R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 3 of 3

Festuscato ran.  He became dressed in his armor with hardly a thought and pulled Wyrd, his sword. He was not going to see another innkeeper’s daughter raped and left for dead.  Sure enough, there were three men in a clearing out back.  Keela’s dress had been torn, but she held it up as she backed up to a tree.  The men grinned wickedly, and two had knives ready to finish disrobing the girl or kill her if she resisted.

“Stop!”  Festuscato shouted.  He sounded like a third-rate Hollywood actor in his own ears, but the men stopped and turned on him.  One pulled a sword of his own.  Festuscato jumped to the side when they rushed him.  He let defender fly and it sliced right through one man’s jerkin and deep into the man’s ribs.  He brought his sword down, not even a trick move, and sliced the knife out of the second man’s hand, taking most of the man’s fingers with it.  He turned to face the third man when an arrow came out of the bushes.  That man dropped his sword and fell dead from the perfect shot.  The man without fingers also fell with an arrow in his chest. Festuscato called to his long knife, and defender pulled itself from the man’s ribs and flew back to Festuscato’s hand. That man moaned horribly and would not live long.

Mirowen stepped from the bushes while Festuscato cleaned his blades.  “Bad news,” she said, as she stepped toward the young woman.

Mousden flew ahead to the young woman.  “Are you all right?” he asked.  Keela took one look at the pixie in his natural form and threw a fist to her mouth to stifle the scream.  Her eyes got big and Mirowen had to grab her attention and ask the question three more times before it penetrated.

“Are you all right?”  Keela finally nodded when Mirowen helped the girl to her feet.

Keela never stopped staring at Mousden as Mousden spoke.  “Mother Elowen taught me how to sew.  I could help you fix your dress.  Mother Elowen said I was a natural.”

“Yes, Mousden.  But now we are back with people.  You need to get big again,” Mirowen spoke in a very comforting, motherly tone, as much for Keela as for Mousden.  Mousden looked once at Festuscato, but Festuscato simply nodded and returned the stare.  Mousden acquiesced and looked again like an ordinary nine-year-old boy.

Dibs and Bran chose that moment to show up.  “Bran thought he heard something,” Dibs said. “But we were inside so it wasn’t clear. We finally agreed to check it out.” Bran knelt by the three bodies to make sure they were dead.  Dibs also looked, but he recognized who he was looking at.  “These are Sean Fen’s men, the Irish pirate.”  Festuscato nodded.  He thought that might be the case.

“That means we are in double trouble,” he said.

“But you saved me.”  Keela came to herself as they escorted her back to the tavern.

“What do you mean?” Mirowen asked.

Festuscato frowned.  “I have no doubt when Sean Fen finishes telling his story, I will be the rapist and a murderer besides.”

“But that’s not true,” Mousden said.

“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” Festuscato said.  “A beautiful young elf once explained that to me.  Patrick is here telling the truth, but most people can’t hear him.”

“Oh, but it is worse than you think,” Mirowen got his attention.  “The King of Leinster has ordered us to get out of his land, and if we won’t leave, he said to kill us and be done with it.”  Festuscato just nodded that he heard, but he could not respond right away because when they entered the tavern, Keela got all the attention of the locals, and Captain Breok stood there, waiting patiently.

“Captain.  You could not have timed that better if you were an elf.”  Festuscato patted the Captain on the shoulder.

“We came in on the tide, four hours after midday. But I must warn you, we followed an Irish pirate into the dock.  His name’s Sean Fen.”

“Yes, I know,” Festuscato interrupted. “Mirowen.  You and Mousden need to get us packed, and you better pack for Gaius and Patrick, and I guess everyone.  Dibs and Bran, you need to fetch Gaius and Patrick.  Carry Patrick here if you have to.  Captain, we will be sleeping on board tonight.  How soon can we put out to sea?”

“Not before dawn.  Maybe a couple of hours before if we set the course while it’s daylight.”

“Get on that.  We will be there soon.”  Festuscato went to see about Keela and got tackled by Aideen, who jumped up into his arms.

“But you will be going away, and I will miss you terribly.”

“And I will miss you, lovely spitfire that you are.”

Aideen held him tight and managed to hold back the words, “Don’t go,” as Keela’s father stepped up.

“I want to thank you for the sake of my daughter.”

Festuscato hushed him.  “The men belonged to Sean Fen.  I expect you will not insist on the truth, but I would appreciate it if you held back and kept this quiet until we have a chance to leave in the morning.”

The man looked astounded with the way Festuscato spoke in such a straight forward manner, and he nodded.  “I think I can do that.”

Aideen whispered in his ear.  She wanted to say good-bye.  “Find a good man for your daughter to marry, and be quick,” Festuscato added.  “And one for Aideen who can handle being burnt, though I know Aideen is not yours.”

The man grinned slightly, but nodded again as Festuscato paid him for their time at the tavern and a little extra, he said, for a dowry.  That done, Festuscato kissed Aideen and stepped out to fetch his purchase.  He found a good woodworker when he first arrived in town and paid to have a proper staff built for the Bishop. Patrick was honestly older than the rest of them, except Mirowen of course.  He had it in hand, hardly seasoned though it was, and got back to the tavern when the others arrived.

Bran and Dibs showed up with Gaius and a protesting Patrick.  Dibs had to sit the Bishop in the corner and stand over him to keep him still.  Bran went to carry the luggage even as Treeve, the first mate showed up with Colan and Gerens to help.  Together, they managed the trunks and made straight for the ship.  Dibs and Gaius followed, Patrick between them so he could not run away.

“Lord Agitus, you have no right kidnapping me,” Patrick said.  “You promised you would not interfere with my work.”

“I’m not interfering with your work,” Festuscato said. “I’m interfering with your life. By the way, here.”  He handed Patrick the staff.  “A shepherd’s crook.”

“I know what it is.”

“A gift,” Festuscato said.  “I thought it would be appropriate considering your occupation when you were last on these shores.”

“The Lord is our shepherd,” Gaius added.

“We shall not want,” Patrick understood.

“I think one of my sons wrote that one, or no, that one was David’s.”  Festuscato smiled and asked to see the shepherd’s crook one last time, pretending he saw a nick in the wood he wanted to examine.  Patrick obliged, but then they reached the dock and the planking to the deck of the ship.  Two members of the crew were there to help Patrick aboard and Dibs and Gaius would not let him back away.  Patrick suddenly realized he had been tricked and he flailed his hands and stared at Festuscato.

“I would not have hit them with it, you know.”

Festuscato held up the crook.  “Sometimes temptation is best removed.”

They were not aboard more than a half-hour before the captain of Leinster and his dozen soldiers arrived on the dock.  They were joined by a druid who appeared unhappy the Christian holy men were slipping from his grasp.  “Come down,” he shouted from the dock.  “I have an ax waiting for your head.”

Patrick stood at the railing, shepherd’s crook in hand, squeezed between Bran and Festuscato so he would not go anywhere. “When Hell freezes over,” Patrick whispered, and Festuscato chuckled.  He was not aware Patrick heard that one.

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Festuscato added out loud before he raised his hand and waved to everyone ashore. “I can’t come back.  I don’t know how it works.  Good-bye folks.”  Several men and women working on the docks and a couple of soldiers returned the wave. The druid spat and stomped up and down the planking.  He yelled at the captain of the soldiers and, getting nowhere, he started to yell at the soldiers directly.  Finally, he turned to insult Patrick.

“Crooked man with your crooked staff.  Your head is crazed.  Even the head of your staff is crooked.  How dare you come into my house and stand at my table and speak impieties to my people.”

Festuscato put his hand over Patrick’s mouth and spoke for him.  “The king has ordered us to leave, and we are leaving.  The king said we are only to be harmed if we refuse to leave, but we are leaving.  If you defy the king’s orders and harm any of these men, I think your head will not sit long on your shoulders.  Captain, we are obeying the king’s orders and will leave as soon as the tide turns. Will you and your men also obey the king’s commands and see we are not harmed until our leaving can be accomplished?”

The captain paused before he set his men on the dock to guard the ship.  “By the king’s command, you will not be harmed this night,” he said, and the druid pitched an absolute fit before he stomped off, yelling at the sky.

“That Roman is a wicked sorcerer.  I have heard the truth.  You are all under a spell, and I will not rest until the Christian scourge is driven from our land, once and for all.”

Patrick pushed Festuscato’s hand away and spoke in a deadpan voice.  “Emotional fellow.”  Bran said nothing.  He just showed that hint of a grin for which he was becoming famous.  Mirowen, Gaius ad Dibs walked up and Mirowen spoke first in the same deadpan tone.

“A long hot bath would do his nerves a lot of good.”

“He does not appear to be one that does that very often,” Patrick added.

Gaius joined the emotionless expressions. “Probably took a vow of dirtiness.”

Dib’s voice was not quite so deadpan.  “Hey, Festuscato.  They are all sounding like you.”

Everyone looked at him while Festuscato nodded, and in a deadpan voice, added, “That’s because I am a wicked sorcerer and have them all under a spell, don’t you know?”

The meeting at the railing broke up, and they decided to try again further north, beyond the lands of Leinster.

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

MONDAY

R6 Festuscato: Clugh.  North there are Picts, Pirates, and a big fire-breathing beast… Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 1 of 3

Festuscato waved good-bye to the shore, though no one stood there to wave back.  Mirowen stayed beside him and Mousden shoved up between them, though he could hardly see over the railing.  Mousden spent the past two weeks in Cornwall and Lyoness, clinging to Mirowen’s skirt. He felt afraid of humans, especially so many big ones, but he started learning and limiting his screams to more serious concerns.

Festuscato could at least imagine Heini waving.  She seemed a fine young maid, hidden away in Weldig’s fort by the sea, and pleasant company over the last few, lonely days while they waited for the storm to pass in order to take ship for Ireland.  He remembered the way she made the bed, and tucked everything in so perfectly.  Mirowen took Mousden by the hand and walked him away when Father Gaius stepped up to the rail beside Festuscato.  Festuscato just thought how Heini’s name suited her when Gaius coughed.

“Forgive me father for I have sinned.”  Festuscato lost his smile.  Gaius simply nodded and Festuscato thought to change the subject, quickly.  “But, hey. I thought you were in a prayer marathon with Patrick.”

It became Gaius’ turn to look up with a bit of guilt on his face.  “My knees can only take so much,” he said.  “That Patrick is unstoppable.”

“He is going into battle,” Festuscato suggested. “I don’t blame him.”

Gaius nodded, put his hand to his lower back and stretched backwards while Bran came up and snickered.  No telling what Bran imagined might be going on, but Festuscato had begun to realize that the big man was bright, so he probably had a very good idea what made Gaius so stiff.

Gaius frowned and gave voice to his complaint. “Whoever decided that prayer had to be done on one’s knees?”

“Rome,” Bran offered, and it sounded like he thought it a silly idea.

“I thought prayer was inspired in a man’s heart,” Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “I was not aware the heart had knees.”  Before Gaius or Bran could answer, Mousden, in his pixie form, came flying up, screaming. He squeezed between Festuscato and the railing and clung with both hands and feet to Festucato’s robe.  Mirowen came chasing after the boy, followed by Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve.

Mirowen got down to comfort the boy and the Captain apologized.  “Lady, I am sorry.  Gerens doesn’t know when to hold his tongue.  He was just teasing.”

Festuscato turned his head while Gaius asked, “What happened?”

Treeve shrugged, but Captain Breok explained. “Gerens told the boy that the coiled ropes around the ship were really sleeping serpents that would wake and come out at night.  It is from an old tale, but there is no truth in it.”

“I heard that tale,” Mousden wailed from Festuscato’s feet and Mirowen hushed him.

“Frankly, I think your young person scared Gerens worse. He has locked himself in my cabin, and I hate having to wrench it open.”

“Get big and go with Mirowen.  She will protect you,” Festuscato insisted before he turned to face the Captain.  “Children. You never know how they are going to react.”

“No offense meant,” the Captain responded. “But that is no child.  Some of the men are going to wonder why we don’t throw the thing off the ship.”

“What’s the trouble?”  Patrick came up from below.  “Mousden, come here.”  Mousden came slowly from the railing, looking again like a young boy.  He held Mirowen’s hand until he saw Patrick hold out his arms.  Then he ran and leapt into the Bishop’s hug.  “I have spent these weeks in prayer, learning a great deal.  You would be surprised.  But above all I have learned that people come in all shapes and sizes, and I mean all shapes and sizes, and I have come to understand that the Almighty will not judge us on our outward appearance, but on the content of our hearts. This lad is a good and kind soul, and you dare to harm him at the risk of your own soul in the face of eternity.”

Festuscato spoke while Bran, Gaius and Mirowen stepped over beside Patrick and the boy.  “That a man should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He shook his head, because he did not get the voice right.

“Besides,” Bran spoke up with the slightest grin on his face.  “You throw him overboard and he will just fly back to the ship.”

Mousden nodded his head and patted the big man on the shoulder before Mirowen took him from Patrick’s arms.  Mousden honestly made more like a teenager in age and only appeared eight or nine in big form because pixies aged more slowly and lived longer than ordinary humans.  But in his first real human contact, with Denzel and Elowen, he learned that he received better treatment when he acted as young as he looked; not that it would be hard for a pixie of whatever age to act like a child.

Mirowen took Mousden off to the cabin the Captain provided for the Lady and her son, as he had imagined them to be.  Bran also wander up to the foredeck to find Dibs for a little martial practice.  They were keeping each other in shape and teaching what they knew about their weapons. Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve stepped up to one side of Festuscato while Patrick and Gaius stepped up to the other side.  Festuscato turned them to face the sea before the Captain spoke.

“So, your woman?”  It was a question.

“My governess.  Now my housekeeper, but well-practiced at raising boys,” Festuscato answered and Gaius grinned and nodded.

“But she is not a, whatever.”  Captain Breok honestly did not know.

“A pixie?”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf.”

“And as fine a woman as you will ever find this side of Heaven,” Patrick added.

“And I suppose that makes you?”  It was another question.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Senator of Rome, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and Comes Britannia, and a normal, mortal human being who will one day grow old and die like any other human person.”

“But you don’t really die,” Gaius understood that much.

“No.”  Festuscato frowned.  “I feel all the pain and heartache of death, but I don’t get to the joy of Heaven part before I get shoved back into a new birth.  I start all over again as a baby, but as I have confessed, I think I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not get it right.  Patrick, don’t underestimate the power of sin in this broken old world.”

“I don’t,” Patrick confirmed.  “And I confess, while I have every confidence in Mirowen and young Mousden, I still have my doubts about you.

“I do my job.”

“And what is your job?”

“Right now, it is delivering a stubborn Bishop alive, into the hands of a bunch of mad Irishmen.  Then you will have your job to do, and I think it won’t be easy, and I don’t know if I can help you.”

“I think I should thank God you can’t help me.” Patrick said, with an honest smile and a friendly pat on Festuscato’s shoulder. “But I will pray for you.”  He turned to go back to his place for prayer.

“I figured you were already doing that, hopeless cad that I am.”

Patrick said nothing, but Gaius thought to answer. “Only as needed,” he said.  “Which for you is about every minute of every day.” Gaius also thought to give Festuscato an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“Come along, Treeve,” the Captain spoke up as he turned from the railing.  “Let’s go pry Gerens out of my cabin.  I plan to sleep well tonight, and in my own bed.”

###

That evening, Treeve said he expected Mousden to sleep in the cabin, maybe upside down like a bat.  Gaius thought he might prefer to sleep in the darkness down in the hold, but Mousden said it smelled too much of pine trees and strange animal droppings, and besides, he already caught the only rat on board for lunch. Festuscato kindly asked him to not go into the details.  It turned out Mousden slept up in the nest at the top of the mast. He said it was a wonder to see all the stars overhead, and in its own way, not unlike the roof of a cavern, or being in a fairy circle.  It reminded him of the many times his tribe roamed the meadows at night and danced and played in the circles of the moon.

“He probably won’t sleep much in any case,” Mirowen said, with a yawn.  “Sorry. I find the sea much like a cradle. It really tires me out.”

The Captain and his mate both looked at Festuscato to explain.  “Mousden is a night creature.  Pixies in general prefer the darkness, or I should say the moon and stars.  They live underground, in caves and caverns, and find the sun glaring bright.  I’m surprised Mousden doesn’t have a headache from the sun shining off the surface of the sea all day.”

“He slept for much of the day,” Mirowen added before she excused herself and went to her cabin.

Everyone slept well that night, as is often the case at sea.  Mousden stayed up top and observed the changes in watch through the night.  Most of the time he simply looked at the unchanging sea, the horizon and counted the stars in the sky.  When Colan, the skinny young man who had the morning watch climbed up to join him in the nest, Mousden casually mentioned that he noticed a sail on the horizon.

“I can’t see anything,” Colan said, as he squinted off into the dim light before dawn.

“Right there,” Mousden pointed, but Colan shook his head.

“How far?”

Mousden did not know.  Growing up in caves allowed him no chance to learn how to judge distances in the great outdoors.  They waited in the quiet, Colan squinting now and then until the sun seemed to burst above the horizon all at once and he saw a ship much closer than he imagined.  It headed straight toward them and no doubt had seen their watch lights in the night.

“Ship off the port side,” Colan shouted.  “And it is headed right for us.”