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.

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

MONDAY

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:

*

 

 

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 2 of 3

“Put a finger up,” Festuscato said.

“What?  I don’t see how—”

“No, I mean right now, put a finger up.”  Merovech did and Festuscato explained.  “That finger represents you, the Salian Franks, a strong people, but alone.”  Festuscato raised his hands and started with his left thumb.  “Now on this side we have Attila and about fifteen thousand Huns, and he has with him at least another fifteen thousand others.”  With each name he turned down a finger until he made a fist.  “Ostrogoths under Valamir, Bavarians, Suebi, Avars.”  He turned to his right hand and started with his thumb again.  “Here, we have the sons of Attila with another fifteen thousand Huns, and with them we have Ardaric and his Gepids, Goths, Thuringians, and your brother Cariaric and his Hessians.  Tell me how a finger alone is going to stand against two big fists.”

Merovech put his finger down and looked awkward for a moment.  “I understand.”

Festuscato continued.  “Why do you think the Huns hold sway over such a large empire?  It is because all of the various German and other tribes try to stand up, one finger against the fist.  I don’t know why.  Stupidity or pride, I guess.  They are often the same thing.  I spent the last nine or so years listening to great tales of courage and valor, but in the end, the people bow to the Huns and pay tribute.  But I was thinking if a few of those German tribes joined together to make their own fist—”

Merovech interrupted.  “I see, Chlodebaud and Adelbert.  We join forces.  Salian, Ripuarian and Mosen Franks together, like our father Clodio tried to do.”  Festuscato simply nodded while Merovech thought it through.  Childeric had come over to listen, Heather resting comfortably on his shoulder.  He put his elbows on the table and looked back and forth between Festuscato and his father.  “But that is only three fingers.  We still cannot come near to matching even one fist.  If each fist is thirty thousand as you say, and I do not doubt it, we can raise maybe ten thousand.  Not much more.”

“That is why we get the Saxons to join us,” Festuscato said.

“Saxons?”  Merovech almost objected.  The Franks and Saxons were not good neighbors, and the prejudice could be heard in Merovech’s voice, even if he only said the one word.

“Who do you think you have been drinking with at Felix’s tavern these past few months?”  Festuscato asked, knowing full well that Merovech went by the tavern any number of times. 

“Why?  Only that one-eyed loudmouth of a Saxon.  He is a rude, crude braggart and displays everything that so many don’t like about the breed.”

“Granted,” Festuscato nodded.  “But he is not a bad man.”

“No,” Merovech admitted.  “He is not a bad man.”

Festuscato nodded again.  “He is also the king of the Saxons, or father of the king, anyway.”

“What?”  Merovech bounded out of his seat with enough force to knock his chair to the floor.

Festuscato finished nodding.  “Gregor will keep his son in line and pointed at the enemy. or he will kick Egbert’s butt.”

“Etheldrood,” Childeric said.

“Yes, thank you,” Festuscato smiled for Childeric and Heather.  “Etheldrood will bring about four thousand men or more, ready for battle, men who have come to despise the Huns.  Indeed, it will probably be difficult to hold them back and stick to the battle plan.”

Merovech picked up his seat.  “So, if my brothers and I can raise about ten thousand between us, that still leaves us short.  Even with the Saxons, we will have only half of one fist.”  Merovech shook his head again as he shook his finger at Festuscato.  “But somehow I feel you have an answer.  Son,” he spoke to Childeric.  “This one is sly.  Maybe you can learn from him.”

“Yes, father.  I have been paying attention,” Childeric responded.

“Liege,” Festuscato said.  “The hills around give good cover, and the town is not a capital or of the size to be tempting to the Huns, plus it is about in the middle for you and your brothers.  Cologne will have to be abandoned, and Tournai, and probably Trier as well.  Let the men come to Liege ready to fight and let the women and children seek refuge in the country.  Leave enough treasure and food in the cities like an offering, so the Huns are not tempted to scour the countryside.  That would lead to too many unnecessary deaths.  So, leave enough food and treasure to make it worth their while and they will move on.  Remember, buildings can always be rebuilt.”

Merovech shook his head again.  “What you ask will be hard, but I see we will not be nearly ready to meet them in time to defend even one city.  And I see if we try to defend our own cities, we will not have the force on our own to stop them.”

“Or even slow them down,” Festuscato agreed.  “So, we gather around Liege, and when the Huns pass out of Salian territory, we will follow them carefully.  We might pick off their stragglers, but we must stay prepared to back away if they turn.  They will know we are behind them.”

“But wait.  You haven’t answered about the fist.  With my brothers and the Saxons, we have only four fingers.  Where is our thumb to complete the fist?”

“Aegidius,” Festuscato said.  “Right now, he has three legions with auxiliaries, about twenty thousand men building earthworks around Paris.  When the Huns arrive at Paris, Ardaric and Attila will be facing a wall.  We may be able to crush them against that wall, though I doubt it.”

“Eh?”

“They will know we are behind them.  It will be April or May, so the weather will lighten up.  They may turn to join up with the other fist and avoid the bad position we will put them in.”

“That would be bad.  If they rejoin their two fists, they will once again badly outnumber us.  How can we hope to counter so many wild dogs?”

“General Aetius,” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I have it on good authority that General Aetius has returned from Italy and raised many men in Provence.  He has a large number of men coming from Burgundy in the spring and is talking to the Visigoths.  Thorismund, the son, has given me his word that he will bring what men he can, and I believe if the son comes to fight, his father Theodoric will not let him get all the glory.”

“Visigoths,” Merovech sounded thoughtful and pulled on his beard.

“And you know the Visigoths do nothing by half measure.  When they come, it will be twenty-thousand or none.”

Merovech began nodding at last.  “But you give me Romans, Burgundians and Visigoths, a great army, but the fist is not complete.”

“I expect them to reach Orleans by the end of May.  There, they can pick up King Sangiban and the Alans, maybe another ten thousand.”  Merovech waved his pinky finger, but Festuscato just smiled.  “King Budic of Amorica will bring his men from the west and meet them at Orleans.  Then we will have Attila between two armies, two fists, so whichever way he turns, he will have an army at his back.”

Merovech smiled at last.  “The plan is good, even if nothing ever goes exactly to plan.  And to think you arranged all this while sitting in my prison cell.  Makes me tremble to think what the dragon will do if I set you free.”

“That reminds me,” Festuscato said and stood.  He stepped to a certain spot and kicked the floor.  They all heard the hollow sound, and a trap door opened a crack.  “Tell Branhilde I’ll meet her in the inn after an hour or so.”

“Very good, Lord.”  The deep, booming voice sounded out before the trap door closed.

“Horeburt,” Festuscato called.

“Yes, Lord.  Majesty.”  Horeburt came to the door and acknowledged both Festuscato and Merovech, his king.

“When I escape, you better go with me so you can say you are still guarding the prisoner and not get into trouble.”

“If it is all the same to you,” Horeburt responded.  “My brother has a place up north on the shore.  I was thinking of taking my family and going for a visit.”  Clearly Horeburt had listened in and thought about the Huns coming to Tournai.

“Wise move,” Festuscato said and turned again to Merovech.  Merovech smiled at the jailer’s good thinking when something sunk into his brain.  He stood suddenly.

“Why am I sitting here?  I have so much to do and only a couple of months to do it.”  He headed for the outside door but returned a thought.  “Jailer, let the rest of the prisoners out before you go.”

“Yes majesty,” Horeburt responded while Festuscato began to collect his things.

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 2 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato, Heinz, Bran and Tulip sat on the edge of a short cliff, looking down on three Hun scouts who were camped in the valley.  They appeared to be taking only minimal precautions against being found.  Either they thought they were in Hun land, or they thought Saxony was well under their thumb, or both.  Yet they were scouts, so they were looking for something.

“They are too close to the village,” Heinz whispered.  “If we take them here and men come to look for them, they will surely find us.”

Festuscato grinned.  Heinz had started learning.  Sadly, not everyone did.

“There are other men down there,” Tulip said, quietly, and pointed, not that anyone could follow her little finger.

“Morons,” Bran used Festuscato’s word.

“Hey.  No.”  Heinz tried to stand and shout, but Festuscato put his hand over the man’s mouth and they waited.  Six Saxons surprised three Huns and the final score was Saxons three, Huns two, though when Greta examined one of the Saxons back in the main camp, she pronounced the score three to three.  The man did not live two days.

“And that was taking them by surprise,” Festuscato said calmly.

“You idiots.”  Heinz did not sound so calm.  “Now when the Huns send out a whole troop to look for them, how will we avoid being found?”

“Morons,” Bran repeated.

“I like that word,” Festuscato said.

“Morons,” Heinz repeated.  “And I don’t even know what it means, but you are it.”

They got the Hun camp cleaned up and brought the bodies in with the horses and all the equipment.  Festuscato had an idea, but he waited until Gregor got back that evening.  Gregor came in smiling, his whole troop intact.  Luckless got down and spoke first.

“Didn’t hardly need to sniff out the boy,” he said.

“We caught them unprepared,” Gregor boasted.  “The terrors of the wilderness, and we caught them flat footed.  Let me tell you, it was fierce.”

A young man stepped up.  “I went to relieve myself at the edge of the camp.  There were only two guards.”

“We snatched him up and ran,” Luckless finished the story.

Gregor stared at the two with his one eye and made an expression like they were no fun.  “But it was fierce running,” he said.

“Okay!  Listen up!  Here’s the plan.”  Festuscato got everyone’s attention, and after two days of fairies and miracles, the Saxons learned to listen, even if he was a Roman.  “Gregor.  You need to leave Egbert in charge here so you can go with us.”

“Etheldrood,” Etheldrood corrected.

“But I like Egbert,” Gregor said with a laugh.

“Etheldrood.  You need to take these people to the new site.  We know the Huns have scouted all in that area, so you should be safe for a time.  You need to get word to all the other people, the ones in hiding and the ones still at home.  Don’t trust anyone with your location but tell them to be ready to turn out when the Huns pull out to go to war.  I’m guessing a year.  Tell them they will also be going to war and joining Roman and other allies to kill the Huns.  Anybody want to kill some Huns?”

“Yea.  Aye.  Aye.”  At least some of the men were ready.

“Heinz.  You know what to do with the bodies.  Are you up for it?”

“I will do my best for my king,” he said.  “Even though it cost me my life.”

“Not me,” Gregor said.  “I’m retired.  I would move to Florida if I knew where that was.  Lord Agitus says it is a warm, sandy beach and has scantily clad women who bring you drinks while you relax in the sun.  Sounds to me like that place, Heaven, that those Christians talk about.”

“Retired?”  Etheldrood got stuck on the word.

“It means you get to be king with all the headaches now and I get to go play and have fun.”  Gregor said more quietly, and Etheldrood thought that was still strange.  “It’s the least you could do for your old man.”

“All right,” Festuscato took back the conversation.  “So Etheldrood, you know what to do.  Make sure they are ready when the call comes.  And Heinz, you have your assignment.”

“And what will you be doing?” Heinz asked.

“Gregor, Bran, Luckless, Tulip and I will be talking to Merovech, King of the Salian Franks about that alliance, and if the Ripuarian Franks want to join with us in going after the Huns,” Festuscato shrugged.

“You are a scoundrel,” Heinz said.

“He doesn’t like to leave things to chance,” Gregor said and poked his son in the chest with a big finger.  “A trait you would do well to learn.”

“Every little bit helps,” Tulip gave it a positive spin.

“He doesn’t start the trouble,” Luckless chimed in.  “But he is good at ending it.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said, and when Bran looked at him, he said, “I’m a cad, not a scoundrel.”  Bran nodded.

###

Two days later, Heinz of the Saxons with four men rode somberly into the Hun camp.  They had three dead Huns on their horses, and the Huns were not pleased to see them.

“What is this?  What is this?”  Dengizic, Attila’s second son came racing out of his tent while the Huns grabbed and threatened the Saxons.

“We found them and thought you might like them back.  A kindness,” Heinz said.  Dengizic took a moment before he waved off the men who were holding the Saxons.  Those men only backed up one step.

“What happened?” Dengizic asked.

“Ripuarian Franks.  They crossed the river in the night and attacked us, looking for easy loot.  I guess they heard we were hiding from the terrible Huns and they figured we took our loot with us.”  Heinz grinned a very Festuscato grin.  “They must have found your men.  They carried off their dead and wounded from the attack so as not to leave evidence, but they had to be the same Franks who attacked us.”

“So, you bring them here with this tale and think we will believe you?”

“With this message.  Not everyone supports Etheldrood.  There are many of us who hate the Romans and are willing to fight, but you need to give us time to convince Etheldrood or remove him.”

Dengizic would have to think about that.  He considered his dead men.  “Thank you for returning our men.  You will have some time, I think.  We will be busy for a time paying the Franks a visit.”

Heinz nodded.  “I am Heinz.  I will see you again,” he said, and he and his men mounted, rode out, and tried hard to keep their horses at a steady pace and not look like they were running away, because, as Festuscato said, the dog will not attack until you turn your back to run.

###

Festuscato rode into the city of Tournai, the capital of the Salian Franks with all eyes watching him.  Luckless the dwarf could be seen as a short man with too much beard.  Gregor the Saxon looked like a Saxon, and while he might have gotten mixed reviews from the people, he was not an uncommon sight.  Bran the Sword, also not an unusual sight, apart from his size.  The Salian Franks had a good trade with Britain.  But Festuscato not only looked like a Roman, he looked like a rich Roman, and whenever such a man showed up it inevitably meant trouble and annoyance for the people.  When Tulip abandoned the horse’s mane to hide in Festuscato’s hair and sit on his shoulder, the people looked twice.

“Here we are.  Home at last,” Festuscato shouted when he came to a tavern and got down from his horse.  “The Dragon Inn.”  Festuscato read the sign and added, “Go out in the street and drag ‘em in.”  No one understood a word since he said that in twenty-first century English, but they joined him on his feet.  “Tie them off and let’s see if the ale is dragon strong.”

“Gotta be better than the last place,” Gregor said, and nodded when Luckless added his note.

“Piss water.”

“About time you got here,” someone spoke from the porch.  Festuscato took a close look before he shouted.

“Felix.  What brings you here?  You are about the last person I expected to see.  Still trading in wool and silk?”

“No, no.  I own this place.”

“Hope the ale is better than the last place,” Gregor said.

“Piss water,” Luckless added.

Bran followed them in but Festuscato turned to his childhood friend.  “So, any word from Father Gaius or Dibs?  I seem to recall telling them I would meet them here.  I suppose I’ve taken longer than planned.”

“About nine years longer,” Felix said, before he amended his statement.  “Make that ten years.  Anyway, a bit more than the three years you said.”  Felix grinned, like he had several jokes prepared, but an interruption came bursting out the door.  Father Gaius grabbed Festuscato in a big hug and Festuscato responded with a serious face and a word.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

“I look forward to hearing all about it,” Gaius said, and he and Felix brought Festuscato into the inn.

“Lord Agitus,” Luckless spoke right up.  “Dibs is apparently with his troop down around Soissons.”

“Where is Tulip?”

Bran pointed up while Gregor spoke.  “Can’t get the little lady to come down from the rafters.”

Festuscato sat and thought about it while Felix brought a mug of ale.  He tried it and protested.  “Felix.  This is good.  I know there is no way you made it, Roman that you are.”

“Murgen’s recipe,” Felix confessed.  “The Brit has his brewery out back, and in case you forgot, most of my neighbors back home were Brits as well.”

“True,” Gaius agreed.

“So, what is the next step?” Gregor sounded impatient, but not complaining.  He may have been uncomfortable being the lone Saxon in the midst of all the Franks.  Then again, Festuscato was not sure that was right because he could not remember ever seeing Gregor uncomfortable.  Festuscato nodded.

“All right,” he said, and thought a second.  “We find Merovech, king of the Salian Franks”

“That’s easy.  He went with Dibs to Soissons to meet with the new Magister Millitum, Aegidius,” Felix said.

“Now wait.  I know that name.”  Festuscato was still thinking.  “Wasn’t Aegidius General Aetius’ aid de camp?”

“He was,” Gaius confirmed.  “But what of it?”

“I have to write some letters.  Too bad Seamus isn’t around.  He always had parchment and ink handy.”

“Letters?”

“Thorismund of the Visigoths, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans down in Orleans.  You remember him from our time there.  Let’s see.  Aetius in Italy, and I guess Aegidius in Soissons or Paris or wherever he ends up.  Then I need to write to Merovech and his brothers, wherever they are.  We need to gather what men we can, and then the hard part will be holding them back until the opportune time.  When Attila is ready, he will strike hard and fast and cities are going to burn, maybe this city.  We need to gather, to be ready to strike when the time is right and not spread ourselves out trying to defend every city.  If we spread out like that, Attila will have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“That will be hard for the Franks,” Gregor said.  “They are not known for patience.  They will defend their crops and homes, and you won’t be able to stop them.”

“They will get themselves killed and not stop the Huns,” Bran decided.

“We will see,” Festuscato said.  “A lot will depend on the Visigoths and Aetius and what they come up with and are willing to risk.  I can see Theodoric sticking to his own border and maybe trying to buy off Attila.  That would be like trying to buy off a lion with a steak.  The steak, once eaten, might just whet the lion’s appetite.”

R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House, part 3 of 3

“Moran,” Festuscato spoke to the elf and the elf stood.  “Where is Macreedy?”  He and his Four Horsemen stepped aside to talk behind one of the makeshift barriers in the road.

“He has a thousand elves from the Long Meadow surrounding York.  Bogus the Dwarf has as many covering the roads.  King Wormwood has as many again from Dark-elf-home to cover the night.  And King Larch of the Fee has the Danish shore under observation.

“Trouble?” Constantine stepped up, followed by Hellgard and Ban.  Festuscato took a breath before he nodded and spoke.

“York has fallen to Wanius the Pict.  He has pulled up his four thousand men behind the walls of the town and the fort.  Much of the town and fort have been burned, but it is going to be hard to dig him out of there.  Emet’s family?”  Festuscato asked.  He had a good memory for names.  Moran shook his head.

“But what was this I heard about thousands surrounding the city?” Hellgard had good ears.

“They will hold Wanius in York and keep him from doing further damage to the countryside, this one time.  But when you all arrive, they will disappear.  You will have to face Wanius yourselves.”  Festuscato quieted them.  The Huns reached the ford.  The British across the way had backed up to hide in the trees.  The Jutes, British, Amoricans and Londoners on this side were hidden and quiet.  Then the Saxons all stood up as one and began shouting insults and screaming and waving their swords and spears as if daring the Huns to cross the water.  The Hun commander wisely got his men down and promptly surrendered as Julius rode up.  The Saxons looked disappointed.  Gregor stepped up and shared a thought.

“A quick surrender is better than spilling more blood, but many of my men don’t think so.”

“Wisdom from a one-eyed Saxon.  Who would have thought to hear it?” Hellgard said.

“Odin has but one eye.  That is good enough for me,” Gregor laughed.

“What is the Danish shore?”  Constantine heard something else.

“The Norwegian shore.  The settlement of yet another new people blown in by the winds of the North Sea. Let us be honest.  Britain north of York had been thinly populated since Roman times.  Too much struggle between Romans and Picts, and now the Scots have not helped. Instead, they have complicated things. They have overrun Guinnon, the fort on the western end of Hadrian’s wall, and they did nothing to stop Wanius from passing over.  You have a good family in Edinburgh on the eastern end, but they cannot hold things alone, and they have been unable to stop the Danes from grabbing chunks of the coast.  You need to drive the Ulsterites out and put someone you can trust in Guinnon to hold the wall.  And I think you need someone in York who can keep out the Picts, Danes and Saxons, no offense Gregor.”

“None taken,” Gregor said.  “I want to keep out the Saxons myself, and I am one of them.”  Even Moran the elf smiled at that one, though for what reason, no one knew.

“We know the Danes well, and find them no friends.  But they can be reasoned with.” Hellgard spoke up.  Festuscato heard, but did not go there.  Julius rode up and Cador and Gildas were with him.

“Gildas. Did you get the chance to kill the bastards?”  Festuscato asked, and immediately regretted it as Gildas quietly nodded.  “Everyone suffers first time,” he added more softly. “It proves you are human.”

“It wasn’t pretty,” Cador said.

Festuscato nodded. “We need horses,” he said.  “We will take some of the Hun’s horses and try to hold on, I guess.”

“Some escaped?” Jullius asked.

“About five hundred according to one eye here.”

“Just a guess,” Gregor said with a grin.

“Moran. Please ask Deerrunner if he will accompany Aidan and his Britons in escorting the prisoners to Londinium.” He paused to think.  “We are about sixty miles out which is a good two-day march, or so.”

“Constans,” Constantine called his son.  “Take your men and clean up these grounds.  Give the monks something to do, to perform the burial rites.”

“Julius. You better assign half of your men to help escort the prisoners.  Hopefully, that will be enough to discourage the Huns from attempting anything foolish.”  Festuscato said.

“Dibs and Tiberius can cover that duty.  We will take the better horsemen, about nine hundred.”

“Good.  With us that will make twice the reported Huns.”

“Double that,” Hellgard said, and he sent some men to gather up the horses of the Huns. “And some of my men will take care of their own.”  He sent others to tend the wounded and gather the dead.  Festuscato looked at Gregor.

“My men will gather their own and take them back across the river, but I wouldn’t miss it.” He whistled and took two men aside to instruct.

“I think you and Lord Constantine and King Ban and his men can take some of the horses from Dibs and Tiberius.  That should not change things much and you will have regular saddles to ride.” Festuscato nodded, but it became after lunch before they were ready to ride out.

They covered a good distance before they stopped for the night, but they saw no sign that the Huns slowed their pace.  Festuscato felt a bit afraid that Megla, on finding the gates of Londinium closed to him, might just ride straight on to the next port downriver.  He was sure the Hun had every intention of commandeering whatever ships might be in the dock and escape, and if he escaped unscathed, he might return with ten times the number of men.

The following afternoon, they found the wardens at one of the city gates had opened the gate for the Hun.  Fortunately, Megla did not get far.  The Amoricans that Constans left in the city and the Londoners who knew better had Megla and his men trapped in some buildings down by the river.

“Megla.” Festuscato called out.  He and Constantine stood just beyond bowshot, the Four Horsemen looking over their shoulders.  “Megla.  Come out and talk.  I have a message for Attila.”  That got him.

“What do you know about Attila.”

“He is getting too much gray in his hair and beard, and making alliances with the Vandals isn’t going to save him.  Come out and talk.”

“You are the dragon?”

“All of Britannia is becoming the dragon.  Come out and talk if you are not afraid.”

“That should rattle him,” Constantine said.

Six men came out of the main building.  They got about half way across the plaza before they pulled out bows and arrows. The bow remaied the basic Hun weapon that they could pull swiftly, even on horseback.  But the Four Horsemen reacted and responded with bows of their own and with enough speed so only one Hun got off an arrow, and it happened only because the Horsemen were busy killing the others.  It was a good shot to Festuscato’s chest, and it would have certainly penetrated any normal armor, but the armor of the Kairos was made by Hephaestos and the dark elves deep under Mount Etna.  The arrow bounced off.

“Megla.  You know it takes more than one stupid arrow to penetrate a dragon’s hide.  Come out and talk, and I will let you live.”

“What good is the promise of a great worm?”

“What choice have you got?  We already stopped your men who were sneaking out to grab a boat.  You are trapped inside, with your horses outside, and soon it will be dark.  The goblins and trolls come out after dark and they tell me Hun is a tasty snack.”

A man appeared at the doorway.  He made a show of putting down his bow and sword as he stepped out on to the plaza. Five more followed him and put down their weapons, while their eyes scanned the surrounding buildings and the roofs around them,

“I am Megla,” an older man said and eyed Festuscato.

Festuscato smiled. “Megla of the Huns, allow me to present Constantine, High Chief and War Chief of Britannia.”

“Attila told me about you, Roman.”

“Then you should know I am willing to be fair.  Tell your men to throw down their weapons and come out.  You will be kept here, in the open until the rest of your surviving men arrive.  Then you will be bound and sent out on the morning tide and returned to Belgium. Your horses and weapons will stay here, but you will have your lives.”

“If we refuse?”

“Thunderfist. Portents.”  An ogre and a hobgoblin appeared.  The hobgoblin bowed.  “Lord.”  The ogre wondered where he was.  “I can let my friends have you after dark,” Festuscato said, knowing that Megla likely saw a goblin and a troll, since he would have no way of knowing the difference. “There are plenty more where they came from.  Go home.” Festusato waved his hand and the two disappeared just as Thunderfist got ready to poke a Hun to see if he was real. “So, what will it be, a small indignity or a hundred years digesting in an ogre’s belly?”

Megla was no fool. He surrendered, and when the rest of his surviving troops showed up a day and a half later, they were all bound and shipped out on the morning tide, at no small cost.  Megla only said one more thing to Festuscato.  It was a question.

“You have a message for Attila?”

Festuscato nodded.  “What goes between him and the Empire is his business, but Britannia is off the menu.  I have been twice kind to the Huns.  Don’t count on a third time.”

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

Next Monday: R5 Festuscato: The British North.  York is filled with wild Picts.  The town is burned.  The fort is taken.  But the Picts are soon surrounded with an unexpected army of British, Cornish, Welsh, Jutes, and Saxons, all miraculously working together under the dragon, and the first Pendragon…

Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House, part 2 of 3

The Huns arrived about mid-morning the next day, and were wary, but having seen no sign of the enemy other than a couple of scouts that they readily killed, they imagined their ruse worked.  They headed north before they turned west again.  They wanted to give the impression they were headed for Wales, but they cut again to the south when they were well hidden by the trees.  They knew right where the ford was as Festuscato surmised.  They either explored out the river or coerced the locals into revealing the location. In either case, there were men waiting, and Julius moving up from behind.

When the Huns arrived, Hywel perhaps jumped a bit soon.  A thousand arrows blackened the sky, and Huns fell before they backed out of range.  The Hun commander sent men twice to charge the open area that lead to the ford, but the trees around were thick, and they did not get very far.  On the second charge, he sent a hundred men west to try and get on the Celtic flank, but they were cut down quickly.  Pinewood and Deerrunner figured the Huns would try a run around the end, and were prepared, hidden by glamours in the tall grass. Surely the Huns were frustrated, but that condition did not last long.  Julius and his men attacked from behind, and the Huns scattered.  They only had one way left to escape, and that was east, back to where Megla studied the ford.

 

 

Megla came to the ford of the ox and the scouts out front found the way blocked.  Megla knew the big and boisterous army of the Celts would still be two days out at their current rate of travel.  He needed to know how many men he faced.  He thought to stay upriver, and follow the water to Londinium without crossing over.  There were swampy areas and other rivers to cross, but none so deep as the Thames.  Unfortunately, that way appeared blocked by the Saxons.  In fact, there were more Saxons in that place than he had seen for quite a number of years.  So he and his men eyed the defenses on the other side of the river and decided in the end the only way across would be a frontal assault.  He would trust his men to get him through, and he imagined once he got to Londinium he might be safe.  There, he could call up the Hun army.  Britain was going to take more effort than he thought, but ten thousand men ought to do it, or twenty thousand if necessary.

Pinewood brought the bad news to Festuscato when he relaxed with Constantine and Ban over a cup of Ale.  Pinewood came in dressed like a hunter, with a green cloak and tall, mud colored leather-looking boots.  He showed the dragon tunic beneath the cloak, so Ban thought nothing of it. Constantine looked twice, but only because the man was not Amorican and he did not recognize him as one of the Romans.

“Megla is preparing to assault Constans at Oxford, probably in the morning.  He is a brave young man, but his thousand will not be able to repel the Huns or prevent their crossing, even with my support.  I recommend you order him to withdraw to the monastery grounds to defend the monks and let Megla pass.  There are enough soldiers left in Londugnum, so with the sailors and ornery humans they should be able to prevent Megla from entering the city.

“We need to get to the horses.”  Festuscato put down his cup.  “Pinewood, tell him to do that very thing.”  He looked at Constantine who nodded.

“Tell him his father orders it.”

“Horses?” Ban asked as Pinewood bowed and stepped from the tent.

“He is a teenager, or near enough,” Festuscato said.

“Since when does a young man do what his father tells him?” Constantine asked, and after a thought, Ban nodded

It became a race through the late afternoon and the night, with the foot soldiers left in the hands of Baldwin of Exeter, Anwyn the Welshman, and Kenan, a British Lord from the Midlands near Caerleon.  They were to come along as fast as they could while the horsemen rode ahead. Constantine had gathered an additional two hundred men on horseback in his travels along the British lowlands between the Thames and the coast, but half of them were on plow horses and mules, so not much good.  They were mostly farmers, with the British Lords in that area, and their families, killed by Megla.  For the Roman influenced Celts, it was not so easy to decide which among the elders should take the leadership position.  Roman-British Celtic leaders were more or less elected, though sons often followed in their father’s footsteps.  The Saxons remained more tribal in nature.  It seemed much easier for the Saxons to choose a new chief, though he sometimes had to fight for the position.  Most of the Saxons who had settled on the southern coastland survived Megla’s cruelty in much better condition.  But then, they were not going to come out and fight for the British lords.

Festuscato knew they were not going to arrive at dawn.  The road alone became enough to make it slow going in certain places. But they would not be too late. He did not worry until Pinewood returned in the dark with another message.  It got his full attention because fairies did not go around much after sundown.

“A thousand Jutes under Hellgard are crossing the river in the dark near the swamps where the river turns, below Megla’s position.  They will be able to come up behind Constans and squeeze him between the Hun and the German.”

Fetuscato called up Constantine and explained.  Constantine looked about to shout, but Festuscato spoke first.  “We don’t know that Hellgard may be friendly at this point.  Megla did not spare the Jutes, Angles and Saxons from his sword.  Like the British who joined us, the German’s may be looking for a little revenge.  Pinewood, set up a delegation to get Hellgard’s attention and ask his intentions. Be prepared to fly and bring Costans back to the monastery grounds, but if he plans to support the British at Oxford, tell Costans and help coordinate the defense.”

“You ask a lot of my people,” Pinewood said.

“No.  I ask too much.  I am sorry.  I have no business asking you to get involved in a transient human event.  But you have the option to say no, honestly, and with no ill effect.”

Pinewood nodded slowly.  “I know this is true, and that is why we will help as much as we can.”

“Fair enough, and thank you.”

Pinewood left, and Constantine had a comment.  “You seem to have a remarkable relationship with the creatures, er, people of legend. How is this so?”

“I was made their god almost five thousand years ago, but that is a very long story,” Festuscato said, and spurred his horse up to the point.

The whole troop walked their horses when the sun began to lighten the horizon. Festuscato, Constantine and King Ban mounted without a word.  Now they had to ride, and the men joined them.  They rode flat out, not caring in that moment if their horses collapsed at the end of the trip.  They had three hundred men to add to the defense, or at least two hundred with the nags and mules trailing behind.

The sun looked fully up when they arrived, and most of the fighting was over.  There were over a thousand Huns taken prisoner, disarmed and on foot.  Hellgard looked covered in blood, but none of it seemed to be his own.  Constans and Vortigen were all but dancing.  Vortigen lost his helmet and Constans had a shallow cut in his arm, but they did not even look tired.

“Youth,” Constantine said as he got down, and Ban nodded in agreement.

Festuscato looked across the ford and saw Aidan the Lord from the British highlands, and Eudof from north Wales, his lieutenant.  They waved.  They hustled down the thousand and some odd foot soldiers, following right behind Megla the whole way, and they fought to prevent Megla from escaping back to the north. He also saw Deerrunner, whose people got there ahead of Julius, and he knew they filled the gap at a crucial point and made Megla’s doom certain.  He returned the wave, but wondered where the Druid Cadwalder was.

Festuscato stepped up to Hellgard when Pinewood arrived dressed as the hunter. Festuscato’s Four Horsemen accompanied him and Constantine.  Festuscato put out his hand and shook Hellgard’s hand before he spoke.

“Lord Agitus,” Hellgard said.  “I have heard about you.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato said, but then he paused to hear what Constans started saying.

“Lord Pinewood told me Hellgard, King of the Jutes was coming to reinforce our position, so we stayed where we were and passed that information down the line.  In the morning, Megla found twice the numbers he expected, and it became a real battle to hold the ford.  The Huns are smart.  They sent some men to test our line first.  When we surprised them, they ran and Megla tried to return to the north. His way got blocked by the British Highlanders, and I think he charged us out of anger and frustration.  Some broke through, and it looked like they might overwhelm our position.  Many of the Huns got down from their horses and they used our own walls against us, but just then, boatloads of Saxons showed up in the river and came ashore behind the Huns.  That was when the Huns began to surrender.”

“How many escaped?” Festuscato asked and pointed down the road toward Londinium.

“I don’t know,” Constans said, like a man who did not realize that might be important.

“I don’t know,” Vortigen echoed.

“My eyes were on the battle,” Hellgard admitted.

“About five hundred,” a big Saxon with an eyepatch said and he came up to join the group. “Gregor,” he gave his name with a big smile, but that was all he said before he got interrupted by one of Deerrunner’s elves who came racing across the water and up to Festuscato.

“Lord, the Huns are coming, Lord Julius driving them on.”

Festuscato looked to Constantine, and the man started to yell.  “Constans, get those prisoners on the road, away from the ford, face down and guarded.  Get the rest of your men behind the barriers.  Ban, take the monastery side.  Hellgard, the riverside.”

“You heard him,” King Ban yelled at his men and waved them toward the monks.

Hellgard paused only to look at Festuscato smile before he began to yell at his men to take cover.  Constantine looked at the Saxon, but Gregor spoke first.

“We hide real good,” he said, and he grinned an elf-worthy grin before he also began to yell.

R5 Festuscato: The Hun in the House, part 1 of 3

April fifteenth arrived, and Festuscato dared not wait any longer.  “Tax day,” he called it.  “Time to pay the piper.”

He had five hundred Amoricans on horseback and roughly five hundred each in the Welsh, British and Cornish contingents.  Two thousand men still did not match the Huns in numbers, and they came nowhere near matching the Huns in skills and experience.  Any direct confrontation would get Festuscato’s men slaughtered. He had to be careful.

When Megla first arrived in the fall of 438, he secured Londinium and the southern Thames. This not only gave him a quick escape route back to the continent, but it gave him a first-rate port to be supplied from the continent, and to bring in fresh troops as needed.  He still had a spare five hundred men there in reserve, and he spent that first winter there.  Then, the spring of 439 he spent burning the southern British coast from Southampton, all the way to Canterbury and east to where the Angles were building settlements. Megla did not seem to care if the people were British or German.  He became an equal opportunity oppressor.

In June, having brought the costal lands to their knees, he began to test inland.  A thousand men burned their way to the hills of central Wales.  A thousand men tore up Leogria and the Midlands.  A thousand men drove to the east coast and threatened York.  They returned in the fall to winter in the lands of the Raven, but they found some resistance along the way.  Julius did a brilliant job of disrupting supplies and communications.  Megla took a risk dividing his forces the way he did, and the dragon made him pay. Most of the summer, Megla had no idea what happened outside of his own little group.  The dragon kept turning up everywhere, draped over the dead bodies of his men, and when Gurt got returned to him, plummeting out of the sky, it about became the last straw.

On the first of April, Festuscato and Constantine risked the last of the storms of winter and sent the bulk of the Amorican troops, some fifteen hundred foot soldiers under Constans, by ship to crawl carefully along the coast to Londinium. Their objective was to drive out Megla’s men and secure the city and the port in time for Easter.    Festuscato’s personal communication network told him they were successful, and by the end of April, they began to move up, a thousand Amoricans and Londoners, to hold and fortify the southern end of the ford of the ox. A monastery complex, that Megla spared for some reason, sat there.  Those buildings became the headquarters, and the woods around the monastery provided the lumber for the walls, spikes and traps against the oncoming horses of the Huns.

On May first, Fetuscato, Constantine and King Ban, with a mere hundred men on horse, lead three thousand Welsh and Cornish foot soldiers along the inland road that followed the flow of the Thames.  They made a spectacle of themselves, and the British people on those lands and on the coast cheered, and many took up arms and joined them with dreams of revenge. The Huns, for their part had good scouts and spies, and they were first rate soldiers regardless of what history taught.  Megla quickly caught wind of the movement and scoffed at an army that would so broadcast its every move.  He knew there were a thousand British foot soldiers north of his position, but he counted them as useless.  He would go south and send a thousand secretly, as he supposed, to where the river could be crossed, behind the marching behemoth.  With his main force of two thousand, he planned to cross at the oxen ford and meet the enemy head on, while the other thousand struck from the enemy’s rear.  It was a good plan, as far as it went.

Festuscato had certain knowledge of the enemy movements, but he only shared what was vital with Julius.  Julius had the cavalry north of the Thames.  They left a few days after the foot soldiers, and they moved through the fields and woods with as much stealth as they could muster.  Julius had his original three hundred working well together by then, and they had some experience scouting out the enemy.  He did not get fooled when a thousand Huns headed in his direction, looking for an easy ford across the river.

Julius and Marcellus had assessed the horsemen and divided them in half.  He gave the men who were still relatively new to this horseback business to Hywel, the Welshman and made Weldig of Lyoness his lieutenant. He assigned Tiberius and Dibs to assist them.  They held their horses in reserve and stayed by the river, hidden in the trees, prepared to keep the Huns from crossing.  Meanwhile, Julius and Marcellus with the thousand best horsemen waited in the path of the oncoming Huns.  Cador of Cornwall went with him, and Emet of York became his lieutenant.  They stood at the edge of the trees just beyond a wide-open field.  Everyone trusted Julius, but he only hoped he rightly guessed the path the Huns would take.

After not too long, Lord Pinewood flew up to land in the mane of Julius’ horse.  “What news?”  Julius spoke first with a glance at Cador who kept his seat and stared.

“The Huns will be coming through the trees on the far side any time now.”  Pinewood saluted the Lord of Cornwall.  “Good to meet you.  I like the Lion.  Good choice.”

“Th-thank you,” Cador stammered.  “So, Festuscato?”  He looked at Julius.

“Strictly human,” Julius responded.

“Human, poor fellow,” Pinewood shook his head.

“But.” Julius continued.  “He has made it clear that we won’t always have Lord Pinewood and his people around to help us out and we have to learn to do for ourselves.  He said we need to fight our own battles.”

“Pinewood’s people?”

“Of course,” Pinewood said.  “What else would we be?  We aren’t animals.”

“Plants?” Julius teased.

“Your wife, maybe,” Pinewood responded as two riders came roaring up.

“Lord Julius.” The rider from Wales spoke.  The rider from Cornwall acknowledged his Lord. “The Huns are about a quarter mile in the trees across the field.  They should be coming out any time.”

“Thank you,” Julius said.  “Good work. Report to your group.”

“Sir.”  Both riders spoke and took off like two men in a race.  Emet of York came up alongside, and Marcellus trailed.  Pinewood excused himself and took off too fast for the eye to follow.

“News?” Emet asked.

“Yes,” Cador said. “We need to fight our own battles,” and Emet looked at him as if to wonder why it might be otherwise.

When the Huns began to straggle out from between the trees, Julius raised his spear over his head and shook it.  Word went quietly up and down the line to get ready.  Julius and Marcellus made sure there were Plenty of the three hundred spaced between the thousand to help keep the new men in line and focused on target, to await orders.  All it would take was a couple of overanxious fools to ruin the whole thing.  They waited some more, and Emet got antsy when the lead Huns got close enough to see their faces.

“We want them committed to the open field before we attack,” Marcellus risked a whisper to the man, even as Julius raised his spear again.  After another moment, he tucked it beneath his arm and shouted for the charge.  His immediate group were the first out, but the wave followed out from the center and the Huns were completely unprepared.  It did not take the Huns long, though, to get their own spears and some bows from horseback, and the battle was on.

A horn sounded out from the trees, and the Huns that were scattered across the field made every effort to get back to the woods.  Julius let them go.  His men were instructed not to follow the Huns into the woods.  Horses were only as good in the woods as the men riding them, and Julius had no illusions about the ridership of his men.  Several pairs of men split off to attempt to track the Huns, but even they were instructed to keep their distance.  “You are no good to us if you get yourselves killed,” Julius reminded them.

They stayed in the field long enough to gather horses and gather their dead.  They tended the wounded enough to staunch the bleeding, but moved as quick as they could to the south.  They had a small village up from the river where the wounded could receive better care and the dead could be prepared for burial.  The village had a Christian Priest and a chapel, and the priest assured them all would be taken care of.  The first pair of riders found them there while the men rested, and the second pair were not far behind.

“It was like you figured,” the Amorican said.  “They circled around to the north and are headed back to the river and the ford.”

“And they have scouts out,” the Briton added.  “It isn’t safe for a couple of yahoos to be out there.”

“Yahoos?” Cador asked.

“A strange sound that carries in the wilderness.  A signal of sorts,” Julius explained.

Cador nodded. “I was thinking we need to get something like that horn where we can signal and we can all understand and respond.”

“Bagpipes,” Emet said.  “British blue. plaid”

“Golden,” Cador argued.  “Like the Cornish Lion.”

Julius ignored them and sent a pair to tell Hywel and Weldig by the river to get ready and stay well hidden.

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 2 of 3

The Huns charged the village, only to be stymied by the barriers.  Julius and his three hundred charged the Huns from the rear and killed about a third from behind.  The archers from the village, mostly hunters supplemented by a hundred elves with uncanny accuracy, killed more than a third of the Huns on the first volley.  Half of the survivors quickly scattered across the open fields to the left and into the forest vacated by Julius’ men on the right.  The other half of the survivors got caught up in the melee where the odds were three or four to one against them, so they did not survive for very long.  Julius lost eleven men, Welsh, Cornish, British, Amorican, and a couple of his Romans. Twenty more were wounded.  By the time Bogus the dwarf finished the ones in the woods and Pinewood and his fairies tracked and finished the ones in the fields, the Huns lost the full three hundred.  No Huns survived.

“Not bad,” Marcellus said as he rode up beside Julius and dismounted with him at the village edge.  “A couple more years under Lord Agitus and you may turn into a pretty good officer.”

Julius did not listen.  He found Drucilla, a bow in her hand, looking mighty humble.  “You!”  Julius yelled, and then he appeared to shrug, caught her up in his arms and got lost in her kiss.

Certain gnomes found Gurt and applied a tattoo to the dead man’s chest.  They dressed him in a white sheet with a dragon emblazoned on the front.  When the sun went down again, they got thirty pixies to sprinkle Gurt and some of his men with enough dirt to make the magic effective.  The pixies carried the bodies several miles to the village of the Raven and dropped them like they were dropping bombs over Dresden.  Gurt landed on Megla’s doorstep.  Megla and his chiefs were frightened by the dragon on the sheet and looked all around the sky for signs of a real dragon.  They shouted their fears, until Megla got them quiet.

“So, wise man.” Megla spoke to a druid who sat at the table.  The druid looked like a man in his forties with a beard to his chest that began to hint of gray.  He sat beside the Lord of the Raven who had been completely cowed by the Huns.  “I say this dragon is nothing but a woman,” Megla growled.  “I say in the spring maybe we will fight like the dragon and swallow this female dragon whole.”

The Druid looked up into Megla’s eyes and Megla looked away.  “I once saw two dragons fighting in the daytime sky.  They looked like old lovers, but the male started eating the babies and enraged the female who killed the male.  The female ate the male.  You can take that as you will.  I am only saying what I saw.”

Megla drew up his courage in front of his chiefs.  “Bah. We will eat this dragon come the spring.”  He tore the dragon sheet off of Gurt’s body only to find the dragon tattooed on the body.

Come April first, and Festuscato said two words.  “Two years.”

“But 440 looks like a good year,” Mirowen said, and reveled in the sunlight.  She twirled twice and her smile lit up the morning. Cador came riding in, followed by some twenty men all dressed the same, but to be sure, all of the eyes of the men at the gate and Cador’s men as well were fastened on Mirowen.  She could do that to men.

“I must say,” Constantine came up sporting his new dragon tunic.  “My wife loves her home.  My son has never been happier, says the whole world has opened up before him. But me, I am afraid to think of all the responsibility you have place on my shoulders.  I hope I don’t disappoint.”  Mirowen took a moment to straighten the man’s tunic, properly. “Thank you for the clothes, by the way. Especially for my wife.  You know women and their dresses.  She and Sibelius seem to be hitting it off very well, which saves me some headache at any rate.”

“There,” Mirowen stepped back and smiled.  “You look ready to receive the very court of Avalon itself.”

“Avalon.  I have heard it mentioned.  It is an island you say, off the coast?  By Iona, perhaps, or the Isle of Man?” The man had been studying his map.

“A bit further than that,” Mirowen said, with a look at Festuscato, but a look that never lost her sunshine smile.

Festuscato waved to Cador, even if he was not the person Cador kept looking at.  “You are full of words today,” he told Constantine.

“I am nervous,” Constantine admitted, and Mirowen took the man’s arm and lead him to the stairs to get down off the wall by the Great Hall.  Festuscato followed and imagined a woman that young and beautiful would likely make the old man even more nervous.

King Ban of Benwick stood in the Great hall with some new friends.  Emet came all the way from York.  King Ban’s wife and daughter were also present with some other British women.  Mirowen went straight to them to greet them and make them feel welcomed.

“We have five hundred horsemen with us, and a thousand men afoot in the woods just north of the land of the Raven.  Your spies tell you that Megla and his Huns are arguing about heading south, to Londinium. This would be good, but we are going to be prepared in any case. As a precaution, we brought our wives and children to this place for sanctuary, if you don’t mind.”  Festuscato shrugged and pointed at Constantine.

“Of course,” Constantine shook Ban’s hand.  “You and your families are welcome here anytime.  My wife and the girls will love the company, and we can always squeeze in one more.”

Ban stared and then let out the slightest grin.  “You have been taking lessons from the Roman.,” he said.

“Charity and kindness are never a bad idea,” Festuscato said, before he got interrupted by a big man at the back of the British pack.

“Your men wear the dragon.  You have no idea what a real dragon is like.  We have been plagued by one these past ten years and I was barely able to get enough men to make coming south worthwhile.”

“Prince Aidan of the Highlands,” Ban quickly introduced the man.  Of course, he meant the British Highlands.

“Forgive me, but she is feeding her babies, what there are left of them.  Find out where she is living and bring her some sheep, maybe some cows.  Then she won’t have to hunt and attack your homes.  They sleep for a time between feeding, like hibernating.  The sleep between each feeding will gradually increase as the babies grow older.  It takes patience, I know.”  Aidan had his jaw dropped.  “Oh yes. I know something about dragons, and your mama dragon in particular.  But here, lets meet the others.”

Hywel and Anwyn were there leading the Welsh, and very happy to be back in Cadbury.  They seemed very gregarious and shook hands with the British, the Cornish, the Amorican’s and the Romans, but decided to hold back from the Four Horsemen who stood, guarding the door.  That made Death grin under his helmet.

R5 Festuscato: Nudging the Future, part 1 of 3

By late March in the year 440, men began to return to Cadbury, most after the spring planting. They came from Wales, Britain and Cornwall.  Many had gone home for the winter, but Festuscato had them and trained them until near the end of October when they had to go and help bring in the harvest. This time they did not appear the same straggling, uncertain gaggle of men that came in last July.  Some Welsh, Cornish and Britons seemed to have developed a camaraderie during the training and looked for each other upon return.

“This is good,” Festuscato told Constantine.  “This needs to be encouraged.”  Constantine was above all his number one target for training, and he spent every day pointing things out to the man, all the minute details of how to rule, while his men fetched their wives and families, built a town with a wall around it, and rebuilt the fort, almost from scratch.

Julius had done a fine job keeping the Hun off balance all summer, and not being caught. When Megla settled on the land of the Raven in Leogria for the winter, many of the scouts and patrols the Hun sent out never returned.  Julius and his riders did the grunt work, but this worked mostly thanks to Pinewood and a whole troop of fairies who were much better than the Huns at keeping track of the enemy’s location.

There came a point in Late February where things might have gone badly.  One of Megla’s lieutenants, a man named Gurt, snuck three hundred men out of the Hun camp in the night.  They had figured out where Julius and his men had to be quartered, and the Huns were very good at that kind of figuring.  They were also used to military operations in the winter, and even in deep snow.  That seemed a necessity in the Hun Empire, which covered the steppes from the future Moscow to the future Budapest.  Plenty of snow and long winters there.

The Huns wore white against snow and rode swiftly, with the idea of catching the Romans unprepared.  Their tactics were sound, but Julius did not get fooled.  For one, this being his first real chance at command, he got a bit over zealous and had men out checking the approaches to the village day and night. Even without his fairy spies, he probably would not have been taken unaware.  As it was, he became able to set a trap.

The village sat north of Leogria, on the lands that Festuscato figured would one day be divided between Pelenor’s and Peredur’s families.  They had open fields on the rolling landscape, but not far to the forest.  Gurt did not worry so much about the trees, as he wanted to get his men in position to charge the village at dawn.  He imagined it would be a surprise attack and put an end to the Romans.  But being warned, the village put every wagon, box and barrel they could find to block the road, and set up other obstacles and men to block every other entrance to the town.

Julius took his men to the edge of the trees.  When the Huns got in position, Julius was prepared to come up behind them, and he got excited to think the surprise would be turned on its head.  Thus far, Julius felt proud of his men, all of them, he admitted, but he felt especially proud of his troop of misfits and throw-aways. The Huns were the terror of the western world, challenging and often destroying whole armies of Romans.  They had reduced whole tribes of Germans to subservient status, and it started to look like they might take over the Roman Empire itself, at least in the west.  In the east, the emperor decided to build bigger walls around Constantinople. But here, the men with Julius, who were deemed useless as far as the regular Roman army was concerned, had come head to head with the dreaded Huns, and came out victorious.

Julius wondered about Festuscato.  He seemed such a rich man’s son, and came across with the worst sort of gluttonous, could not care less attitude about life.  But Julius knew appearances could be deceiving.  Maybe it was all a game to him, but Festuscato took it as a game he intended to win.  Where he learned about the military, and how he came up with the idea of training the men on horseback in that way remained a mystery.  But not too much of a mystery, he thought, as Pinewood chose that moment to fly down and land in his horse’s mane, between his horse’s ears. Julius’ horse barely flinched.

“They are in position, as we figured, just below the last dip in the land before the village. They are marvelously trained soldiers. Even their horses are quiet, waiting for the signal.”

“Are the men in the village ready?”  Julius asked.

“Yes, but.” Pinewood looked all around at the humans ready to hit the Huns from the rear.  “Your wife didn’t evacuate.”

“What?” Julius struggled to keep his voice down.

“Lady Drucilla contacted a distant cousin, an elf Lord named Deerunner, and he has brought a hundred bows to stand with the villagers.”  Pinwood rose into the air.  “I better go see that my men are ready,” he said and zoomed off before Julius could react.

“I like your wife,” Marcellus said, as he nudged his horse up beside Julius.

“Stupid and stubborn.”  Jullius shook his head.

“She has a mind of her own, and doesn’t nag you to do everything for her, like she’s a helpless child.”

“You sound like you are speaking from experience,” Julius smiled.

Marcellus changed the direction of the conversation.  “What do you think Lord Agitus will say when he finds out you are married to an elf?”

“You think he doesn’t already know?” Julius asked, and Marcellus shrugged.

“They are mounting for the attack,” a voice came up from around Julius’ feet.  Julius looked down and imagined it was a barrel-chested boy, but for the long beard.

“Thank you,” Julius said, and he raised his spear and shook it in the air.  The men who were not ready, got ready.  The dwarf disappeared.  “Quite a world Lord Agitus has brought us into,” he said calmly.

Marcellus grinned. “Kind of makes living worthwhile.”

R5 Festuscato: Cadbury, part 3 of 3

Down on the plains of Cadbury, beneath the hill of the fort, two streams of men came warily forward.  Both had about a thousand soldiers with one in five or one in four on horseback. Festuscato sighed, but it was what the Romans taught.  Their legions fought on foot in phalanx formation, and they only had a small number of horsemen in reserve.  The world had changed since then, as Rome herself found out in the west. Festuscato knew the Western Empire was gone.  It became only a matter of time.

Festuscato went straight to the gate and bounded happily down the hill with Julius and the Four Horsemen, Cador and Constantine following.  Constantine’s son, Constans and his friend Vortigen trailed behind with Gildas who was probably judging the best way to kill the bastards.

Festuscato made the introductions.  “King Ban of Benwick in Britain, and I see you were able to convince some of your neighbors to join the party.”  Some of the men introduced themselves.  “And on this side, we have Lord Hywel of Caerleon and Lord Anwyn of Caerdyf, both in Wales.”

“My father was a centurion,” Anwyn said to Julius.

“My father was a plain farmer, and a hard-working man,” Julius returned the compliment.

“Come in, Gentlemen.  Set your camp on the plain.  Cornwall is over there and Amorica is over there.  Rome, what there is of it, is in the Cadbury fort.  We were just planning the destruction of the Huns.”  Festuscato rubbed his hands together and walked swiftly, like a child ready for Christmas morning.  But once inside, there were questions which almost ruined everything.

Cador held his hand up.  “Constantine, I understand.  Amorica has been a good friend and trading partner since before the Romans.  He and his people have an interest in bringing peace to our land.  Obviously Kernou, Wales and Britain need to be represented here.  But what I don’t understand is why you?  I don’t understand why, after thirty years, Rome should suddenly be interested in a province it abandoned.”

“Rome is not as callous as you may suppose.”  He got loud. “The emperor probably feels guilty hearing how stupid you have become, to kill and attack one another on the least excuse.  The church wants protection as well, and in case I need to say it again, burning churches and killing priests is a crucifixion offense.”  He made an effort to calm his voice.  “But why me?  Because my father, Lucius Agitus grieved when he was forced to leave this place.  I have come for him.  Because I have friends from here who wanted to come home and see their families before they died.  I have come for them.”  He raised his voice again.  “Because the western empire is falling apart and chaos is spreading, and I believe we can stop that from happening here.  Because I made a pledge to myself to see if the human race is hopelessly moronic, or if reasonable men can come together and behave like intelligent, reasonable men. so that, if I cannot get you to stop fighting, just maybe I can get you to fight together.”  He stopped to breathe.

“Quite an oration,” Gaius said as he stepped into the room.  Dibs came with him to report the practice field was set up.

“Gentlemen.” Festuscato took another breath. “You have common foes who will eat you alive unless you join together.  Cador, you have to deal with Irish pirates and slave traders, especially down in Lyoness.  Well, guess what?  Hywel and Anwyn are facing the same Irish pirates in Wales.  Hywel and Anwyn also have Pictish raiders coming down from the north in their coastal watch ships.  Well, guess what?  Ban and the British are facing the same Picts.  Ban, you are dealing with German immigrants coming to the southern shore of Britain and taking more and more land.  Well, guess what?  Cador is facing the same thing in the lands of the Dumnonii.  Don’t you get it?  Don’t you see?  Who cares if Teppo took your cow?  Teppo hits Zeppo, Zeppo hits Deppo.  You can’t get anything done.  You need a syndicate.  You need to pledge to work together.  By yourselves, you don’t stand a chance, but together, you can beat back the tide of chaos that is sweeping across the continent.  You can kick the Hun right off this island, but only if you work together.”  Festuscato took one more deep breath.  “I need some fresh air,” he said, and walked out.

The following morning, Julius had several hundred horsemen down at the practice field. They made an obstacle course full of straw men.  Marcellus showed them how to run it, riding and weaving between the figures, stabbing with his spear, fending off the enemy spears with his shield, or ducking under them. On the third to last straw man, his spear stuck fast in the straw.  He let it go as he had been taught and whipped out his bow.  The last two targets got arrows.  It was not the plan, but it looked impressive.  No one claimed they could do that, but one by one they tried their best.  Father Felix got the name, where they were from and kept the tally.  With luck, by the end of the week they would have three hundred men ready to ride.

Gaius found Festuscato on the wall of the fort, watching.  “You know, they are arguing about everything,” he said, as he turned to take in the action.

“Stubborn, pig-headed mules and morons.  What did you expect?”

“I expected my Senator not to just yell at them, but maybe show them a better way.”

Festuscato frowned and sniffed.  “I suppose.” He sniffed again.  He started to walk toward the Great Hall.  “Where is Mirowen?  And Pinewood?  Conspicuously absent.”

“Checking on local resources, they said.”  Festuscato nodded.

Festuscato took one more deep breath before he entered the room.  “Gentlemen.  I hope you have gotten all the arguing out of your system, and maybe made yourselves hoarse so you can’t talk and have to just listen.”  He looked around.  A few smiled, but most looked embarrassed, like they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  “You need to all get your horsemen over to the practice field by tomorrow to see who will qualify for the special assignment.  We shall see who has the best men on horseback, the Cornish, the Welsh or the Britons.  Meanwhile, first things first.  When I am not here, Constantine is in charge.”

“What?  Why him?”

“He stayed out of the arguments so far,” Cador said.

“Exactly. He is Amorican.  He is not invested in your petty squabbles.  He has no idea who stole the cow, or the land, or who insulted who, and if he is smart, he won’t care.  Now, I am going to invest him.  Constantine, you get Cadbury, the fort, and enough land around it to grow your daily bread.  That’s it. I talked to the town elders and they like the idea.  And listen, Cadbury is henceforth a sanctuary city.  You know what a sanctuary is?  Good. If any of you, or any of the Welsh or Britons or Cornish who are not presently here have a case of wrongdoing to present, you can bring it here and present it to your peers.  Constantine, you need to look at hard evidence, not just he said-he said.  And let the jury of peers decide things.  End of story.

“But—” Constantine wanted to say something.

“You have a month to bring your family here and as many horses as your father and brother are willing to send.”

“Cadbury was claimed by Cornwall.”  Cador said flatly.

“And by Somerset, and by Bath and Badon, and several others places.  Now it is settled.  Otherwise, you all would squabble over it until the fort fell down. Then it wouldn’t be worth anything to anyone.”  Festuscato stepped over and kicked a pillar.  It cracked.  “It is going to cost Constantine a bit of money to get this place back in shape as it is.”

Cador made no further argument.  “Sanctuary city,” Festuscato repeated.  “Open to any British, Cornish or Welsh Lord at any time, day or night.”  He shook a finger at Constantine but Constantine started looking around and seemed to be figuring the cost.  “Maybe the chiefs of Britannia can contribute some small annual contribution to fix up and maintain the sanctuary, and to arm and maintain a small force to act as a front line defense force when the Irish, Picts or Saxons get out of hand.  Something to try and minimize the damage while the call goes out to arms.  And the call to arms means you all need to come to arms.” He shook his finger at the rest of the men in the room.  “But I am getting ahead of myself.  We have Huns.”  He paused and looked around again.  “So, what did you come up with while I was gone all yesterday afternoon and all this morning?”

The men looked at each other until King Ban finally spoke.  “The Hun never came up.”

Festuscato went over to the cracked post and banged his head once against it.  “We got a lion in the house and you want to argue about whose pigeon pooped in the soup.”  He came back.  “All right. Here is how we are going to start this, anyway.  We’ll know more when we figure out what force we can train and put together by next spring.”

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

Monday: Festuscato, Nudging the Future

Julius keeps the Huns busy, while Festuscato prepares the first pendragon…  Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: To Orleans, part 1 of 3

“I would really like to make Paris before the fall rains turn to snow,” Festuscato suggested. It was September first or so and they were stuck in the town of Saint Somebody or Other, one oxen shy of a compliment. Both of their spares had been used crossing the Alps and now one more collapsed.  “What did you pack in your wagon, anyway?” he asked Mirowen.

“Things,” she said.  “Girl things and some of your things as well.  And not heavy things, so you can get that smirk off your face.”

“Okay.  We probably need a couple more spares.  This time, I suggest getting a gnome who knows the animals.  Take two of the Four Horsemen and drive a hard bargain for three new oxen.”

“I’ll take Death and Pestilence, if you don’t mind.  You can keep Plague and Famine.”

Festuscato squinted.  “I suppose I really should not call them that.”

“On the contrary. They enjoy the names and the reputation it gives them.”  She scooted off to sit with the women.  Mirowen, Sibelius, Drucilla, May in her big form, and Mascen’s wife Eselt, were all sitting together and giggling.  Festuscato, Marcellus, Mascen, and Mister March were at the big table in the inn, sampling the local wine.

“Where is Julius?” Festuscato asked.

“Out checking on the men,” Marcellus said.  “You know, I have worked for a number of different Centurions in my time, but you have turned Julius into just about the best of the lot.  Most Centurions don’t care what their men are doing outside the battlefield, and even then, it is the sergeants who work the men.”

“Come now, you’re not that old,” Mister March said.

“Thirty-four, I think.  That’s well old enough to have been around.”

“Child,” Mister March set his glass down.

Mascen let out a chuckle and spoke when the others looked at him.  “Over forty,” he said.  “And my wife, but hanging out with those women, she says they keep her young.”

“I don’t see why not.  She is the youngest one in the group,” Festuscato remarked.  Mascen looked curious.  Mister March did not even blink.  Marcellus nodded, vigorously, like he understood something but said nothing. The Priests Gaius, Felix and Lavius took that moment to join the group.

“Any good?” Gaius asked about the wine.

“Leaves a dry aftertaste,” Festuscato complained.

“Not bad,” Marcellus said, as the lady of the house brought another bottle and three more glasses.

“What’s on the menu?” Lavius asked.

“Mutton and potatoes,” Festuscato said.  “And something that used to be green.”

“Now, don’t be hard on these people.  They are poor, but good people and fine Christians, many of them,” Lavius said.

“You are right.” Festuscato sat up straight.  “At least I bet Eselt is glad not to have to do all the cooking this week.”

“Yes and no,” Mascen responded.  “She really enjoys cooking.  Why do you think I married her?”  Everyone smiled for him, except Marcellus who looked suddenly sober.

“I am married,” he admitted.

“No. Really?  Congratulations.”  People around the table said something while Marcellus downed his wine in three gulps.

“Why do you think I joined the army.”  He stood. “Excuse me.”  He went out to check on Julius and the men.

When they left the town of Saint Somebody or Other and headed for the town of Saint What’s-his-name, they were back up to full steam.  The horses and oxen were rested.  The new oxen were groomed and ready.  They had fresh water in the barrels and full bags of grain for the animals and flour to bake their bread.  They picked up a couple of sheep which Mascen, Mister March, Sibelius, and Drucilla drove with the wagons, and Pinewood presented the company with a knee length tunic that was all white with a golden dragon on the chest.  They were not wool, but a thick linen that would be valuable once the weather changed further into the fall.

Festuscato knew he had to talk to Julius because Julius and Drucilla were getting to be such good friends.  But he kept putting it off.  Often, such romances were brief, and he hoped that might be the case here.  He dwelled on it when Marcellus and his six came riding in hard from the flank.

“Huns,” Marcellus shouted, and the elf who had the horn blew it loud and long.  The men on the point and the rear guard came racing up. They were on the edge of a forest where the trees grew on both sides of the road, but ended on Marcellus’ side not far from the road.

“Tiberius,” Julius yelled.  “You and your men get the horses and passengers into the woods and defend them.”

“Dismount,” Festuscato shouted over top.  “Bows and keep your spears handy.”

“Get those sheep off the road,” Marcellus added, and six men did their best to get all of those horses into the quiet of the woods, while the rest of the troop found cover. There were about twenty soldiers charging, and Festuscato could not imagine how Marcellus knew they were Huns.

“Wait for the signal,” Festuscato shouted as Julius came up beside him.

“Here we go,” Julius breathed as Mirowen, Sibelius and Drucilla stepped up alongside the four horsemen, bows ready.  Festuscato frowned.

“Now!”

Sixteen of the twenty attackers went down with the first volley.  Two broke through the woods to the road, but they got surrounded by so many spears, they did not last long.  The other two turned and ran, and Festuscato did not like the thought that they might fetch more.  “Horses,” he shouted.  “Bring your spears but hold your bows.  Shields ready.”  He found his horse and mounted.  When most of the men were up he shouted again.  “We want prisoners, not bodies.  Pursuit!”  They had practiced this.  They were Festuscato’s own little RDF.

They did not ride that far behind the Huns, though maybe they had first class horses and the Huns had steppe ponies that were not as swift.  The two men ran into a camp of Huns, yelling the alarm, but Festuscato and his company were right there, bows drawn and arrows ready to let loose.  The Huns who stood around their tents and campfires got taken by surprise.

“A hunting party,” Marcellus named the group.  He guessed about fifty.

“Hunting Romans?” Festuscato quipped and dismounted at what looked like the big tent.  A man with dark hair and dark angry eyes came out of the tent with something to say. Festuscato looked around once at his Romans and saw twice his numbers.  Pinewood hurried up to his side to translate, and Festuscato assumed all the extra men in helmets and dragon tunics were elves and fairies in their big size. Festuscato did not feel happy about that, but at the moment, he was not going to quibble.

“What is this?”

“Are you the chief?  Your men attacked my wagon train.  You now have eighteen dead men and two cowards who ran away.  I want a good reason why we shouldn’t just kill you all where you stand.”

The short, broad shouldered man had some grey in his curly black hair and beard, and he growled at the word coward.  He turned to one of the two who ran away and slapped him hard enough to knock him down.  “It was not by my orders,” the man shouted.  “I said watch them, not attack them.  I suppose you will want compensation, Roman.”

“I don’t see why. We suffered no loss, just a temporary inconvenience.”

The man looked at the two who returned and then took a good look at the Romans who sat on obedient horses with bows ready to fire.  “Eighteen men?”  He looked to the sky.  “You are the dragon?  Who are you?”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris of Rome, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia, and you?”

“Attila, King of the Huns.”  Attila grinned for some reason.  “And you have General Aetius waiting for you.”

“I am sure I will run into him, why?”

“Nothing,” Attila said, but he did not lose the grin.  “But tell me, Roman.  I heard you abandoned Britain years ago.”

“A special appeal from the Pope through the Emperor, Valentinian.”

Attila’s eyes widened and his mouth mocked.  “The Holy man and the mother’s boy.  I am surprised they have the time to consider such a far-away place.  I hear the Vandals have invaded Africa.”

“Indeed, but I am sure you have bigger fish to catch than a poor Senator on the road to an impossible task.”

“Somehow, I have a feeling for you it may not be so impossible.”

“Give me your word that we may proceed unmolested.”  Festuscato said, and Attila thought about it.  He looked again at the men and their arrows.  He twisted his hand to a man who was near.  The man roared and drew his sword.  He became a pincushion of arrows and collapsed before he got more than two steps.  Festuscato did not flinch.

“Nineteen men dead,” Festuscato said, sadly.

“He was not a man. He was a fool.”  Attila lied without blinking.  He did not see which archers fired, and they all looked to have another arrow in the string.

“Fair enough. Nineteen fools and two lucky ones that ran away.  Now give me your word.”

“Given.” Attila shouted to the camp.  “Let the Roman and his dragons go in peace.”

Festuscato nodded. “Here,” he said.  “A token for your losses.”  He took a ruby ring from his right hand and held it out.  “You might wish to return it to me the next time we meet.”  He mounted his horse.

“We will meet again?”

“You can count on it,” Festuscato said, and he started out.

“Marcellus,” Julius called and joined Festuscato at a walking pace.

“Back to the wagons,” Marcellus yelled at the men and waved his arm.

“Father. You aren’t going to let them go,” Attila’s son had recovered from his slap down, and raised his voice.

“His fate is already decided,” Attila said.  “Let them go.”  He shouted to his camp again.  “Let them go.”  All the same, the little ones who joined the troop waited for all of the Romans to leave before they came last in line, just in case.  They did not disappear until they were well away from the Hun camp.