after further reading, I think the capital of the Alchon Huns is north of the line, and the capital of the Nezak Huns is south of the line, and those two Huna groups at some point fight for dominance.  We need to squeeze between the two to reach the pass.”

“In other words,” Lockhart summarized.  “We are probably entering a war zone, so we need to keep our eyes and ears wide open.”

“Kind of like World War One,” Decker interjected.  “We need to sneak down no-man’s land between the German and allied trenches.”

People looked at Decker and turned their eyes to Tony.  They had been careful not to talk about what Tony might face when he got home.  Lincoln calculated that Tony left the future in 1905, but given his time living in the past, and now counting the expected travel time, he would probably get home in 1914, just in time for the war.  And they certainly did not want to name the war as number one.  But Tony just waved off their concerns.

“That’s okay,” he said.  “The Kairos told me.  I already have my Colt M1911, and a good trench knife.  I already figured the time gate will be near enough to the Kairos to be in the middle of something.  A world war is no surprise, and the fact that it is number one is honestly no surprise, either.  I used to read the newspapers back in 1905.  Europe is a mess.”  He shrugged.

The travelers breathed, and headed out, thinking, there were still plenty of things Tony and Nanette did not need to know about their future.


Shortly after they gave Kabul a wide berth, they returned to the road in time for Decker to come racing in from the wing.  “Boston.  Sukki.  Report.” Decker spoke into his wristwatch communicator as he reigned to a stop.  Elder Stow saw and pulled in close to hear.  The others had already stopped to wait.

“There is a whole army in a valley a half mile out,” he pointed.  “About two thousand horsemen.  No way they will chase us, but they might send a company, a hundred, or at least have scouts out watching the road.  They may have already seen us.”

“No,” Elder Stow said, as he joined the group from the other wing.  “I have the scanner set for our immediate area.  No one has been near to see us.  I did not pick up the army, however.  I can see I will have to expand the scan radius to at least half a mile.”  He looked at his scanner and turned his head in surprise.  Boston and Sukki came racing back from the point.  They looked like something was following them.  Suddenly, Boston stopped and leapt off her horse.  She pulled her wand and laid down a line of fire across the road.  The flames reached as high as her head, and the travelers saw a troop of Huns come screeching to a halt behind the fire.

Lockhart and Katie moved forward before they got down and walked ahead of the others.  Lincoln and Alexis moved up enough to hold the horses, but Sukki stopped right there, so she held Katie’s horse.  Boston came back and stopped at the front group, next to Alexis, while Nanette marched forward from the rear.  That left Decker and Elder Stow to guard Tony and the wagon.

One of the Huns stepped forward from his group.  He looked like a shaman.  He raised his hands, and while Boston’s fire already began to burn itself out, he appeared to lower his hands, and the fire quickly went out.  That got the attention of Alexis and Boston who stepped up behind Lockhart and Katie.  Nanette squeezed between the two women and whispered.

“If I had my power, I could remove them from the road.”  Nanette seemed unhappy about something and seemed to want to take it out on the Huns.

Lockhart quickly spoke over top.  “We are simple travelers.  We are headed for distant lands and have no interest in your troubles.  We will not interfere.  We will respect your land, and we will be gone, shortly.”

“I think you are not such simple travelers,” one big man spoke from horseback.

“You have a witch…” the shaman added.

“No,” Katie interrupted, and stepped to the side as she spoke, pointing behind herself.  “She is an elf.  These other two are witches.” Katie smiled.  The Huns did not smile, and the shaman began to move his hands like he got ready to employ a spell.

“Here,” Alexis said to Nanette, as she touched Nanette’s shoulder.  Boston touched the other shoulder but said nothing.  Nanette felt filled with power, more than she ever imagined.  She had the ability, but when the other earth was out of phase, and thus not leaking magic energy into our universe, she could do nothing.  She never imagined borrowing the power of others, and between Alexis and Boston, she had twice what she needed.

Nanette pulled her wand, and before the shaman could finish his incantation, he, and all of his Huns, got caught up in a whirlwind.  The wind became merciless.  It picked them up, horses and all, and flew them a quarter mile away, where it deposited them in an open field. Some got down quickly.  Some got thrown when their horses bucked.  Some got stepped on when the horses panicked.  The Huns also panicked.  The shaman, and a number of others felt so dizzy, they threw up.  None of them were in any condition to follow the travelers, or even report back to the army.

The travelers knew none of this.  All they saw was Nanette’s smile and all they heard was Lockhart’s words.

“Let’s move on while we can.”


The next day, near the same time, just shy of Hadda, Elder Stow reported an army on a hillside.  “About two thousand horsemen,” he said into his communicator, so everyone heard.

“Move in close,” Lockhart ordered.  “Decker.  Move in but keep your eyes open.  Boston, stay within sight.”  The road appeared flanked by meadows.  The only trees were up ahead, to the right of the road.  Elder Stow said the Huns were in the trees, so no one looked surprised when several men rode out of the trees and stopped near the road.  No one doubted there were many more still hidden among the trees.  Lockhart and Katie nudged their horses forward, but this time, they did not dismount.

“We are simple travelers.”  Lockhart spoke up.  “We are headed for a distant land.  We have no quarrel with you.  We will respect your land and soon be gone.”  He tried to smile.

One of the Huns answered.  “You do not look like simple travelers.  Give us your gold and silver.  We will search your wagon and take your horses.  Then you can leave.”

Katie imagined Elder Stow got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.  Without asking permission, which felt very uncharacteristic, he floated out of his saddle.  Sukki floated up beside him and would not let him do whatever stupid thing he had in mind alone.

Elder Stow pulled out his sonic device and plugged it into his communication device.  It amplified his voice and added a nice echoing touch.  “You were asked nicely.  Now, you get one warning shot.  Leave the road and leave us alone or suffer the consequences.”  He pulled out his weapon.  Sukki noticed and raised her hands.  Elder Stow fired, and Sukki let her power flow from her hands.  They sliced off the tops of the nearest trees and set the trees on fire.  First Elder Stow, and then Sukki, fired into the ground in front of the trees and the ground exploded.

“That is your warning.  Leave us alone or next time we will aim at you.”  Elder Stow returned to his horse and Sukki returned to hers.  The Huns turned away without a word, and tried to walk their horses, but in fact trotted, and nearly galloped back to the trees, to disappear in the woods.

Elder Stow apologized to Lockhart and Katie when he rejoined the group.  “My mother and father, please forgive me if I overstepped my bounds.  I take full responsibility for my actions and those of my adopted daughter.  I overreacted and humbly apologize.”

“Try not to let it happen again,” Katie said, smiled, and let Lockhart speak.

“But in this instance, don’t worry about it.  No harm done.”  He turned to ride down the road and said no more about it.


The following morning, the caravan road they followed appeared to be in good shape.  Lincoln took a turn driving the wagon.  Alexis rode with him.  They crossed a plain that appeared wide open and plenty dusty, but in the distance up ahead, the travelers could see the mountains closing in.  They figured the famous Khyber Pass would be something like a gorge between two of those mountains, where the mountains did not quite meet.

The sun beat down, hot, but the travelers relaxed, believing if they got well into the pass on that day, they might find the Kairos around noon the next day.  Boston called it late spring, or early summer.  Alexis pointed out the flowers she saw.  When Lockhart called for everyone to get down and walk the horses, Sukki and Nanette paused to pick some flowers.  Tony paused with them to watch over them.  Those three first saw the dust stirred up in the distance.  Decker reported as much just moments later.

It looked like one of those armies they passed might be heading right toward them.  Lockhart did not panic, even when Elder Stow noted the dust storm on the other side of the road.  Lockhart told everyone to mount up.  He said they could walk and rest the horses once they got fully into the pass.  He felt a little afraid that these armies decided to fight over control of the pass, and they might follow them into the pass.

“We need to hurry,” Kate said, as the leading elements of the armies came within visual range.

“I don’t think Ghost can pull the wagon much faster in this sun, especially when we start heading up into the pass itself.”

Lockhart talked into his communicator, though he might have simply yelled back.  “Try to hurry Ghost along as well as you can.”

Decker and Elder Stow pulled in to flank the travelers in close order, while Boston dropped back to lead the procession.  The leading elements of the armies stopped a hundred feet back from the road on either side.

“Are they waiting for the rest of the army to catch up?” Nanette asked.

Decker shook his head.  “I don’t know what they are doing.”

As the travelers pushed forward along the road, right between the two enemies, the rest of those armies slowly caught up.  But still they waited.



Two Hun armies will meet on the road to the Khyber pass, right where the travelers are desperately trying to get out of the way.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.


Avalon 8.0 Confrontations, part 2 of 6

Two men rode across the stream to confront the two travelers standing by the wagon.  They did not know one of the two by the wagon was a woman until they got close.  It got hard to see distance well in the failing light.  When they got down from their mounts and approached, they appeared surprised.  The man looked like a giant, and the woman, which they then noticed was a woman, looked as tall as them, and she had yellow hair.  Not what they expected.

“Hello friends,” Lockhart said, giving it his friendliest voice.  “This is a good place to rest if you plan to spend the night.  The water is fresh and clean, the grass is soft, and it does not look like rain tonight.”

The two made no response, so Katie added a thought.

“We would invite you to supper, but we only have one sheep, which is not nearly enough for your whole company.”

One man spoke.  “You are from Sogdiana?  You are Scythian?” he guessed.

The other man interrupted.  “You are merchants?”

“We are simple travelers from far away in the west,” Lockhart began.

“Beyond Persia.  Beyond Rome.” Katie added.

“I have herd of this Rome,” the first man admitted.

“You are Huna?” Katie asked.

“We are not Xwn scum.”  The man spat like Decker.  “My great-grandfather left the Kaghanate to seek out new pastures for our many people.  He crushed the Wusun and overran Sogdiana.  He fought the numberless Scythians before my father followed the Hephthalites into this land.  We drove many ahead of us and destroyed the last of the Great Yuezhi.  This land is good, but our people are many, so we seek to extend our pastures.  The Xionite people that came here ahead of us will serve us, and our name will be great in all the earth.”

“Turkic people, perhaps Shahi,” Katie identified the speaker.  “Tony will be glad to know that the Turks are already on the move at this early date.”

Elder Stow turned on his lantern, much stronger than the human lanterns that the travelers had and mostly left in their luggage.  It caught some twenty horsemen ready to cross the stream, down some distance where they no doubt thought they would not be seen.  Decker’s voice came through the watch communicators.

“We got enemy trying to circle around and get on our flank.  I would hate to have to kill them all.”

“Hopefully, they will have the good sense to return to their own camp now that they are seen.  Wait for instructions.  Out.” Lockhart responded.

“Did we mention the sorcerer in our camp?” Kate said, kindly.

“Who?” Lockhart asked.

“Elder Stow,” Katie answered, sharply.  “His gadgets are near enough to sorcery in this age.”

“Oh,” Lockhart got it.  “And the two witches.”

“What about Boston?” Katie asked.

“She is an elf,” Lockhart explained.  “That is different.  But what do we call Sukki?”

Katie huffed.  “I swear, Vrya and Ishtar made her practically a demi-god.”

Lockhart looked up.  The two Turks had mounted and were riding back to their camp without asking any more questions.  When Lockhart and Katie rejoined the group, Elder Stow spoke.

“My mother and father,” he said, referring to Katie and Lockhart as the mother and father of the group.  “I cannot set the screens against intruders tonight, but I have scanned the visitors and have their signatures.  I can set an alarm in the night in case any are tempted to come to our camp in the dark, even as I did back when my batteries needed charging, back before the god Vulcan made a cell charger for my equipment.”

“That would be good, but standard watch as well.”  No one complained.  It was their routine.  Tony and Nanette, new to this traveling business, watched from six, about sundown, to nine.  Lincoln and Alexis took the nine to midnight shift.  Lockhart and Katie watched in the middle, from midnight to three in the morning.  Decker, the no nonsense marine, and Elder Stow with his scanner took the dark of the night between three and six in the morning.  And Boston with Sukki watched from six through sunrise, until about nine, when everyone was up for the day and ready to travel.

Normally, the travelers did not expect visitors in the night.  People never used to travel in the dark, especially in the wilderness.  It was too dangerous.  But that night, around three in the morning, three Turks tried to climb over the rocks that sheltered the horses.  Elder Stow happened to be up when his scanner beeped.  He cut the sound right away, and while Decker woke the others, Elder Stow watched the men carefully with his scanner.

Lockhart, Decker, Lincoln, and Katie got their Patton sabers and waited.  They figured the Turks would not know what guns were so they would not be a good choice.  When the three would-be thieves dropped to the ground, they got surrounded.  Sukki held her knife, while Boston and Alexis held their wands.  One thief tried to move, and Alexis raised a wind that slammed all three back into the rock.  One hit rather hard and fell to his knees.

“Not smart,” Lockhart said.

One man, fast as a gunslinger, threw a knife at Elder Stow who just happened to walk up at that moment.  No doubt he thought the older man had to be the one in charge.  The knife bounced off Elder Stows personal screens, the one built into his belt that conformed to his body and moved with him but could not be expanded to cover more than one person.  Sukki momentarily looked afraid, before she got mad.  She grabbed the knife, bent it until it cracked.  She handed it back.

“You dropped this.”

The Turks made no more moves, and the two still standing decided to fall to their knees to join their companion.  Regret showed on at least two of those three faces.

“Get naked,” Lockhart said.  The Turks did not move.  “You heard me.  Get undressed.”  The Turks stood and slowly stripped down to their under things.  “I meant all of it,” Lockhart commanded.  He tapped one on the shoulder with the flat of his sword.  “Or I could cut it off you, but I can’t guarantee I won’t cut your flesh with it.”  The men finished undressing.  “Lincoln and Alexis, will you stack these things over on the rock at the end of the horse rope?  Yes, there.  You three, move.”

The three naked men walked to where the wagon was parked.  “Okay,” Katie said, having figured it out.  “You can walk back to your camp and give a message to your chief.”

“What message?” one found the courage to ask.

“You are the message,” Lockhart said.

“Git,” Boston raised her voice and waved her wand.  Three sparks, like electricity, zapped three naked butts.  All three men hopped and shrieked in surprise.  They hurried, but soon enough slowed down to a walk, while Elder Stow walked up holding his scanner.

“I will watch them,” he said.  “You all can go back to bed.”

Decker turned to Lockhart before Lockhart walked off.  “Better idea than what I had in mind,” he said, but he never did explain what he had in mind.

At five in the morning, about thirty minutes before sunrise, the Turks headed back up the stream from whence they came.  When the travelers got up and had their typical leftover breakfast, they packed up and started out.  They left the Turkic clothes and weapons on the rock, in case three naked men wanted to come back for their stuff.


The next day, the travelers avoided a few villages.  They stayed on track for the Khyber Pass which they knew was the way into India. The trail, which Katie imagined was what remained of the Silk Road, seemed good in some places, but not so good in others.  Tony, being from 1905 where he grew up driving mules and wagons, drove most of the way, and said he did not mind.  Sometimes Nanette or Sukki rode with him in the wagon.

Decker and Elder Stow stayed on the wings as they traveled.  They reported no problems and no more dusty columns in the distance.  Boston stayed out front, her elf senses on alert just in case.

That night, Lincoln got to read some about Sanyas, the ninety-eighth lifetime of the Kairos, the one who lived in this time zone.  “It says she got engaged at age three.  Her father, Yashodharman, if I said that right, was king of Malwa.  Aulikara Dynasty.  He died when she turned three, but he managed to engage her to Brahmagupta, a son of the King of Magadha’s younger brother.  They married when Sanyas came of age, which… it doesn’t say.  We can assume when she turned sixteen or so.”

“Wait,” Boston interrupted, which was good because she did not always pay attention.  “I thought we figured the time gate would be round Malwa.  They can’t be living there.”

“No.  And they are not living in Magadha, either.  They got sent to the frontier to defend against the Huns—the Alchon Huns that previously overran most of northeast India.  They got driven out before Sanyas was born, but they continue to raid.  So, the couple got sent to help defend the border, so to speak.  Sanyas’ older half-sister is Yashomati.  She is queen of Thanesar, married to King Prabhakaravardhana… That does it.  I can’t pronounce all these names.”

Alexis laughed.  “It does sound a bit like a poorly written piece of science fiction.”

Lincoln nodded, but Lockhart said, “I wouldn’t know about that.  I don’t read science fiction.”

“The thing is,” Lincoln continued.  “Thanesar is closer to Melwas, considering where we came into this time zone.  That means, she must presently be closer to us, doing what?  I have no idea.”

“Sanyas,” Sukki repeated the name.

“Actually,” Lincoln said, “Shan-eye-ash-ra-devi is what she is sometimes called.”

“I miss Devi,” Boston said.  “Our friend in India,” she explained to Nanette and Tony.  “And Varuna was very nice, too.”

“Devi is the word for goddess,” Katie said.  “The Kairos sometimes gets pegged by that sort of thing.”

“Really?” Lockhart joked, before he said, “No surprise there.”

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 2 of 3

An hour later, Festuscato found his rescue party.  Dibs and six of his men were escorting Morgan and Macy, who were riding on horseback and showing that they knew how to ride well.  They were headed and followed by twenty light elves, also on horse, including the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Festuscato said nothing, but he understood there was a very large party of gnomes, dwarfs, and others all around, hidden, including one determined ogre who was going to be disappointed at not having the chance to smash some Hun heads.

Morgan spurred her horse to ride up to meet him, but the horse balked when Clugh and Rhiannon appeared at Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato had gotten down to wait for the group to catch up, and his Hun horse bolted.  Fortunately, an elf was not far and able to catch it.  

Morgan kept her seat when her horse bucked, but she could not get her horse to go closer, so she got down, then wisely decided not to get closer herself until invited.  That dragon looked full grown.

“I thought you might like to say good-bye,” Rhiannon said.

“Have you decided to go over to the other side?  You are only four hundred and fifty years late.”  Festuscato smiled while Rhiannon frowned.

“I meant to Clugh.”

“Clugh.  Brother.  No fire.  No harm,” Festuscato shouted in dragon-speak.  He could not be sure the dragon heard him as its eyes were trained on the troop of horsemen, but it leaned down and sniffed, and then it got excited.  “Aha!  You remember me,” Festuscato shouted, and when Clugh’s head stopped bobbing up and down, Festuscato petted the beast and scratched behind the ear, which made Clugh purr, now a deep bass rumble.

“Ank!” Clugh said in something like a roar and raised his head.  Morgan started inching up, but she stopped at the sound.

“Tell your wife I am proud of her and happy for her,” Rhiannon said with a broad smile.  “She succeeded where all of the rest of the women in the world failed.”

“I didn’t sleep with every woman in the world,” Festuscato protested.

“Just about,” Rhiannon said through her grin.

“We will meet again,” Festuscato said quickly, as he sensed his audience with the goddess was finished.  “But maybe not in this life.”

“I know,” Rhiannon said.  “I wish you hadn’t said that.  And I lost Greta already.”  Rhiannon showed a tear in her eye and gave him a hug before she and Clugh vanished, and Morgan ran.  She tackled Festuscato and landed on top of him in the grass.  She started kissing his face all over while the words tumbled out.

“You are the best husband.  You have given me the best wedding present, ever.  All the fairies and elves and dwarfs and even the big ugly one, and the spooky ones all listen to me.  And the sprites in the sky and the rivers and the fire all pay attention.”  She took a breath. “Of course, they don’t do what I tell them, oh but they are wonderful, and I love them, and they love me, and I know it.  I really know it.”  She took another breath and her eyes went to tears.  “And I was so afraid I was going to lose you before I ever had you.  Sibelius, your house elf maid pulled me through the wall at the house, so I escaped the Huns, but then I kept crying, and they kept telling me that you were still alive, and here you are.” Her smile came back.  “And I love you so much.”  She hugged him and grinned an elf worthy grin as she laid her head on his chest.

Festuscato knew she was suffering from what he called elf overload.  He remembered Greta’s husband, Darius suffered from it when they were engaged, but he soon settled down, and so would Morgan.  Meanwhile, she excited him, terribly, and she seemed to know it, so he thought to say something.

“Wouldn’t you rather enjoy telling me all this without so many clothes getting in the way?”

Morgan pulled up her head, her eyes got big, and her cheeks turned red.  “Oh, I hope so,” she whispered, and kissed his ear.


Late in August, Gaius came to fetch Festuscato.  Morgan, three months pregnant, became happy all the time.  Festuscato stayed happy as well, but he also felt exhausted.  The only thing he could not figure out was if he or she was responsible for not letting the other get any rest.  He decided they were both responsible, and he could not prevent the smile that came to his lips, thinking about it.

“Father forgive me for I have sinned,” Festuscato said, as soon as he saw Gaius.  “I can’t think of a good one to tell you right now, but I must have done something.”

“I guessed from the smile on your face,” Gaius nodded.

“This?  Oh, this has nothing to do with sin for once.  I am a happily married man, you know.”  He looked up as Morgan came in, patting her belly.

“I’m happy too,” she said.  Festuscato looked at her with love in his eyes, and she finished her thought.  “Sibelius has finally mastered unburned toast, and she makes such great ham sandwiches.”

Festuscato stood and got in her face.  “I see.  You’re happy about ham sandwiches.” 

“I am eating for two.”

He put his hand on her tummy.  “Your mama likes to play.  She can’t fool me.”

“I don’t play.  I take it serious,” Morgan protested.  “You are the teacher.  I am the student.”

“And an excellent student you are.” He pulled up close and ran his fingers up her back which made a soft sigh come out of her lips.

“Got any more lessons?” she asked.

“Ahem.”  Gaius interrupted.  “And for once I don’t want to hear about it.  I just came to fetch you.  Are you ready to go?”

“Am I ready to go?” Festuscato asked his wife.

“Yes, you are ready,” Morgan said, but she moved in to hug him and squeeze him.  Then they kissed, and Gaius spoke again.

“I’ll wait outside.”

Pope Leo waited by the gate.  Dibs stood there, and the four horsemen came for a reunion trip, so at least six of them would wear the dragon tunic.  Aetius arrived, but only to try to talk them out of it.  The Pope did not listen, so Aetius turned to at least seeing them off safely.  He had brought his little army into Rome to man the walls when Attila turned and appeared to be headed for the city.  Aetius offered Festuscato good luck and went back to work.

“Hillarius will stand in my place while we are out of the city,” Leo explained to Felix, who had found his place at last, supplying all of the ecclesiastical robes for the priests, bishops, cardinals, and the Pope himself.  He had what Festuscato called his sweatshop down by the docks to be close when his imported silk came in.  “He will pay the agreed upon price or hear about it when I get back.”

“Very good,” Felix said, and bowed.  He really was a first-class salesman.

“Felix, Dibs, Gaius,” Festuscato got their attention.  “Who would have thought four grubby kids would go from stealing oranges to this?”

“We didn’t steal the oranges,” Gaius said, in a moment of selective memory.

“You were the grubby one,” Felix insisted.

“Too bad Mirowen couldn’t be here,” Dibs said, and they all agreed with that.

“She is happy where she is,” Festuscato said, though he had no way of knowing for sure.  “Queen of the Geats.  Of course, about now they ought to be fighting their own dragon.  Seamus knows some dragon-speak, and he should get the story down on paper.  We will all be able to read about it in about a hundred years.”  He mounted up, so they all mounted.  The Pope, naturally, had a hundred men under the centurion Abelard, going to protect him in the wilderness.  They kept their distance from the dragon and his men, having heard stories, and they gave Pope Leo plenty of room, and tried not to crowd him as well.  It became an easy thing for Festuscato to push through the dozen priests and scribes and ride beside Leo.

“So, your number two man is named Hillarius?”  The pope nodded and Festuscato said, “That’s hilarious.”  He laughed hard, and Gaius had to interject.

“Just ignore him when he says things like that.”

It took more than a week to get to the Po river.  Everyone kept thinking that Attila would cross over, and they would meet him on the way, but he seemed to be stuck on the far bank.  No one, except Festuscato, and maybe Dengizic, had any idea why he got stuck.

When they came to the river, they found it wide and deep.  That should not have mattered to the Huns.  If they had no bridge or boats, they were adept at making things like simple rafts, and their horses could swim well enough. 

“Why is he just standing there?”

Festuscato explained.  “Attila is a very superstitious man.  He is a pagan believer in the old ways, even though he is educated in the new ways.  He lives by the omens.  He had his shaman sacrifice before the battle of Chalons, and the man read the entrails and told Attila that a great leader would die in the battle.  Attila hesitated, but when he came out to fight, I believe he hoped Aetius would die, or maybe me, though I wasn’t the leader.”

The Pope waited before he said, “And?”

“Theodoric, King of the Visigoths died, but when you think about it, it would have been strange in a battle like that for every leader to come through unscathed.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Leo said, and Gaius helped him down into the boat where Father Falius waited.  

M4 Festuscato: The Last Gasp, part 1 of 3

Festuscato shoved Morgan into the small room beside the entranceway, before he got grabbed.  Festuscato prayed, and when one of the Huns burst the door to that room, he found the room empty and yelled.  Two more Huns followed and banged around on the walls and floor, but the room proved solid and the woman had gone.

“Where did she go?” The chief Hun yelled and slapped Festuscato, hard.

“In that room,” Festuscato responded through his bloody lip. “I don’t know, unless the goblins took her.”

The chief Hun hit him again, but the two who held his arms lightened their grip and another stared at the floor, like he expected something to rise up any minute.  No matter.  Festuscato would not escape.  They tied his hands and feet, dragged him outside, and threw him over a horse, Margueritte style, he thought to himself.  They rode through the night and arrived at a Hun camp just before sunrise.  

Festuscato felt dizzy and half-conscious when they threw him into a tent and posted several guards.  The tent looked like some sort of command tent, with a table and stools, and a cot behind a curtain.  Festuscato hit the ground near the spot where a fire had burned, recently, but he felt too dizzy to look around much.  He slept for a while, now that he was not being jostled about.  When he awoke in the early afternoon, his stomach remained queasy, but his head felt better.  He just started thinking a bit of food might help his stomach settle down, when his visitor arrived.  Dengizic, Attila’s middle son.  Festuscato made the effort to sit up—not an easy thing with his hands and feet still tied.

Dengizic entered the tent with two others, no doubt his captains, and he slapped Festuscato, hard.  Festuscato’s lip began to bleed as the slap shoved him back to the ground.  He groused because he had to make the effort to sit up again.

“Dengizic,” Festuscato said as he spat blood.  “I heard your father was in Italy.  Did you come for the warm weather?”

Dengizic raised his hand to slap Festuscato a second time but changed his mind.  “At last, the dragon is bound,” he said in a triumphant voice.

“What?  You came this far south just for me?”

Dengizic shook his head.  “We got the word that Valentinian abandoned Ravena and made a dash for Rome.  I was sent to intercept him, but somehow, he slipped past us.  I heard he was dressed as a woman.”  Dengizic and his captains thought of that as terribly funny.

“So, you got me instead,” Festuscato concluded.

“Father will not be unhappy.”

“But what do you expect to gain by invading Italy?” Festuscato asked, seriously.  “The empire in the west is all but gone.  The gold is all spent, and Rome is ready to crumble with nothing to be gained by it.”

“We will be the end of you Romans.  We have utterly destroyed Aquileia and your legion on the Adriatic.  Attila is marching on Padua, and men are scouting as far away as Milan.  Now that the weather has turned, Aetius is seeking to come back from Gaul, but he has no army to reckon with.  The Franks and Visigoths have abandoned him.”

“So, Italy is wide open, waiting for you to take whatever plunder there is.  I hope you won’t be too disappointed.  Besides, Italy has had some bad harvests these last couple of years.  You may find it hard to keep your great army fed as well as paid.”

“We will take the food of the people,” Dengizic said calmly, quite certain that he had the upper hand.  “What do we care if you Romans die by the sword or by starvation?”

“People die of many things,” Festuscato responded.  “How is your father holding up by the way?  His circulation must be getting pretty bad.  Has he shown any signs of bleeding?”

Dengizic paused in his own thoughts and stared at Festuscato.  Clearly, he had seen some things.  “What do you know?” he asked.

Festuscato looked at the others in the tent as he spoke.  “Maybe this needs to be private, for your ears only.”  Dengizic also looked at his captains before he ordered them to leave.  He took a stool and sat facing Festuscato while he waited to hear what Festuscato had to say.

“I imagine he has a couple of years, at most.  The consensus is he has circulatory problems, may be developing blood clots, and may have a stroke or heart attack in the next year or so.  Doctor Mishka thinks he may have a brain tumor, but it is impossible to be certain without examining him with equipment that hasn’t been invented yet.”

Dengizic struggled to understand.  “I know what a heart attack is.  Are you saying my father will have a heart attack?”

“Or a stroke or seizure of some kind.  A stroke is where one whole side of the body dies.”

Dengizic’s eyes got wide.  “I have seen such a thing.”

“Of course, if it is a brain tumor, he could die at any point.  Look for bleeding from the nose, or worse, from the ears.  Look for erratic, that is, strange behavior.  Look for him to behave like a completely different person.  He might go along seeming normal for days or weeks, and then have an episode where he starts to act strange, and then after a time he seems normal again.”

“This will kill him?” Dengizic asked.  He looked at the ground, thinking hard.

“A year.  Maybe two.”  Festuscato paused before he asked a question.  “Tell me about Ellak.  He is your older brother, right?”

“Ellak is not so smart.  You see, father did not send him on this errand.”

“So, when your father dies, you are going to let Ellak take over and rule?”

Dengizic’s eyes got big.  “What are you suggesting?”

“I am not suggesting anything.  I am telling you that you have a year or two to get your house in order and build support if you don’t want not-so-smart to take over.  I am telling you to watch out for Emak, your younger brother.  I hear he is a clever one.  I would not be surprised if he started reaching out to supporters years ago.  I don’t think it will take him long to build an army.”

Dengizic stood.  He looked like a man for whom the universe just made sense and he did not know what to do about it.  Festuscato had a different thought, about something he could do.

“Rhiannon,” he called.  Then the goddess Amphitrite spoke into his mind from her time in the deep past, and Festuscato amended his statement. “In Amphitrite’s name, I give you permission to come into the jurisdiction of Olympus and Saturn.”

Rhiannon appeared, meek and unsure, looking around as if she expected Zeus or someone to show up any minute and start yelling.  When she caught sight of Festuscato all tied up and on the ground, she covered her mouth to hold back her laugh.  She paid no attention to Dengizic, who took a step back and opened his mouth.

“Mother, you look like that pig, Megla.”

“If you don’t mind,” Festuscato said and held out his hands.  “And your mother Danna says she does not want to get involved.”

Rhiannon raised one hand and the ropes that bound Festuscato fell away. He got up stiffly and rubbed his back as he did.  “But what are the Huns doing here?” she asked. “I saw your battle, by the way.  You just sat on your hill and didn’t even draw your sword.  Tsk, tsk.”  She shook a finger at him and scolded him.

Festuscato rolled his eyes.  Most Celtic goddesses were a bit bloodthirsty.  He got to the point.  “How is my dragon?”

“My dragon,” Rhiannon said, possessively.  “You gave him to me.”  He nodded but looked for his answer.  “Well,” she said softy before her face lit up.  “He is really growing.  He has learned to cut a deer in half so the whole thing doesn’t get stuck half-way down.  He is really very clever, you know.”

“Smarter than your average bear,” Festuscato nodded.  “I was wondering if you would mind bringing him here for a bit.  These Huns captured the dragon and I want them to think twice before trying it again.  Besides, I need something to cover my escape.”

Rhiannon curled her lip.  “I have really been good and steered Clugh away from people.”

“The Huns have horses,” Festuscato suggested.

Rhiannon’s lip stayed curled. “Horse gives him the burpies.  He ate a whole horse once and stayed up all night burping flames in his nest.”

“He doesn’t have to eat any. Just crisp a few and cause some panic so I can get away.”

“All right,” Rhiannon agreed, and her smile returned.  She stepped out of the tent with a word to Dengizic.  “Close your mouth.”

“Close your mouth,” Festuscato agreed as he followed Rhiannon outside.  He found a horse there ready to ride.  Whether it was Rhiannon’s doing or not seemed unclear.  Festuscato gave the cheek of the goddess a quick peck, said, “Thank you,” and mounted.  As he rode off, the dragon flew over his head and started burning tents, men and horses.  Rhiannon rose happily in the air and helped Clugh practice his aim.

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 3 of 3

Morgan still had her hand covering her mouth.  “This is you in another lifetime, isn’t it?”  Gerraint nodded.  He had already breached the subject.  “When did you live?”

“Oh, it’s worse than you know,” Gerraint said with a sly smile.  “I haven’t even been born yet.”

Morgan laughed and put her hand on his arm.  “I love it.”

“Move on,” Gerraint said, and Clover got the oxen moving again.  Mercedes crawled up into the wagon and kept shaking her head.  Ironwood stayed big and talked quietly with Macy.  And she talked with him, more conversation than Festuscato got from the girl.  He looked again at Morgan who kept staring at him like she was waiting for the next chapter in the saga.

“Festuscato is thirty-five.”

“Just right.  Well matured, and I assume I won’t have to teach him manners.”

“True, but I’ve lived some lives as women.”

“I expected as much.”

“But I am the only one.  No one else has other lives like that.”

“I have no other lives, but I like what I have seen of him so far.  I like red hair.  It is exciting.”

“You have no idea,” Gerraint said.  “My life is usually like a tornado, like a hurricane.  Sometimes I can stand in the eye of the storm, but those around me often get caught up in the madness and danger.  I have been ninety-five people before Festuscato, though I don’t remember them all, or close to it.  Right now, all I know are the Princess and Diogenes before Christ, Greta, Festuscato, myself and Margueritte in these several hundred years, Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller in the future, oh and Alice who is the creator and caretaker of Avalon in the second heavens.  Worse than that, I have been a god, four gods, four different times in the deep past, and when I have to reach out to one of them it is because something so horrible is happening, the whole word is in danger. Enid, my wife, keeps begging me to stay home, but I have to do my duty, and she is a real help and a real trooper.”  Gerraint paused and took a breath.  “Still interested?”

“More than ever.”

Gerraint glanced back to be sure the Visigoths were well out of sight before Festuscato returned.  He came back and immediately caught Morgan in his arms and kissed her, passionately.  He couldn’t speak for her, but he felt the fireworks go off in his head.  When they stopped, and turned, they saw they had some catching up to do.  They held hands as they ran, then let go when they walked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes what?”

“I’m just practicing for when you ask me to marry you.”  

“You realize, no one knows all this, and maybe I didn’t explain the worst part.  I never get to go to heaven.  I try not to dwell on that fact, but sometimes I get depressed about it and then I am not fun to be around.  I just keep getting to start all over again from scratch, as a baby.”

“And a very cute baby, I am sure.”  Morgan took Festuscato’s arm, and Festuscato knew that this was one woman he could not just slip into bed.  With Morgan, it would be all or nothing, but as he thought about it, he didn’t mind.  “So, tell me about the fairies,” she said.


Once they got to Arles, they had some negotiating to do with the merchant and his son.  The boy and Mercedes looked happy with the arrangement, but the dowry did not seem right.  Festuscato felt afraid the man might try to back out of the deal, but then the chief Roman military man in the province, the Dux of Provence found out Lord Agitus, alias the dragon was in town, and the whole city turned out to guide him to the palace, like it was the return of Constantine himself.

Morgan walked beside him and asked softly.  “Is it always like this?”  She was not used to being a public spectacle.

“No,” Festuscato said through his grin as he waved at the people like a conquering hero.  “Sometimes they just arrest me and throw me in prison.”

When they got back to the merchant, three days later, he seemed more than happy to accommodate them.  The bishop of Arles himself offered to perform the wedding, and the merchant’s wife kept fainting.  It became a lovely time, but in the end, Festuscato had to dig out the last of his gold coins from the secret pocket in his armor and pay for passage for four to Rome.  Clover and Heather decided to stay in Provence and promised to look in on Mercedes now and then.  They found May’s family and the fairy troop that roamed the fields and forests of the region and fit right in, as fairies do. Ironwood decided to go with Macy, and he stayed big as much as possible, and maybe more than he should, but sometimes he got small, sat on her shoulder and hid in her hair, which made her very happy.


Festuscato spent a lot of time on deck, fretting and bored.  Someone said the Huns had crossed the Alps into Italy and that did not sound good to him.  Morgan comforted him as well as she could, and they hugged and kissed plenty, but then Festuscato would just berate himself for stupidity.  Why did he ever imagine he should wait for Gaius to marry them.  His only consolation was by the end of the voyage, she seemed as frustrated as him. 

When they sailed in on the morning tide, they found everyone there, waiting for his arrival.  The elf Lord Atias stood with the four horsemen decked out in their dragon tunics.  Dibs and all ten of his men were present with Marcellus and a well-worn woman who had to be Marcellus’ wife.  She stood next to Emma, and Felix and the children were with them.  Gaius, it appeared, had been elevated to cardinal, the Abbot of Marmoutier, the name given to Saint Martins looked happy, and Pope Leo himself stood with them.  Festuscato kissed the Pope’s ring and the Pope hugged Morgan and whispered, “Thank you, thank you.”

At the pope’s insistence, they were married that day in Saint Peters Basilica, the one commissioned by Constantine, the Pope himself presiding, and all Leo could say to Morgan was “Thank you, thank you.”

Gaius explained to the bewildered woman.  “Festuscato’s indiscretions are legendary.  Three popes, Celestine, Xystus, and now Leo, could only look at me and shake their head,” he spoke brightly.  “We started to fear no woman would ever get him to marry and settle down, so congratulations.”

“He is all I want,” she confessed quietly.  “But I know he has work to do that the rest of us can hardly comprehend.”

“A little advice,” Gaius confided.  “Sometimes it is better not to ask.”

Festuscato bundled Morgan up on a carriage and they headed for his home. Morgan finally got to ask something when she caught her breath.  “Are you rich or something?”

“Very,” he said.  “Want to spend it all?”

She just grinned.

Everyone went elsewhere so the couple could reach the Agitus house on the Appian Way and have the night to themselves.  They all had plans to call within the next week, but for the present, they left the couple alone.  It turned March, the spring started blooming, and though the couple had only known each other for six months, both felt it more than enough time and they were beyond ready.  As they entered the house, they found men with knives waiting for them.  Huns, Festuscato thought.  Morgan looked to be in shock.



Romance is nice, but Attila is not finished with Rome. Monday, The Last Gasp.


M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 2 of 3

Festuscato looked at the half-elf and waited for her to explain, but the young woman with the brown hair and fascinating Margueritte-like hazel eyes spoke up.  “Macy is the eldest.” she pointed at the half-elf who seemed tongue tied in Festuscato’s presence.  Mother was pregnant with her when she married my father.  It didn’t matter.  As soon as Macy was born with her pointed ears, it was clear that my father was not her father.  But my father tried to raise her like his own.”  Macy nodded to say that was so.  “At least until she was six.”

“And your name?”

“Morgan, and I am twenty-one and all alone in the world apart from my sisters.”  Morgan looked into Festuscato’s eyes and batted her own, just a little.  Festuscato wanted the rest of the story.  He frowned before he saw the tears in the corners of Morgan’s eyes and chastised himself for thinking his crude thoughts.

“So, what happened to your father and mother?” Festuscato asked, tenderly.

“My father got killed by Huns when I was three.  Macy was six.  Mother and Mercedes’ father survived when the Visigoths counterattacked.  They say it was a terrible battle, but after life settled down again, mother was lucky to remarry, and she had another girl.  Mother died of the plague when Mercedes was five.  I was nine and Macy was twelve.  Poor Father Flavius, Mercedes’ father, and Lucas at sixteen had three girls to take care of, and Lucas was kind of slow, if you know what I mean.  We all thought life would be better when we got to Arles.  We sold our home, and the deal was going to be secured when Mercedes married.  Father Flavius promised to find us husbands when we got to Arles, but now we have no hope.

Morgan began to cry softy, and Festuscato hugged her to comfort her.  She did not resist him.  Macy held Mercedes in very much the same way, and Heather stood right there, in her big size, crying along with everyone else.  Festuscato noticed Clover came back to comfort Heather, but since he said nothing, Festuscato figured the immediate area had to be Hun free.

After a moment, Festuscato separated from Morgan and Morgan wiped her eyes.  He had decided something and felt he needed some space, though he kept his hands on Morgan’s shoulders.  He called the head gnome that helped him steal one of Theodoric’s horses.  The gnome thought a minute without saying a word and Festuscato nodded.  Suddenly, there were twenty gnomes in that little part of the forest.  Morgan looked delighted.  Mercedes looked scared again, but Macy smiled, except she began to cry again.  

Heather reached out for Mercedes, and the girl moved to be close to Heather and Clover who were both in their big size and looking like ordinary people.  At least Mercedes did not scream when the gnomes got to work.

They found the wagon, and the oxen that had wandered off.  They hitched up the beasts and packed the tents and everything neatly in the wagon.  Two fetched Festuscato’s horse and red cloak.  Festuscato sent the red cloak back to Avalon the moment he saw it.  He tried to do it without being noticed, but Morgan saw and kept her thoughts to herself.  The gnomes also dug two graves.  They were shallow, but sufficient when the gnomes piled stones on top.  They seemed to have a knack for pulling mostly buried stones right out of the soil.

When they were done, it became noon and they had not moved an inch.  Festuscato made two crosses out of sticks, and the gnomes did something to make them root in the soil.  Then he did not know what to say, so he assured the women they would find a priest and say a mass for the dead.

Festuscato turned to his gnomes and thanked them all for their good help. “I owe you,” he said.

“Nothing,” the chief gnome spoke up.  “You have already given us everything through the centuries, since the day you first made us out of those wild imps.  You owe us nothing.  We were glad to be allowed to help, and would do it again, anytime.”

Festuscato glanced at Morgan who absorbed all of this like a sponge.  He knew there was no doing this quietly.  He clapped his hands, and the gnomes all disappeared, and he felt an explanation might be necessary.

“I sent them home.”

“And a lovely home it is, I am sure,” she said, smiled a lovely smile, and slipped into his arms for more hugging.  “Thank you for your kindness,” she whispered, and snuggled in a way that woke Festuscato right up, before she took a step back and a curious look crossed her face.  “But I don’t know anything about you, or your name other than you said you were the dragon, whoever that is.”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, knight errant for the duration while I deliver you to Arles.”

“Festuscato I caught,” she said.  “And I accept the offer of escorting us to Arles, but you will have to explain the rest, and all of the things you haven’t explained.  I never heard of Huns running away.”

“We should start moving first,” Festuscato suggested, and she collected her sisters while he tied his horse to the back of the wagon and Clover and Heather stepped out front to get the oxen moving.

Festuscato looked at Morgan and felt the smile in his stomach.  She looked at him and smiled outwardly in return, and Festuscato realized that nothing less that the whole truth would do for this one.  She seemed bright enough to understand and not one who would be willing to accept half measures.  In that moment, he felt like he very much wanted to explain it all, like it became a great burden on his soul.  Sadly, they barely started when Ironwood came racing back.

“Lord, the Huns have moved on to the road to the shore, but that Visigoth captain and his troop are on the road, coming back, and they almost got by me.”

Festuscato looked up as Macy said, “Men coming.”  She pointed, and Festuscato barely had time to say, excuse me, before he traded paces with Gerraint who came back in his armor, complete with helmet and swords in the right places.  Morgan squeaked like a cute little mouse.  Mercedes tried not to look.  Macy began to cry again.  Ironwood got big and stepped up to keep the girls quiet.

When the captain called his troop to a halt, Clover and Heather halted as well.  The Captain recognized the armor and got suspicious as to why a lone soldier would be out on the road.

“Soldier.  What are you doing in this wilderness?”

“Escorting this family to Arles.  As you can see, it is a most peasant duty for an old soldier.”  He removed his helmet and showed the gray hair of age.  He smiled for the captain and the captain softened his expression.  He asked about the red-haired man and the dapple-gray horse, but Gerraint could only say he saw no such man.  Morgan covered her mouth to stifle her giggle.

“Take care, old man,” the captain said.  “I heard rumors of Huns on the road.”

“I heard we crushed the Huns up north and sent them scurrying back across the border to lick their wounds.”

“We did,” the captain said as several of the men nodded, like they were there.

“Well good luck to you.  I hope you catch your man.”

The captain shook his head.  “This was an unlikely direction.  The rest of his party all went to Narbonne and by now they have probably taken ship for Rome or unknown places.  We ride.”  The captain and his men rode out and Gerraint turned to Morgan.

“How do you like my disguise?”

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 1 of 3

Heather found an unbranded dapple gray seven-year-old that seemed gentle enough.  They had gotten a couple of gnomes to do the actual looking, and the gnomes had the horse saddled and ready to go.  They also had a glamour covering the horse so instead of being dapple gray, it looked like a natural brown.

Margueritte looked around at her little ones and said, “Thank you all so very much.  It was lovely meeting you all, and I do hope to see you again some time.  Say a special thank you to Fangs.”  She looked at Heather.  “I don’t like rats and bats either.  Good-bye,” she said and went away, so Gerraint could take his turn.

“All right then, Ironwood.”  Gerraint appeared a commanding contrast to Margueritte.  To an outsider, it would have been hard to imagine they were actually the same person, or maybe different persons but the same being.  “Let’s make this fairy weave imitate a Visigoth soldier’s uniform.  I feel silly in a dress.”  It took several minutes.  Gerraint called to Excalibur as his most Gothic looking sword and set it at his left side, Visigoth style.  He set Defender to his right side and stepped back to ask how he looked.  Naturally, everyone said he looked great, but he frowned.  “Well, let’s just hope it fools the men at the various gates.”

“Actually, you don’t look very much like a Goth, with your dark brown hair,” Clover said, in a sudden fit of honesty.  “You might pass for a half breed, but you have a Celtic look about you.”

“So maybe I have to swear and spit a lot,” Gerraint said, as he slipped on his helmet, mounted his horse, and rode off.  “These baby blue eyes ought to count for something.”

None of the guards gave him any trouble, even though he stumbled on a couple of words and once had to revert to Latin.  Gerraint, a big man at six feet, had finally perfected his mean stare, so no one argued.  Once he left Tolouse, he turned in an unexpected direction, towards Provence instead of Narbonne.  The gnomes had thought to fill his satchels with some quality food, so there were no worries there.  The fairies still followed but kept their distance when there were people around.  They came in close when the road finally brought Gerraint into the shelter of some trees.

Gerraint changed to Greta and let his fairy weave change back to Margueritte’s washer woman dress.  Greta immediately stomped her foot.  “What is she, a size two?”

“She is a couple of inches taller than your five foot, four inches, but she is a size four, petite.  Short waist, with nice, long legs,” someone said in Greta’s mind.  She assumed it was the Storyteller, and she responded to him out loud in her grumpy voice.

“So, I have stumpy legs and have to make everything bigger, especially around the middle.  I must be a size twelve,” she said, and added, “at least,” before someone else said it.  Greta considered the clothing then and opted for her old riding clothes which were still being kept somewhere in Avalon.  She called her red cloak with the hood to have against the fall chill in the night.  She mounted her supposed brown horse and headed toward Arles.

Around noon, a large troop of Visigoths caught up with her.  They were looking for a man with red hair, possibly riding on a dapple-gray horse.

“I have seen no such man,” Greta said, in all honesty, since she did not have a mirror.

“It is not safe here for a young maiden alone on the road,” the captain said.

“I will be careful,” Greta promised.  “I am not going far.”

The captain smiled for her and took his troop off at a gallop.  Heather stuck her head out from Greta’s hair where she had been standing on Greta’s shoulder, whispering in Greta’s ear.

“That was close,” Heather said.

“Clover, you need to watch behind.  Ironwood, you need to watch ahead.  If that captain comes back this way, I need warning, so I have time to get off the road and hide.”  That said, Greta and Heather settled into a long day’s ride, with Heather talking most of the way.

At sunset, Greta pulled well off the road, but did not light a fire.  She ate a little before she curled up in her cloak.  She slept well.  It had been a long day.  It just turned to sunrise, however, when she got rudely awakened.  Someone screamed, and the first thing Greta thought was she was back in Dacia, traveling with her friends, and she jumped up.  The scream came again.  The second thing Greta thought was, Margueritte, that’s how you do it if you want a good scream.  There came a third scream as Greta woke enough to go away so Festuscato could return.  He arrived dressed in his armor with the sword Wyrd in his hand.  He ran through the woods but stopped short of the action.

Three women crouched behind a fallen log.  He knew immediately that the one with the long black hair and the bow in her hands was a half-elf, and he also knew her father was a Macreedy.

“Man,” he said to himself. “Those Macreedys get around more than I do.”  Then he shut down those thoughts because he did not want to know how many little Festuscato’s he might have left in his wake.

The other two girls appeared human.  The one with the plain brown hair held tight to a long knife and looked prepared to do whatever might be necessary.  The blonde looked to be a basket case; obviously, the screamer.

Their camp had two tents and two bodies, one young man and one older man who still clutched a sword.  He just caught a glimpse of the men on the far side of the camp hidden among the trees when Ironwood flew up with a report.

“Five men, Huns.  One has an arrow in his leg.  One has an arrow in his chest, right side.”

“Oh, girls,” one of the Huns called.

“Not alive,” the one with the brown hair shouted over the log without sticking her head up.  “You might as well go away.”

“What do you want?” Festuscato interrupted the sparkling conversation and heard silence for a minute, while Festuscato called to Heather and Clover.  He spoke softly.  “You two need to fly over to Mirowen’s Macreedy cousin and tell her we are on her side.  Ironwood get big.  I need you with your bow.”

Ironwood appeared as a twenty-four-year-old, covered in a fine armor, and took up a position by the next tree.  “We mean no harm to you women, but what do you men want?”

There followed a long pause before a man answered. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Fair enough.  Now here is an offer.  You can leave right now while you still live, or you can die.”  Festuscato had sheathed his sword and pulled out his own bow.  He had an arrow ready and three more in his hand.  Diana, the goddess, had given a gift of her own spirit to his genetic reflection, whenever that might have been in the past, much like Bodanagus had been gifted and Margueritte reflected those gifts.  In Festuscato, the gift of the goddess presently pushed deep into his hands and eyes.  Given any sort of shot and he knew he would not miss.  “Time is up.  What’s your answer?”

“Who in Mitra’s name do you think you are?”

“I am the dragon who tied Megla up like a pig and threw him and his men off my island.  I am the dragon who just kicked Attila’s butt so hard he took all of his men and friends and ran away.  I am the dragon who is going to burn you to ashes if you don’t leave these women alone, right now.”

No one answered, but they heard the Huns getting up on horses and riding off at a gallop.  Festuscato called again to his fairies, and they came right away.  “Ironwood, I need you small again, to follow the Huns and tell me where they land.  I don’t want them to set up an ambush down the road.  Clover, you have to search the whole area to make sure they didn’t leave one behind.  Heather, is it safe to visit the women?”

“Oh, yes,” Heather said.  “But Mirowen Macreedy’s cousin is crying.”  Heather did not understand that the tears were happy tears.  Soon enough, the blonde started wailing, definitely unhappy tears.  Apparently, the old man had been her father, and the younger one, her father’s son by another marriage.  Mercedes was seventeen, the youngest of the three half-sisters, but her father had arranged a marriage with the son of a successful merchant in Arles, and now surely that would never happen.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 3 of 3

By the first of April, Cologne, Tournai and Trier were sacked as expected and Cambrai and Metz were in flames, ruined by the two fists of Attila.  The Huns were headed for the edge of Frankish territory and would soon enter Roman Gaul.  There, Festuscato expected at least Amiens and Reims would fall.  After that, he thought Attila and his fist might head for Troyes while the northern fist under his eldest son, Ellak, who commanded his fist under the seasoned hand of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, headed for Paris.  When he originally thought this through, he imagined the Huns might reunite their armies at Paris, but Orleans would do around May or June, and from there they could face the Visigoths, either to invade Visigoth land or negotiate a Roman style treaty of non-aggression.  Now, Festuscato wondered if they would even get that far.

It seemed a long way, when late in the afternoon, Chlodebaud, King of the Ripuarian Franks, came into the command tent spitting mad about something. He usually stayed mad about something, and he regularly reminded them how Attila’s son, Dengizic, brought his Huns across the Rhine last fall and despoiled all the land around Nijmegen.  His men were the worst about being patient.  Of course, Festuscato, Bran, Heinz and Gregor had the good sense not to tell Chlodebaud why the Huns did what they did.

Merovech’s brother Adalbert, Duke of Moselle, looked up at his brother Chlodebaud, but said nothing.  He generally kept quiet and went along with whatever the others decided, but his men were good fighters, and proved it in the few little skirmishes they had thus far had with Ardaric’s rear guard.  Merovech himself sat with Gregor and Dibs, sipping ale and laughing.  Etheldrood, alias Egbert the Saxon sat there too, looking sour, but he responded.

“I understand your frustration.  My men are not used to waiting.  We see the enemy and we want to attack.”

Chlodebaud spit again.  “I heard when the Hun came in the front door, you Saxons with the Jutes and Angles snuck out the back door and ran away to Britain.”

Etheldrood looked angry for a second before he softened and admitted, “Yes, some have done that,”

Heinz, chief of his village, thought to add a word.   He often sat beside King Etheldrood and kept the man under control, as Lord Gregor instructed.  “But in this case, if we were to jump to the attack, the whole Hun army would turn on us, and we do not have the strength yet to stand up to them.  Once we get to Paris, that will be another story.”

Chlodebaud and Etheldrood both gave Heinz the same unhappy look, even as Marcellus came to the door.  Marcellus had arrived from Britain in March.  He brought a hundred Amoricans, all dressed in dragon tunics, who after twelve years defending the Pendragon, and now with Constantine gone and Constans taking over, decided they wanted to go home.

“Lack of patience can get you killed,” Dibs spoke up.

“There will be plenty of time for action,” Gregor said.  “But you must learn to relax when you can.  Not to stop being vigilant, mind you, but relax, like my friend Merovech is learning.”  Merovech looked a moment at his drink and nodded.

“Lord Festuscato will pounce like a great cat in the wilderness, but not before we are ready and only when we have the greatest chance for success,” Marcellus spoke up.  “I have seen him play this game with the Huns before, and in the end, he kicked them right off his island.”

Chlodebaud took a seat and looked at Etheldrood.  They would be good and wait.

At that same time, Festuscato, Bran, Luckless, Ironwood, Lord Birch, the fairy lord from the Atlantique province, Strongarm, a local elf lord, and the ever quiet four elf horsemen that Festuscato called his four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were questioning three captured Hun scouts.  The Huns were down on their knees, but not tied.

“So Ellak the coward and Ardaric the senile old man ran away,” Festuscato tested them.  One young Hun started to stand to give answer to the insult, but Bran’s hand on his shoulder quickly dissuaded him.  The other two old warriors hardly flinched, and one spoke in a calm voice.

“We escaped your trap where you would have crushed us against the Romans in Paris.  Now Lord Ellak and the great king Ardaric are lost in the wilderness and you have only guesses.  For all you know, they may be circling around behind you.  And we will not tell you where they have gone.  We are prepared to die.”

Festuscato let out a little chuckle.  “Ironwood,” he said.

“They are headed toward Orleans.  They will meet Attila along the way which will put all sixty-thousand together for the assault.”

“Lord Birch.”

“Yes, Lord.  The Alans around Orleans are prepared to fight, but King Sangiban appears to be undecided.  Attila has offered to leave him the city if he opens the gates, but King Budic of Amorica will get there first and he and his men may put some backbone into the old king.”

“You see?” Festuscato spoke frankly.  “I need no information.  That is not why you were captured, alive.  I have spared you because I want you to take a message to Attila.  Tell him, if he takes his army and goes back across the Rhine, I will spare his life a second time, and give him this ring as a sign.”  Festuscato took a gaudy, diamond studded ring from his finger and gave it to the old Hun who spoke.  “Fail to give the message and I will know it and nowhere on earth will be safe for you to hide.  But if you give him the message, be warned.  The last man I sent to Attila with a message lost his head.”

“What last man?” the young one asked in a snarky, unbelieving voice.

“Megla,” Festuscato said, and clearly all three Huns had heard the story.

“You are the dragon?” the old Hun asked.

“I am, so please give him my message and my ring.”  Festuscato and Bran stepped back.  “You are free to go.”  Festuscato waved and three elves brought up the Huns horses.  The Huns stepped warily to the horses and mounted.  The older scout who said and did nothing during the interview, turned on Festuscato the moment he got hold of his spear. Festuscato did not flinch as the man became a pincushion of elf arrows.  The horse bolted but settled down after a few yards and the dead body slid out of the saddle.

“Such a shame,” Festuscato said, as the other two Huns rode off without looking back.



General Aetius has come up from Rome and is trying to raise the men and keep the Burgundians and Visigoths pointed in the right direction.  The Alans in Orleans may be pressed for a time.  Everyone hopes King Budic can arrive in time to help.  Bran the Brit calls it a daft plan, but if the men arrive it just might work.  Gaul is in the Balance.  Until Monday: