M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 1 of 3

Festuscato and General Aetius rode out from the camp so they could have a private conversation.  Aetius became concerned about Festuscato’s plans.  Festuscato felt curious about a couple of things, and after assuring Aetius that he had every intention of going home and eating oranges, and he had no political ambitions whatsoever, he got to ask his questions.

“So why did you let Attila go?”

“The Franks are not strong enough, divided the way they are.  The Visigoths are too strong.  I still need the Huns to counter Visigoth power.  It is as simple as that.”

Festuscato nodded but added a thought.  “Let us hope it does not backfire on us.  The reports I got said Attila was not in his right mind for a while there.  There is no one in his court who will stand up to him, and he may lead his Huns into doing something stupid.”

“Like lick his wounds and try again?  I have considered this, but I will be staying in Gaul for a time, now that things seem to be settled with Geiseric and his African Vandals.  There are others I can cultivate, even if the Visigoths choose not to fight a second time.”

“And Iberia and the Adriatic get little attention.”

“Sadly, yes.  You and I know the empire in the west is on its last legs.  It is like an old man in need of a cane and a dog.”

“Yes, I spent the last ten years roaming through the wilderness confirming that very thing.  But the Curia will not listen.  They will not make the necessary changes to make Rome strong again.  And the people will not change.  They all want everything for free and will wail when they discover that in the end, nothing is free.  Everything must be paid for by someone, and when the provinces vanish there will be no one left to pay for anything.  It is like the people are living in a dream, but some day they will have to wake, rudely awake.”

Aetius nodded and thought for a moment before he spoke.  “I thought you were a great optimist.”  He sounded surprised.

“Damn reality keeps intruding.  Why do you think I want to go home and ignore all this?  Maybe I can find a nice girl and settle down.”

Aetius laughed.  “Just as well I didn’t take your head all those years ago.  You were right about the emperor’s sister, Honoria.”

Festuscato nodded.  “I may be a cad, but she is a tramp.”

“I can think of some other less eloquent words for such a woman,” Aetius said.

Festuscato just kept nodding.  “Meanwhile, tell me about Geiseric and the Vandals.  Do you trust him to be content with ruling Africa?”

Aetius had to think for a bit.  “Yes,” he said at last, before he added, “for now.”

“Because I heard Attila invaded the west on Geiseric’s urging.  Honoria just became a convenient excuse.”

Aetius said nothing.  They arrived back at the camp, and Festuscato noticed the new arrivals.  Felix showed up with his wife, Emma, and their two children.  He said with his inn gone, and Emma’s family pretty much gone, they decided to go to Italy and look up Felix’s family.  They came with Father Gaius and had two ox-drawn wagons filled to overflowing.

“We followed your army from Cambrai but did our best to stay away from the fighting,” Felix said.  “Waterborn and Tulip were a great help to us.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato said to Waterborn and Tulip who were standing there in their big size, holding hands, looking like the perfect pair of newlyweds.  Tulip nudged Waterborn and whispered.

“I told you he wouldn’t mind.”

“Looks like your four horsemen are ready to go,” Aetius placed a hand on Festuscato’s shoulder and pointed.  “How do you tell them apart?”  They were mounted, waiting, and ignoring the Roman cavalry that waited to escort Aetius back to his command tent.  Indeed, it looked like the Romans were keeping their distance.

“Mostly I can’t,” Festuscato admitted.  “But they drew little pictures on their helmets for me.”

“I see.  The skeleton is death, I would guess.  What is the insect?”


“Lord Agitus,” Dibs interrupted as he rode up with Marcellus.  “We have ten men, that’s all.  The hundred returned to Amorica with King Budic, and most of the others decided to stay with the Franks.  Merovech made a good offer.”

“More than enough,” Festuscato said.  “Excuse me.”  He stepped over to Bran for a private moment.  Bran said nothing, but he listened.

“You are being reassigned, now that Constantine has passed away.  I fear for Constans, and his two sons, Ambrose and Uther.  Remember, Budic is their cousin.  I don’t trust Vortigen or that Pict, what’s his name, Cadal? or the so-called Jute king.  I worry they may have been waiting for Constantine to die before they set their plans in motion.”

“Cadal,” Bran agreed.  “I will not argue.  I will watch, but perhaps like you, I will find a nice Christian girl and settle down.”

“Fine.  Have a whole bunch of Puritans,” Festuscato said, as he shook the man’s hand and turned to Gregor, the one-eyed Saxon.  Gregor grabbed him and gave him a big hug.

“I knew it the minute I saw you,” Gregor said.  “I knew it from the way you humiliated Megla.  I knew you were the one to teach Attila and his Huns a lesson they will not forget.  You know, Attila took my eye, but I escaped to Britain.  I thought to raise the Saxons there and bring them home in an army, but they had settled into their new homes and were not budging.  Then I saw you, and I knew.”

“I’m glad I could help you out,” Festuscato said, and smiled as he extracted himself from the bear hug.  “What now?”

“Now, I will go home and keep my son honest.  I will make peace with the Franks.  As you say, it won’t last forever, but maybe we can have peace for one lifetime.  Peace for my old age would be a good thing.”

Festuscato nodded and turned to Luckless.  Lolly stood a half-step back, her eyes downcast.  She felt uncomfortable around so many humans, but Luckless seemed immune, having bounced around with humans for the last ten or so years.  No doubt Lolly thought he was very brave.

“Lord,” Luckless spoke up first.  “I raised a bit for your trip home.”  He lifted a heavy bag of gold and coins. “Prying it out of the fingers of a bunch of dwarfs was an experience.  I think I would have rather invaded a dragon’s lair.”

“Thank you,” Festuscato accepted the bag and quickly handed it to Felix who could hardy lift it.  “But where will you go?”

“Deep into the mines once again.  I have my tools, the gifts of my father and my uncle Weland, and now I have a home, and maybe one day I will have a son of my own to pass down the family jewels.”

“With all that, we may have to change your name to Lucky.  Lolly, take good care of him and keep him fed.”

“Just what I plan to do,” Lolly squeaked.

Festuscato smiled before he hugged Tulip and shook Waterborn’s hand.  Aetius marveled as the fairies got little and flew off toward the Frisian shore.  It looked like they never stopped holding hands.  Then it became time to go.

“Marcellus and Dibs,” Festuscato shouted for their attention.  “Your men will have to take turns guiding the wagons.  The four horsemen will take the point.  We need three on each flank and three in the rear guard.  That leaves three for the wagons with Felix to make four.  Let’s move out.”

“With these slow-moving wagons, you won’t reach the Alps until September,” Aetius pointed out.  “You can cross them in the fall, but it isn’t recommended.”

“Remember the Bishop of Tours,” Gaius spoke up.

“We won’t be crossing the alps,” Festuscato responded.  “We have to pick up a passenger in Tours.  We will go to Tolouse, try to satisfy Thorismund with a reason why you let Attila live, then head for Narbonne and take a ship for Rome.  I’ve done some sailing, you know.  It’s not so bad.”

Aetius nodded and left.  Festuscato also left, and rode beside Gaius most of the way, confessing all sorts of things.

Avalon 7.8 Ambush, part 1 of 4

After 236 A.D. Syria

Kairos 93: Zenobia, the Queen

Recording …

The travelers arrived at the time gate in the late afternoon.  They found it in the town of Dura-Europa, on the Euphrates River.  Fortunately, the time gate rested down an alleyway and not inside a building.

“Should we find rooms for caravans and travelers, or go through the gate now while we can?” Katie asked from where she rode in the wagon.  Lockhart drove the wagon and thought about it.  Though not their first thing in the morning routine, the time gate temporarily vanishing had them all spooked.

“Go now,” Boston said, as she came back from the front and steadied her horse.

“Go now,” Decker echoed, as he pushed up from the rear, followed by Nanette, who pulled Sukki’s horse with her.  “The guards in the gate had a seriously suspicious look about them.”

“This is a military town.  The Romans here hold it almost like a fort, to protect the trade routes,” Lincoln spoke up from behind the wagon where he read from the database while Alexis temporarily held the reigns of both Katie’s and Lockhart’s horses.  “But mostly to protect against Sassanid armies.”

“We came from Sassanid territory,” Alexis said.  “We might look like spies for some reason.”

“Soldiers coming,” Tony shouted from the rear.

“Father?” Sukki wondered what Elder Stow was doing with his screen device in his hands.

“Just working on it,” Elder Stow said, and glanced up at the others.  They all looked at him.  “I need to set a screen wall in the time gate behind us, so some innocent person does not stumble through before the time gate deactivates.”

“Of course,” Alexis agreed.

“Soldiers definitely coming here,” Tony shouted.

“Can you set the wall at the end of the alley first?” Katie asked.  “Maybe pull it into the alleyway behind us.”

“Everyone; move into the alleyway,” Lockhart said, not waiting for an answer from Elder Stow.  “Decker and Boston.  Scout out the other side of the time gate.”

“One minute,” Elder Stow said.

“Come on, Sukki.  Let’s get our horses,” Katie leapt from the wagon and mounted.  Sukki followed and thanked Nanette for bringing her horse to that point.

“They’re here,” Tony yelled as he pulled his horse’s tail into the alley alongside Lockhart’s horse which was tied to the back of the wagon.  Lincoln and Alexis scooted over to make room.

“Friends,” a young man shouted for the traveler’s attention.  He appeared in a great flash of light that made the soldiers in the street cover their eyes and take several steps back.  He called to them.  “Friends.”  A great clap of thunder followed the light.  The horses hardly flinched, but several soldiers fell to their knees, two ran and at least one wailed.

Nanette recognized the man who appeared right away.  “Arman.”  He was the young Magi that followed Xalazar to Hatra.

“Arman.”  Several others named the young man.

“Quick.  Into the alley” Katie yelled back, and Arman came up alongside Tony and Elder Stow.

“There,” Elder Stow said, as he turned on his screen device that set a virtual wall at the end of the alleyway.  The soldiers would be blocked out for the moment.

“Lockhart, Xalazar got stabbed” Arman said, as he walked up past Katie, and Alexis to reach the wagon.  He repeated himself, nice and loud.  “Xalazar got stabbed.”  He looked at the concerned faces of the travelers and reported the story as quick as he could.  “Sarkis, the Armenian betrayed us.  He led us into a trap, and Ramin Lajani, the gun merchant, stabbed Xalazar.  Marona, the Assyrian, is dead.  Junior Amun, the god, says Xalazar should be dead, but he traded places with Xalazar at the last minute.  Do you know what I mean, traded places?”

Lockhart nodded.  “The Kairos tends to borrow a lifetime from the past or future as needed, yes, we know.  He actually, temporarily becomes another person as near as anyone can tell, though inside, he is the same person, still the Kairos.”

“Junior.  Amun Junior,” Lincoln said.  “Son of the god Amun and the goddess Ishtar.”

“It must be important,” Alexis added.  “The gods don’t normally interfere in life and death circumstances unless there is some cosmic significance.”

Arman also nodded and picked up the story.  “Junior Amun saved my life, and he sent me with an urgent message.  He said he cannot come and tell you himself because the time gate will move as he moves.  He said he can hold the gate stable for now, but he cannot hold it for long.  Xalazar must die so his spirit can move on to his next life.  He said you must move on now and not wait until morning…”

Three things happened at once.

“You need a place to hide,” Alexis said.  “You can’t go through the time gate with us because you will age as many years as the time difference, maybe fifty or more years.”

Her words got overshadowed by yelling from the soldiers who came up to Elder Stow’s screen and could go no further.  “You people come out of there!  The governor would like a word with you.”

For the third thing, Boston came back through the time gate to report.  “It’s full of soldiers, like an ambush.  The city is destroyed, whatever city it is, and there are soldiers camped all around the place, and Decker says some of them got guns.”

“Is there room for the wagon?” Lockhart asked.  “Can we go without drawing attention to ourselves?”  Lockhart had to wave at Boston to get her attention.  She was staring around the alley, like she saw it for the first time.

“Huh?  Yeah.  It looks mostly—exactly like this alleyway, except that wall is missing.  You can pull the wagon right in there.  I think it is a stable of some kind.”  Boston’s engineering brain kicked in.  “I didn’t give the structure a stress test.  The load bearing logs look sturdy, but they might not hold the roof up if they get disturbed.  I’ll check it out.”

“Wait,” Lockhart interrupted.  “Katie.  Tony, go with her.  Katie, check the perimeter and see if it is safe to come through.  Send Tony back when the wagon can come, but don’t take too long.”  He waved them off and turned his attention to Arman.  “Lincoln and Alexis, find a safe place for Arman to go.  Elder Stow get ready.  Nanette and Sukki, watch out for Elder Stow.”  That seemed to cover everyone.

Lincoln turned to the door in the wall that would still be there in the future, if he heard correctly.  He could not imagine an exit time gate and an entrance time gate being in the same place, but it had happened once before.  He jiggled the door, but it was locked.

“Alexis, see if you can blow the door down.”

“Wait.”  Arman butted up front.  He closed his eyes and placed both hands on the door.  They heard a scraping sound of wood on wood, like a bar being lifted from its place.  They heard a clunk as the bar fell to the floor.  Arman pushed the door slowly.  They saw an older couple and a young woman, obviously their daughter, standing back, staring at them.  This had to be their home.  The young woman, about sixteen or seventeen, had the Roman Empire equivalent of a rolling pin in her hand, and looked prepared to defend her home, whatever the cost.

“May we come in?” Arman asked, politely, before Alexis and Lincoln butted in front of him.  Alexis raised her hands like a true witch, and the wind rose up inside the shelter of the house.  It shoved the young woman and the elderly couple back a couple of steps and blew everything off the table.  Lincoln spoke up.

“This man needs food and a place to rest.  He is a good man.  You need to protect him and do not let the soldiers get him.”

“Don’t make me come back here,” Alexis said.  “He is a good man,” she underlined that point.  “He deserves your help, and I will be very cross if I have to come back here.”

“The wagon is moving,” Lincoln interrupted.  “We need to go.”

Alexis hugged Arman before she and Lincoln went back out to get up on their horses.  Arman turned in the door to watch.  He said, “You might want to see this.”  The young woman stepped right up to look around his shoulder.  Eventually, the mother and father also came to see, and the old man mumbled.

“Horses of the gods.”  They were not surprised to see Alexis and Lincoln slowly vanish as they stepped through the shimmering hole in the air.  The last thing they saw was a swipe of the horse’s tail before Nanette, Sukki, and Elder Stow came last in line.

Someone banged on the front door.  The family quickly closed the side door to the alleyway as three soldiers forced their way inside the front.  The young woman still held the rolling pin, and Arman pulled a small knife he had hidden in his cloak.  They stood side by side to protect the house, but the old man pushed to the front and spoke right up.

“Sergeant Vespavian.  What is happening in the street?”

The sergeant stopped, so the soldiers with him stopped.  “Who is this?”

“My son in law,” the old man said without blinking.  “Come all the way from Palmyra.  He could not wait until we came to fetch him in the fall.”

“Aleah?” the sergeant looked at the young woman, like he had an interest in the girl.  Aleah looked at the ugly soldier, glanced at Arman, smiled, and took Arman’s arm while Arman put away his little knife.  The sergeant growled, and with his soldiers, he threw open the side door.  The rest of his soldiers were already in the alley, with his centurion unable to push his hand through the shimmering hole in the air.  That shimmering hole in the air quickly disappeared, leaving only alleyway and soldiers milling about.

The sergeant growled again, and he and his two men left the door open.  The old woman closed it carefully as the old man turned to the couple where his daughter still held on to Arman.  The old man smiled as he spoke.  “Well, priest,” he said, having recognized Arman as a Magi.  “I guess you will just have to marry my daughter and make it legal.”

Aleah glanced again at Arman before she looked away and turned slightly red.  She did not let go of him, so it seemed as if she would not mind.

Arman did not know what to say.

Avalon 7.2 Ides of March, part 5 of 6

In the morning, Decker and Lincoln went missing.  Once Alexis and Katie figured out what they were up to, everyone hurried.  Horses had to be readied and saddled.  Ghost had to be hitched to the wagon, and the equipment all had to be accounted for.  Lockhart and Katie told the others to stay at the house.  They rode off, but Boston followed them.

Near the city gate that led to the Appian Way, Lincoln and Decker waited, since the first wisps of light touched the horizon.  They had crawled up on a roof of a barn where they had a good view of both the gate and the street.  When they first arrived, they watched new guards replace the night guards, and since that time, they watched people enter the city in dribs and drabs.

“You realize, they could have entered the city yesterday afternoon, depending on how far behind they were.  They might already be lost in the city,” Lincoln said, but kept his binoculars turned on the gate.

Decker looked through his scope, and relaxed, having taken a prone position on the roof.  He had a little stand for the rifle that would steady the front end.  “If they are not here by noon, we will have to assume that and head back to the others.”

Lincoln also lay on his stomach.  He had his elbows on the roof and the binoculars held up to his eyes, like he did this sort of spying often with the CIA.  He knew how to get comfortable.  “You think the others won’t find us long before noon?”

Decker grunted, as the sound of Lockhart’s voice came over the wristwatch communicators.  “Lincoln.  Decker.  Where are you.  We are ready to go.”  It sounded loud.  Decker turned his off.  Lincoln turned his volume down as best he could and whispered.

“On a roof by the gate.  You know perfectly well where we are.”  Then he turned his communicator off as well.  Soldiers had come to the gate, ready to enter the city.  It was the third group already.  Lincoln examined every face he could through the binoculars, but none of them were Philocrates or Mylo.

Twenty minutes later, Lockhart, Katie, and Boston found Decker’s and Lincoln’s horses tied off in the alleyway beside the barn.  Katie pointed to the roof of the building across the street, but Lockhart shook his head.  “Boston,” he said.  “Since you insisted on coming, make yourself useful.  Go up there and tell Lincoln and Decker we are ready to travel.”

“I’m not a fairy,” Boston complained.  “I can’t just fly up there.”

Katie said nothing.  She got up on a box beside the barn and paused to gauge how far she had to jump to reach the opening for the hayloft.

“Oh, forget it,” Boston yelled, and virtually ran up the side of the building.  She was young and strong and could climb like a monkey when she was human.  Being an elf just made that sort of thing so much easier.  She came back down, and Lockhart and Katie were not sure how she did that.  “Decker said noon.  Lincoln said, maybe they came in yesterday, but they probably camped in the soldier’s field outside the city and planned to come in this morning.  We will see.”

Katie pointed across the street again, and Lockhart sighed and nodded.  He radioed their decision back to Elder Stow at the house.  They led their horses to the building across the street and found a place to tie them off.  While Katie retrieved her rifle, Lockhart took a couple of steps back and looked up, to see if they could get up on the roof without disturbing the residents.  No need.  They came.

Katie and Boston felt the disturbance, and both looked up at the soldiers in the gate, before Decker’s rifle sounded out across the way.  One of the soldiers fell, but one pulled out a handgun of some sort.  Two had primitive looking rifles, and they all returned fire as they got behind whatever cover they could find.  Katie raised her rifle and shot the one with the handgun, while Decker killed one that had a rifle.  That ended the killing, as fifty spit and polish soldiers stormed the gate.  The men there threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Bodanagus in his armor, and another old man dressed in senatorial robes stepped into the street and walked casually to the gate.  The centurion commanding the group in the gate, the only one on horseback, had been taken completely unprepared.  He got down, prodded as he was by the many spears around him.  He did not look happy at having his plans interrupted, but he fell to his knees, and at least faked a submissive attitude when he saw who approached.

Katie, Lockhart, and Boston caught up with Bodanagus and the senator.  The senator spoke, “And I can’t have any of these weapons?”

“Not on a bet,” Bodanagus said.  “They don’t belong here at all.  Not for another thousand plus years.”

“Too bad,” the man said.  “I can imagine some serious use for such weapons.”

They all stopped walking as a woman appeared in front of them.  The travelers recognized Minerva.  Katie and Boston felt something behind them and turned to see Artemis, that is, Diana following them.  Diana put a finger to her lips as if to say, don’t tell.

“Pretty sloppy,” Minerva said.  “You destroyed the rebuilt factory in Syria well enough after Tarsus, but your little ones missed some of the guns.”

“Pokra!” Bodanagus called, and even the strictly human man beside Bodanagus dropped his jaw when an imp appeared in the street.

“Lord.  They must have hidden some.  We got everyone we found.  We did just like you said.  It must have been Lingle’s fault.  We can double-check everywhere.  Triple-check.  It isn’t my fault…”

Bodanagus said nothing.  He just waved his hand and the imp vanished.  The old man beside Bodanagus laughed hard and loud.

“Sounded like Xitides all over again,” Katie whispered.

Minerva moved.  The primitive guns vanished as Minerva spoke.  “I will get your little ones to take whatever guns and such they find to Avalon for safe keeping.  At least my jurisdiction will be clean.  I can’t speak for others.”  She vanished, and the man beside Bodanagus laughed again.

“Not you,” Diana said quietly to Boston and put her hand on Boston’s shoulder.  Boston stopped wiggling.

“I just had a sudden, uncontrollable urge to go searching for guns and gunpowder and such and take it to Avalon.”

“You have a task, already set for you,” Diana told her.  “You need to finish your journey through time.”

Boston lowered her head and nodded.  She knew that.  What could she have been thinking?

The old man with Bodanagus spoke again when he finished his laugh.  “And I thought Roman politics and all the backstabbing that goes on in the Curia was complicated and strange.  I don’t envy you.  And these people, and the two coming down from the roof?”  He noticed, like a man who noticed everything.

“These good people, time travelers, from Avalon, have helped clean out some monsters and situations in history where there was danger of driving the human race off track.  The human race is on a journey, and like any journey, you want to arrive at the correct destination.  Ill winds and unexpected enemies or circumstances can drive you off course.  These people have helped right the ship more than once.  Now, I leave you to clean up this mess as you see fit.  Diana, if you don’t mind.”  Bodanagus knew she was there.  He turned his head and smiled for her.  Diana stuck her tongue out at the old man.

All of the travelers, including the ones from the house, found themselves instantly at the north gate where the road would take them to the next time gate.  Lincoln and Alexis had the wagon, their horses tied to the back.  Tony and Nanette rode side by side in front of them.  Boston and Sukki rode in the very front, but Lockhart and Katie, in front of Nanette and Tony, would actually lead the group when Boston and Sukki rode out on the point.  Decker and Elder Stow, of course, came in the rear as a kind of rear guard whenever they came through a town.

Bodanagus appeared with them, up on the steps that led to the wall above.  The guards in that gate stood and stared dumbly at the travelers who appeared out of nowhere.  The guards hardly dared to move.