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.

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

MONDAY

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.

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

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.