M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 3 of 3

Festuscato and his company watched as it took all morning for the Alans and Amoricans to move into position just south of the heights where the ridge quit.  Further south, Theodoric and his Visigoths settled in, but pushed a little bit forward.  One might have imagined the Visigoths to the south were curving the end of the line toward the enemy, but in reality, they were too far forward.  Maybe they were too anxious.  Birch reported that Thorismund, the son, in the far south, sat the most forward of all.

They waited some more, and more than one man wondered if the Huns were going to do anything at all that day, but it started around three in the afternoon.  Twenty thousand Ostrogoths and with some Huns engaged Theodoric in the far south.  From his distant viewpoint, Festuscato could not tell if the Ostrogoths were told to really engage the Visigoths or if they were just supposed to keep the Visigoth horsemen occupied.

A short while later, twenty thousand Huns crashed into the fifteen thousand Alans and Amorican’s in the center.  The fighting quickly turned vicious and the Alans began to give ground, either slowly pulling back or being pushed back.  Festuscato noticed at the same time, the Visigoths began to push forward, especially Thorismund.  That exposed the Visigoth flank, badly.  For the first time all afternoon, Festuscato turned to look north.  Aegidius and his legions appeared to be lounging around.  The Franks and Saxons were waiting as patiently as they could.  Out from their position, well out of bow range, the third twenty thousand of the enemy, mostly Gepids with the Franks, Thuringians, and other Germans stood ready, but unmoving.

“Dibs,” Festuscato called.  “We need the cavalry.  It is going to have to be cavalry to the rescue.  Get every man with a horse you can find and get them here as quick as you can.”

Dibs and two men with him, grabbed their horses and went whooping down the ridge top.

“What do you see?” Gregor asked as he stood to take a look.  They all looked.

“There,” Strongarm, with his good elf eyes pointed.  The Hun flank became equally exposed to the Visigoths, but the Visigoths were not looking that way.  Fortunately, someone noticed in the fallback camp.  Theodoric left the Burgundians, Italians and Provence Romans and Gallo-Romans back in the camp in reserve.  They were mostly infantry and would not be much help against horsemen, head-to-head, but in this case, they noticed, and they could certainly catch Huns, horsemen or not, from the side where they were unprepared.  Now the Huns began to pull back, but the Alans were slow to follow and press the advantage.

As the Roman cavalry with plenty of Franks and some Saxons on horseback reached the top of the ridge, Festuscato saw the back half of the Hun attack turn to hit the Visigoths in the side, like it had been planned that way.  Most of those in the back half had no idea the front half of the charge started crumbling thanks to the Burgundians and Romans.  Aetius came up and immediately understood what was happening.  He waved his cavalry to ride to the rescue, as five thousand or so horsemen would, at this point, be hitting the Huns from the rear.  Festuscato had Bran and the four horsemen grab Aetius to keep him from riding into battle with the men.  Festuscato looked again to the north.

Somehow, Ardaric got wind of what appeared to be happening and he began to withdraw from his position.  Then the Ostrogoth line broke in the far south and Thorismund moved to ride around the back of the line.  The Ostrogoths fled as Theodoric gathered what men he could and counter attacked in the face of the Huns.  The Huns, being clobbered from every direction, gathered their own men and fled back to their strong camp.

It became a humiliating defeat.  Attila never lost a battle before.  The Huns, Romans, and especially the many Germanic tribes under the thumb, had Attila painted bigger than life, as a man who could not be beaten.  But here, he got badly beaten.  The Ostrogoths and Gepids might mount another attack, but neither seemed willing.  They had wounds to lick even if they were not as grievous as the Huns.  The Huns, so devastated in their numbers, could hardly mount a defense.

Attila raged.  His plan to conquer Gaul had been shattered.  He raged at his sons who were wisely not present.  He raged that the Roman had three whole legions which were fresh and had not even been committed to the battle.  He raged that he was done, and everything was ruined.  He raged at Ardaric the Gepid, and Valamir the Ostrogoth, and blamed them for everything.  He cursed the dragon, once, thought better of it, and cursed everyone else.  They say he went mad for a time.

###

Thorismund found Aetius in the command tent Aegidius set up.  Aetius and Festuscato were there along with Gregor the Saxon, Merovech the Frank, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans and several others.  Thorismund spoke even as he tromped into the tent.

“So, we attack at first light and finish them.”  He arrived understandably angry.  Word had come that Theodoric died on the battlefield.  Aetius remained calm but shook his head.

“Your people have suffered a great loss, many losses,” Aetius said.  “You should take your father home to be properly laid to rest.”

“My father will not rest until the Hun head is on his spear,” Thorismund yelled.

“We have already discussed all this,” Sangiban shouted back.  “Where were you?”

“Me?” Thorismund had to stop shouting to think a minute about what he got asked.  “I was chasing Huns with my men,” he said more calmly.  “I almost stumbled into the Hun camp.  My men had to get me out.  What do you mean you already discussed this?”

Festuscato took Thorismund by the arm.  He directed the man to just outside the door, and Thorismund listened, which he might not have done with anyone else.  “My friend,” Festuscato said.  “I am concerned about you and your people and providing a balance in the province.”  Thorismund did not understand, so Festuscato quickly started again.  “You Visigoths on one end and the Franks on the other end are the only things keeping the Romans honest, keeping the Romans from taking over again.  I am sorry your father died, but we can’t lose you too.”  Festuscato looked back into the tent briefly and spoke like he was sharing a great secret.  “Listen.  You don’t want one of your brothers to claim the throne while you are away.  Aetius thinks he is sending you home so he can claim all the glory for himself.  I say, take advantage of Aetius.  Let Aetius finish Attila and get his men all bloody.  You go home, have yourself a big parade, and claim the crown before one of your brothers nabs it.  Go ahead.  I won’t tell.”

Thorismund stood with his mouth open for a minute.  Though not a speedy thinker, when he spoke, he understood what Festuscato suggested.  “My people don’t need to get mixed up in a civil war, and I don’t entirely trust my brothers.”

“Sure, sure,” Festuscato encouraged him.  “Let Rome deal with Attila.  He is not your problem.  You have a land and a people to rule and take care of, but you might not get the chance if you hang around here too long.”

Thorismund nodded, went back to his horse, and returned to his own camp.  Aetius stuck his head out.

“So, what did you tell him?”

“He gets to be the next king of the Visigoths if he gets there before his brothers.”

Aetius nodded.  “I give him about three years before one of his brothers throws him out.”

“Probably less,” Festuscato said.

First thing in the morning, the Visigoths packed up and left the field.  Attila stayed, and it reached about noon before he decided the Romans were not going to attack and finish him off.  In his madness, he had piled everything he could reach in the center of the camp.  He planned a great bonfire and planned to throw himself into the flames if the Romans attacked.  No way the dragon would kill him.  He would kill himself first.  But when it became clear that Aetius would let him go, or the dragon gave him a final chance, he packed up his men and his allies and hobbled back over the Rhine.

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

MONDAY

Just when you think the battle is won, there are complications.Getting home is not so easy.  Until then, Happy Reading

*