M3 Festuscato: What It Is, part 3 of 3

Mirowen and Festuscato chose to spend the afternoon exploring.  They found Unferth the drunk passed out in a side room near the hall.  Hrugen was there, crying, and Mirowen and Festuscato spent a great deal of time hugging him and telling him it would be all right.  They took him to the kitchen because he had missed both breakfast and dinner.  He said he was not hungry, but the kindly cook gave him a plate and he managed to eat it all.

“I’m sorry about what happened earlier,” Mirowen said to the kitchen servant, Ragnard.

“Why?”  Ragnard shot at her, bitterness in his voice.

“It was so unfair,” she said, a little taken aback.

“No one cares for Ragnard,” the young man said, and he turned his back on her to focus on his work.

“I only meant a kindness,” Mirowen said to Festuscato.

Festuscato took her hand and smiled for her.  “I know,” he said.  “But feeling stupid can block the ears.”

“If that is the case, most fee, imps, dwarfs, and all ogres should not be able to hear at all.”  She returned his smile.

“I said feeling, not being,” he said and let her go.  “And I only meant in humans.”

She gave him a sly look, but kept on walking.  They visited with Svergen of the coastal watch before they woke Mousden in time for supper, which had to be consumed early so the hall could be vacated by sundown.  Queen Wealtheow made her appearance in time to force Hrothgar to take his medicine.  She smiled toward Mirowen, who nodded in return.

“Got along well,” Festuscato said, like a question, and Mirowen nodded.  “But how did Seamus do?  That’s what I want to know.”

Bran and Gregor looked over.  Neither looked to have moved an inch since the mid-day meal.  They each waited for the other to speak, but finally Bran took the lead.

“Well enough for an Irish cleric,” he said.

Seamus said nothing, but shrugged without looking up.

“I’m bored,” Gregor said at last.  “I say we find this monster and get it over or leave in the morning.”

“Leave in the morning,” Mousden piped up.

“A few days,” Festuscato said.  “Just a few days.”

When they had supped, and returned to their rooms, Festuscato stayed a bit with Mirowen and Mousden in Mirowen’s room.

“Nothing,” he confessed.  “Wulfgar the proud, Aschere the slime, Svergen the blind, Heinrich the unbeliever, and Unferth the unconscious.  None of them seems right.  I just don’t see a monster in them.”

“Your eyes are not infallible,” Mirowen said.

“Me neither,” Mousden confirmed.  “And I can smell a monster a hundred miles off.”

“I’ll bet,” Festuscato said with a smile.  “And maybe not infallible, but both Artemis the hunter and Justitia justice enhanced, remember?”

“I do remember,” she said.  “But if it isn’t one of them, then who?”

She hardly finished the sentence when something roared in the hall.  They heard a loud bang as Gregor got knocked to the wall.  Bran, being larger, got knocked through the door, the hilt of his broken sword still clutched in his hand.  Both men were only partially conscious as the creature came into the room, bending a little against the low, eight-foot ceiling.

“I see the elf.”  The creature said in a voice that sounded like a loud whine, but fog horn deep.  “I see the dwarf and the winged one.  They cannot hide from me.”

Mirowen backed away.  Mousden flew to the highest, back-corner of the room.  Festuscato called his armor and weapons to him and saw the creature laugh.  It sounded indeed like Curdwallah, he thought.  A Grendel.  A male hag.

“No weapon forged by man can hurt me.”  The creature said and ripped Bran’s broken sword from Bran’s hand and nearly took Bran’s hand with it.  The creature held out the broken sword and pointed with his right finger.  “And now, Roman, you will die.”

Festuscato did not hesitate.  Spurred in his spirit and strengthened by the huntress Artemis, his hand pulled his long knife and slashed across in one motion.  Everything appeared frozen in the room for the briefest moment before the monster’s finger fell to the floor.  The monster let out a deafening howl.  Mousden screamed and Mirowen covered her ears and closed her eyes.  A few drops of the monster’s blood fell to the floor and immediately began to burn through the stone like the strongest acid.

The monster howled again, looked at the place where its digit was missing, and turned and leapt off the balcony to the stones below, where it rushed around the corner and became lost from sight.

Festuscato recognized the blood made hole in the floor and quickly examined his blade.  It looked untouched by the acid.  The cut had been so quick and clean, the slow-moving blood never touched it, as far as he could tell.

Mirowen knelt beside Bran who held his wrist and grimaced.  Gregor came staggering into the room, holding his head.  Mousden quit screaming and started to threaten to fly back to Cornwall, not that he could.

“That was interesting,” Festuscato mused.

“Greta?”  Mirowen asked, and Festuscato nodded.  She was the healer that came nearest to his mind.  He closed his eyes and left that time while Greta came to take his place, his armor automatically adjusting to her shape and size.

“Let me see,” she told Mirowen.  She wrapped Bran’s hand in a splint so he could not bend it.  His wrist had been terribly strained, but not broken.  “You won’t be able to use that sword for a while,” she said.  “Once we get you a new one.”

“My Lady of the Ways.”  That was what Gregor called her.

“Hush, One-Eye,” she told him, and she wrapped his head, though he would only have a lump for a short time.  “Probably did you some good,” she said with a smile and vanished from there to let Festuscato come home.

Seamus and Luckless came in only moments later.  They looked around at the damage and the bandages, and Luckless spoke.

“What did we miss?” he asked.

Festuscato took a cloth and carefully picked up the drained finger.

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

MONDAY

Beowulf arrives, and so does the Grendel.  Nest Time.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 1 of 3

In the morning, everyone had to wait until Festuscato got up and about.  At one point, out of boredom, Gregor pointed behind Mousden and shouted, “Bear!”

“Where?” Mousden asked from half way down the street where he flew in the blink of an eye. Seamus laughed.  Even Bran smiled.

“Now come, little one.  Do you really think these Jutes would let a bear wander the streets?” Gregor asked.

Mousden shook his head after a moment’s thought.  “I suppose not, though mortal humans are still very strange to me.”

“Quite all right,” Seamus said.  “They are strange to me, too, and I am one of them.”

“Sorry.” Festuscato spoke up from the doorway. Without another word, he went straight to his horse and mounted.  “Lead on Macduff.”  He waved at Ingut who volunteered to lead them into Danish lands and to the hall of Hrothgar.  Ingut the shipbuilder, became one of the few, in those times of tension, who could continue to move freely across borders.  Ingut did not understand a word Festuscato said, but he understood the intent. He turned his horse into the lane, and everyone fell in behind, Luckless with his arms still full of breakfast.

Mirowen had her own horse then, and as soon as they passed through the city gate, she nudged up to ride beside Lord Agitus.  “Vingevourt had duties, but he said he might see us at Heorot.”

Festuscato said nothing.  He looked deep in thought.

“You missed breakfast, so Luckless ate your portion,” she tried again.

“Huh?”  She at least got that much before he said something that did not really make sense.  “My breakfast was eaten by a person you would least expect, but not find surprising, but it wasn’t me.”  He fell again to thinking.

“Will my Lord be having gloom for lunch as well?” Mirowen asked.

“Huh?” Festuscato looked up then, and seemed to focus.  “I’m sorry. I’ve been thinking about this monster. Twelve years is a long time not to have some lead on where the beast comes from.”

“From the place of the great swamps and dreaded pools,” Mirowen reported what she had heard.

Festuscato shook his head.  “Speculation. It has never been seen.  In fact, the tracks of the beast always disappear at the gate to the city, and not always the same gate.  You know, an animal, even a monster, can be tracked, and all animals, and especially monsters, cannot help leaving a trail of some kind.  But the trail of this beast apparently disappears at the edge of the city.  I know, because I stayed up most of the night bothering people and asking questions.

“But how?” Mirowen started to ask, but Festuscato caught the gist of the real question and answered before she could finish.

“The king found a girl who spoke the British tongue, a slave of sorts I guess, but a nice lass, as Patrick would say.”

Mirowen looked at him, as if the answer to her concern simply raised another whole series of questions.  “You overslept,” she confirmed.  Festuscato nodded slowly and Mirowen frowned and thought she could not have been that nice a girl, at least in the way Patrick would have meant it.  Then she had another thought.  “I know with the spirit of Diana inside your heart, the gift given to your reflection in the old days, you know more than most about tracking animals. I do not doubt what you say is true. A monster, certainly ought to be easy to follow.  But right now, I suspect it is the other gift shared with your reflection; it is the spirit of Justitia which is driving you.”

“Ah, yes.” Festuscato smiled.  “Your suspicious gland is functioning very well I see.  Every woman has a suspicious gland, you know, and you are exactly right.”

Mirowen ignored the insult, and after a pause, she spoke again.  “How so?  How am I right?”

Festuscato did not answer directly.  “Did you notice the monster always attends the hall, but he never seeks victims in their homes or apartments?”  He asked, though he made it a statement of fact.  “It might become evident, you see, if one house never got attacked, or the houses of friends, if any.”

“But is it not a monster?”  Luckless rode right behind them and he had been listening in with those excellent ears, at least between bites.  “Don’t monsters just go for blood and gore and that sort of thing?”

“If it is a monster, it is an intelligent monster,” Festuscato said.

“Like a Troll or Ogre?” Mirowen asked, but Festuscato shook his head.

“I said intelligent,” he joked.

At least Luckless laughed.  “If it is one of ours, it must be a dark elf to come only at night, like a Goblin,” he suggested.

“No.  It is not one of my little ones,” Festuscato said. “I checked that out first.”

“Surely you don’t think an ordinary man would do all I hear this Grendel has done,” Mirowen said.

Festuscato paused to look at her closely.  “Tell me. Do you know what a werewolf is?”

“I have only heard the word,” Mirowen admitted, while Luckless shook his head and wondered.

“It is a disease, actually,” Festuscato said.  “Of the few humans who are really susceptible, most carry the gene without ever knowing it.  But they pass it on through the generations, until it surfaces at some point.  It happens when the moon is full, like the pull on the tides, and the man, like the Were people of old, changes into a wolf and is driven half mad in the process because human people are not built to be transformed.  These people become mostly mindless killing machines, and I suspect this Grendel may be something like that, only with his mind still intact somehow.”

“Oh, I see,” Luckless said, not really seeing at all.  But Mirowen understood perfectly.

“So, you think the monster may be an ordinary person by day, and it may actually be a person in the hall itself, every day,” she said.

“Exactly. And I think if anyone figures this out, there are plans already set to see someone else, someone innocent, accused. I feel it in my gut, but then I may be wrong altogether.”

“No.” Mirowen shook her head.  “It is the only explanation I have heard that makes any sense at all.”  She dropped back to consider the problem in her own private world.  She said very little the rest of the day, and nothing at all about the monster.  Then again, no one said much that day, until just before night when they entered a village in the forest where they were refreshed and could be bedded for the night.