M3 Festuscato: Epilogue

When the time came, Festuscato borrowed Marguerite’s words.  He laid his hands on Mirowen’s head and said, “You have my permission and my blessing.”  In Mirowen’s case, she did not change, drastically.  She still looked elfish.  She still had the eldritch fire at her fingertips, and she could still draw her bow and arrows from nowhere and shoot with the best of them.  They both knew, however, from that day on she would age, not like her nature, but like a normal, mortal woman.

“I’m glad,” Beowulf said as he pushed her long black locks behind her little pointed ear.  “I think I like you this way best.

“I’m glad, too,” she said with only love in her eyes.  “I should hate to look in the mirror and not recognize myself.”

“Funny.”  Gregor said the word.

“I only hope your brother will understand,” Festuscato said.

“Macreedy will have trouble, but he will get over it,” Mirowen smiled.

In the morning, Festuscato, Bran, Gregor and Luckless the dwarf mounted up for the ride into Germany.  Wulfgar would guide them safely to the border.

“I’ll miss her,” Festuscato admitted.  “Especially first thing in the morning.  Every man should wake up to a vision like her.”

“Aye,” Gregor agreed.  “And I’ll miss that little scamp of a Mousden.”

“He did say going with her seemed the less dangerous course,” Luckless pointed out.

“Moi?”  Festuscato pointed to himself.  “I am a man of peace and comfort.”

“Yes,” Gregor agreed again.  “But then, danger does tend to swirl around you like a whirlwind.  Just because you like the calm at the center doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t get caught up.”

“I’ll miss the cleric,” Bran said.

“He will get the story straight, even to the end of Beowulf’s days, or his disciple will, and the story will work its’ way back to England, you know.”  Festuscato promised.  “Maybe your grandchildren will read it someday.”

“We need to go,” Wulfgar said.

“He said we need to go,” Luckless translated.

“Aye.”  Festuscato said in imitation of Gregor’s word, and they went.

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

Tomorrow

The tale of Gerraint, son of Erbin,  in the days of Arthur, Pendragon, begins.

When ghostly hands carry a cauldron across the round table, Gerraint has to act.  Arthur deftly turns all talk to the Holy Graal, but Gerraint knows he has to stop the older men from recovering the ancient treasures of the Celts and dredging up the past.  Christendom is only a thin veneer and if Abraxas is allowed to strip that away, history might be irrevocably changed.

Enjoy.

*

M3 Festuscato: Chasing the Tale, part 2 of 2

“Oh, okay.”  Festuscato said.  One wave of his hand and the glamour fell from all present.  Mirowen’s points turned a little red from the way Beowulf looked at her and smiled.  Luckless looked around, worried about who might be watching.  Mousden fluttered up to Beowulf’s face and reached out to touch the man’s eyes.  He was not about to go down into that water or anywhere near the werewolf if he could help it.  Hrugen watched his father’s response.  To his surprise, Unferth did not blink.

“I’ve seen it all,” Unferth said.  “And more.  You would be surprised what drink can show you.”

Festuscato took that moment to speak what had been pressing on his mind.  “Remember, a hag can still think, intelligently.  This one may be able to do so even in wolf form.”  He meant it as a warning not to count on blind rage from the beast should the wolf attack.  Beowulf nodded that he understood, and then he had to think about it.

Beowulf blinked from Mousden’s work when Festuscato moved on.  “Luckless.”  He turned to the dwarf, having already discussed things with him.

“Yes,” Luckless said, and pulled something out of a bag which he did not seem to have in his hands moments ago.  “My Uncle made this.  It is sort of a family heirloom, so I hope you will take good care of it.”  Beowulf nodded.  It appeared to be a coat of the finest chain mail.

“Will it fit?”  Hrugen asked.

Luckless nodded.  “Like my Lord’s armor.  It always fits.”

Beowulf put it on without questioning.  It had been wonderfully made, and clearly the product of a master dwarf, the craftsman’s skill at its best.  “This is marvelous,” Beowulf said.  “Thank your Uncle.”

“Alas, Uncle Weland is dead.”  Luckless sighed.

“The chain of Weland.”  Unferth recognized the name.  He reached out and touched it, even as Mirowen translated into Geat and Beowulf shouted.

“The chain of Weland!”

Any number of Geats came over at that, though most kept their distance on seeing the dwarf and the elves.  Bran and Gregor nodded and waved from the lakeside, but Wulfgar was attracted to the shout, as was the king, and Seamus followed after.

“The chain of Weland,” Unferth said for the Danes.  They looked impressed, but Mirowen looked at Festuscato.  She considered the sword at his back, but he shook his head and she knew better than to ask.  Instead, Mirowen took her scarf and tied it around Beowulf’s arm.  He took her hand and spoke softly.

“I’ll be back,” he said, but Festuscato did not think he said it with the right Austrian accent.

“Here,” Unferth interrupted.  “Take my sword.  Its name is Hrunting.  It served me well in many battles and broke many swords.  May it serve you with equal strength.”  Hrugen looked surprised at the gesture.  Beowulf looked grateful.

“My thanks Unferth, son of Ecglaf,” he said.  He checked the time by the sun.  “I better go before the time passes by.”  He surprised Mirowen with a kiss before he turned his back on everyone and walked straight into the water.  He walked, until his head went under and he became lost from sight.

“How about you, Roman.  Does your sword have a name?”  Unferth asked as a jibe.  He just could not help being negative and wanting a chance to degrade others.

“Kismet.”  Festuscato nodded.  When Unferth wrinkled his brow, he tried, “Morae?”

“Wyrd.”  Bran, Gregor and Hrugen spoke in unison.  They gave the Norwegian name by which the sword was known in those parts.

“The sword of fate?”  Unferth said, hardly believing it.

“The sword of the gods?”  King Hrothgar said, half believing it.

Wulfgar stepped up to examine Festuscato’s armor more closely, but by then Festuscato had his arm around Mirowen and started leading her apart to a stone where they could sit, and wait.

“One of them,” Gregor said, as Bran stepped between Wulfgar and Lord Agitus to give him and Mirowen some privacy.  Wulfgar did not press.

“Now we wait.”  King Hrothgar voiced the sentiment.  And they did.  Some men took the horses back from the smell of the dead lake to where they could be safely tied.  Others paced.  Some occasionally fingered their swords as they kept an eye on the water for snakes or whatever else might emerge, and hoped against hope to see Beowulf again.

“Brave man.”  That was all Bran said in all of those hours.

“Aye.”  That was all the usually verbal Gregor added.

Mousden fretted by flying between two trees, like a bird that could not find a comfortable perch while Vingevourt sat and made a puddle, waiting, and shook his head at the bad water.  Mirowen was beside herself, but Festuscato held her and gave her what courage he had.  Luckless produced a leg of beef as big as his arm, but even he only nibbled at the shank.

“What is happening?”  Wulfgar asked out loud several times.

“Cannot be good,” King Hrothgar said at last.  About an hour before dark, he decided that Beowulf must have failed.  They saw no sign of life or movement across all the slick surface of the lake.  “We go home,” the king announced.  He eyed the sun.  The habit of being in and safe by dark remained too strong in the old man’s mind.  Of course, the Geats stayed, and Festuscato and his crew, but the Danes got ready to leave.

“We’ll catch up,” Festuscato told the king, and the king nodded.  Festuscato appreciated the fact that the king did not say it was hopeless, however strongly the king may have felt that way.  Mirowen was a wreck, and that might have pushed her too far.

“You are a strange one, Roman.”  The king said, Wulfgar beside him.  “For what it is worth, my wife guessed, you know.”  He waved at the little ones and turned and left, the Danes following.

At sundown, the Geats lost hope.  They were ready to turn toward home, the first riders ready to set out, when the surface of the lake came alive.

“What is it?”  Mousden shrieked and headed toward a higher branch.

“The serpents return at dark?”  Gregor asked.

Mirowen had her sharp eyes trained on the spot.  “It’s Beowulf!” she shouted.  “It’s him,” she said to Festuscato and the Geats.  The last two Geats came back, and a third went to fetch the others.  “It’s him!”  Mirowen shouted once more.

Bran stayed ready, wading as far into the deep as he could.  He grabbed Beowulf by the arm and pulled, but something seemed very heavy.  Beowulf clearly appeared too worn to speak.  Gregor jumped in after Bran, and then the two Geats joined them.  When they finally got Beowulf ashore so Mirowen could jump him, they found the head of the Grendel clutched firmly in his grasp.

“I found a sword of old, such as the frost giants used,” Beowulf said at last, when Mirowen let him breathe.

“Tell me.”  Seamus stood right there.

“Later.”  Festuscato suggested, but nobody listened as Beowulf went into a long story about his struggle, the breaking of Hrunting, and finally piercing the heart of the Wolf-hag, as he called it.  He told about the long struggle to get there and the struggle to return, but Festuscato wondered if the wolf had really died.

“It is dark,” Festuscato said at last.  “Seamus, go with Beowulf.  You will hear the story better when you have your paper in hand.”

“True, true.”  Seamus agreed, while Festuscato grabbed Mirowen’s hand.

“You two.”  He spoke to two of the Geats.  “Get that head up to carry.  A present for Hrothgar.”

“My thinking.”  Beowulf said and smiled at Mirowen.

“We will follow,” Festuscato said, and stepped between the lovers.  “We have much to discuss.”

Beowulf looked taken back for a moment, but he nodded.  “I will await your pleasure in the hall of Heorot.”  He snapped orders to his men and got his mounts, Seamus with him.

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

MONDAY

The final chapter…Mother.  Don’t miss it.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 3 of 3

The trail turned out to be easy enough.  Festuscato thanked the goddess Diana, the huntress, all the same, for blessing his reflection with the hunter’s spirit.  It was a gift which reflected in him sufficiently so he never doubted the trail for a moment.

Deep in the woods, after nearly three hours, they caught up with the beast.  Even as the sun began to redden the Eastern horizon, they knew who it was.  Ragnard, the cook’s assistant had a stump for an arm where his arm slowly started growing back.

“Why?”  Festuscato asked the obvious question, while he and the others dismounted from their skittish animals. Bran already had his sword in both hands to support his strained wrist and Gregor clutched his spear.  Mirowen came up to stand beside Festuscato, but Mousden kept his distance while Vingevourt made an off-handed comment.

“Lake near here.”  He sniffed the air and muttered.  “Bad water.”

“My mother.”  Ragnard sniffed tears and shouted.

“What about her?”  Mirowen asked.

“She did not raise a thrall.”  Ragnard spat.  “I am better than any of them.  I showed them.”  His voice trailed off for a moment but the others kept silent so he started up again.  “She caught the wolf disease.  My father would not help her, so she took me to Heorot to be raised and trained as a warrior.  But they called me fatherless.  An orphan, they said, though some of them knew my mother well enough from the old days.  I showed them.”

“Your mother took you to the king.  Why did she not stay and fight for your rights?”  Mirowen felt confused.

“She caught the wolf disease!”  Ragnard yelled at her.  The anger rose up in his face.

“Werewolf,” Festuscato said, quietly.

“She did not want to hurt me.”  Ragnard went on.  “She did not know that I would change.  That was because of my father.”

“And who was your father?”  Festuscato asked, having a suspicion.

“Abraxas.”  Ragnard growled, and he began to grow and change into the beast right before their eyes.  “And now I must kill you.”

“Behind me.”  Festuscato shouted and pulled Wyrd with one hand while he pushed Mirowen behind him with the other.  The beast paused.

“This will cut more than fingers,” Festuscato said sharply.

The beast howled and took one step forward when Mirowen burst free of Festuscato’s grip and screamed at the beast.

“No!”  Her hands came up and the eldritch fire of old burst from her fingertips and set the hair covered Grendel instantly to flame.  The beast howled in surprise, but only for a moment before it began to grow even larger, nine feet, perhaps ten, and its’ missing arm began to grow back at an alarming rate.

“Its’ making him stronger,” Bran breathed, as indeed it appeared that the fire of old resonated with some spiritual legacy from his father.

Grendel growled, lower, louder and more fiercely than ever as Vingevourt soaked him with water intended to douse the flame.  The shock of it caused the beast and everyone else to pause.  Then they saw.  The fire got extinguished, and something broke in the beast’s face.  The arm which had almost become whole, shriveled again to near human proportions, while the beast himself began to shrink, not as it had grown, but almost like the Wicked Witch of the West melting under the sting of mop water.

Grendel howled once more, but it sounded like a mournful, pain-filled and pitiful sound.  Somehow, the combination of fire that appeared to strengthen him, put out suddenly by the water, overloaded the legacy inside of him.  The fire and the water did not mix.  It ruined him.  The beast shrank to eight feet tall, or more nearly seven, and appeared to be decomposing from the inside-out.  The others could smell it.  It smelled like death.  In a last dash, the Grendel turned and ran to dive into the nearby lake with the word “Mother” ill sounded on its’ lips.  And it was gone.

“But is it dead?”  Gregor asked.

“Yes,” Festuscato nodded.  “This time I think it is sincerely dead.”

“Poor Ragnard,” Mirowen said, and Bran nodded; but Mousden fluttered down to scream.

“Poor Ragnard?  That beast could have killed us all!  I want to go back to my caves where I only have bats and trolls and creatures of the dark to worry about.”

“Too bad,” Gregor said to Mousden.  He still clutched his spear.  “I was up for a good fight.”

“What is wrong with you?”  Mousden turned on Gregor.  “That creature could have had us all for breakfast!”

“Actually.”  Gregor waved the pixie in close.  “To be honest, I nearly soiled myself.”

Mousden paused in shock.  Then he patted his friend on the back.  “I would have protected you,” he said.

“Speaking of breakfast.”  Luckless spoke up, but he got interrupted by Festuscato.

“For the record, none of us were here.  This did not happen.  I will cast no aspersion on Beowulf’s honor or bravery.”

The others looked at each other and one by one they nodded.  Gregor was the only one who spoke.  “You’re the leader of this crazy expedition.  If that’s how you want it, Lord Agitus, its’ all right with me.  Not much of a fight for the telling, however you slice it.”

With that, they mounted for the return journey, but Festuscato came close to Mirowen and asked.

“Will you go to him?”

“That was very kind of you to preserve his honor and glory.”

“That was preserving history,” he said without explanation.  “But will you go to him?”

“My heart says I must,” she said, softly.

“And his heart?”  Festuscato asked.  Mirowen said nothing but bit her lower lip, slightly, and nodded.  Festuscato knew it was too late to turn back.  “It was bound to happen someday,” he said to her smile.  “I will miss you,” he added.

“I don’t understand.”  The ever-present Bran spoke from behind them.  Festuscato looked back once and wondered why Patrick and the new Pendragon both insisted he take Bran to Rome.  Surely it would be to watch Festuscato’s back.  Festuscato shook his head and spoke offhandedly.

“You see the fields and the trees.  You see the rising sun and the clouds drifting across the early morning sky.  And this is all I see, when I look; but what you do not see is the life that pervades it all and sets all things in fluid motion.  The universe is alive, and God help humanity when it decides the universe is nothing more than dead matter and energy.  Of course, since the Days of Dissolution, the work of life is being directed by the Spirit of the Most-High, and directly rather than indirectly through fallible agents.”  Festuscato paused to touch himself.  “But the work continues without ceasing.  I, on the other hand, sometimes make small, little bits of the spiritual world manifest for my own selfish comfort and company along the way of my interminable days, life after life.  But there are always consequences.  Jennifer gave up her spirit to live a few years with Aden the Convert, though I understand she is pregnant.  But I should say, Aden, the father, hasn’t been born yet.  Is this helping?”

“Not in the least,” Gregor said with a laugh, having ridden up beside Bran.

“Well, now Mirowen is in love and there appears to be no stopping it.”  He looked at her.  “Nor would I stop it.”

Mirowen could not hold back her smile, though her eyes spoke of something unsaid.  “My Lord is too melancholy, as usual,” she said.  “We count it a great blessing to participate in the life of the Kairos, even if only for a short time.  I have been blessed beyond reason, having known my Lord since he was a little child.”

“She was a second mother,” Festuscato admitted to Gregor’s skeptical look.

“Older sister, perhaps,” Gregor suggested.

“Seven hundred years older,” Bran remembered.

“No, like a mother to this motherless child,” Festuscato insisted, and then he understood what was unsaid in Mirowen’s eyes.  “But my poor childhood will have to do.  I am sorry.”  He reached for Mirowen’s hand and she did not deny him, reaching out to briefly touch his.  “Even if you choose this human, you will remain barren unless the almighty himself should ordain otherwise.”

“Do not think that impossible,” Bran said, to encourage her.  But Mirowen also understood.  She and Beowulf would have no children to follow on the throne.  It would be the last days of the Geats.  She smiled her acceptance, but she could not refuse one tear which appeared golden in the morning sun as it dropped gently to the grass.

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

MONDAY

Love is revealed, but the fight with the Grendel is not over.  They have to see what mother will do.

*

M3 Festuscato: Beowulf and the Grendel, part 2 of 3

“Ragnard!  Fetch table and chairs.”  Aschere ordered for the king whose eyes were all on Beowulf apart from shifting once or twice toward Festuscato.

“Hail great king!”  Beowulf began, and Seamus wrote furiously.  Bran watched and smiled while a flushed Mirowen translated.  Mousden slept.  Luckless licked his fingers.  Gregor mumbled.  “Now we might see some action.” And Festuscato interjected the occasional, “Here, here!”

“I knew you as a child, a mere babe in arms,” the king said and smiled with great love and hope.  Indeed, everything appeared to be going swimmingly until Unferth the drunk shuffled back his chair to stand.  Hrugen sat with his father at that point, but there was no stopping the old man from acting like the bitter old drunk that he was.

“Braggart’s words.”  He shouted to gain everyone’s attention.  “The way I heard the tale, you lost in a simple swimming match to Brecca.”

“That wasn’t the way of it,” Beowulf growled and fingered his sword, but resisted his inclinations for the sake of the king.  “You tell a drunkard’s tale.”  He returned the insult before he returned his eyes toward the king.  “True, Brecca came ashore first, but I could have beaten him if it was a race.  In truth, we were both young and headstrong and full of the vigor of youth, not likely to heed the words of our elders, and thinking we could conquer the world, just us alone.  We were far out to sea in the midst of a roil of whales when the storm came up suddenly, as such storms are wont to do.  In truth, Brecca got washed overboard and cried for help and I dove in to rescue him.  And I might have, if the cold and cruel spirit of the nor’easter had not come up with a big blow.  We were separated then, and I saw no more of him.

“Here, here!”  Festuscato said, and Beowulf took that moment of distraction to look around the room.  He had an audience and he was not slow to take advantage of that.  “There I was in the churning deep, surrounded by monsters and the water nearly frozen.  The waves were as high as Heorot, the hall of Hrothgar itself.  And there I was in my chain with my sword at my side, struggling hard just to keep clean air in my mouth when I felt a slithering beast grab hold of my leg as if to drag me to my doom.  Glad I was then of my chain as the beast wound itself around me to crush my life and drag me back to its’ bottomless lair.  By the sword, I slew it and breathed again.  And nine others I killed after that first until at last, the sea itself had enough and spewed me out upon the shore.”

Beowulf paused to look again in Unferth’s direction.  “I could have won a simple race, if we had raced.  But I have heard no such glory come from your lips.  If you were half a man, this Grendel beast would not haunt the hall of your king.”  He went back to fingering his sword, hoping Unferth would make the first move, but Hrugen managed to pull his father back to his seat without further words, and the king spoke into the silence.

“Pay no attention to Unferth and his loose and envious tongue.  I am glad of your coming.  It was foretold to me by.”  He paused to look down.  “I cannot say, but I am glad you are here.  Only, I must warn you.  Your steel may have proved well against the serpents of the deep but it will not avail you against the Grendel.  They say the beast cannot be hurt by any weapon forged by man.  You must face this monster hand to hand.”  He shook his head while a voice spoke quietly in the hall.

“Hand to claw.”

Beowulf said nothing, but shot a sharp glance in Festuscato’s direction.  Festuscato stared back, dumbly, so Beowulf turned his gaze toward Mirowen.  He smiled and nodded slightly as if making a pledge to his lady.  Mirowen smiled a little in return, did her best not to fear for him, and covered her reddening ears at the same time.

“But for now.”  The king still spoke.  “Let us eat drink and be merry.”

“Here, here!”  Luckless said.

“For tomorrow we may die,” Festuscato finished the quote.

“Die?”  Mousden lifted his head, but Bran laid his big hand against the back of the Pixie’s head for reassurance, and Mousden drifted off to sleep again.

“Did you get all that, cleric?”  Gregor asked.  Seamus ignored him and continued to write.

“But will he kill the beast?”  Mirowen asked Festuscato quietly.

Festuscato shrugged.  “I don’t remember, exactly,” he said.  “I don’t think so.  Not entirely.  I seem to remember it goes strange.”  Mirowen put her hand on Festuscato’s arm.  She looked upset.  Festuscato reached down and patted her hand.  “But he will be all right.  At least I’m pretty sure.”

“The queen.”  The word went up as Wealtheow came in bearing a cup of mead. She smiled, went first to the Geats, and starting with Beowulf she offered a sip to each of their new guests, as was the custom.  One of her eyes, though, stayed on the king to be sure he took the medicine Ragnard brought.

The king sipped a little before he pushed Ragnard away and almost knocked him to the floor.  He looked up at the crowd.  “Roman,” he said.  “Have you a tale for us today?”  Heinrich the Bard always got the last telling.

“I do.”  Festuscato spoke up quickly.  “But better still, allow my Lady Mirowen to sing the tale of the young lovers.  Her voice is far more pleasant than mine.”  The men in the hall were quick to ascent, but Mirowen pulled back a bit.

“How could you!” she whispered, accusing, but Festuscato’s eyes appealed to the queen.  The queen responded.

“Mirowen, dear.  Come and sing it for me,” she said, assuming that Mirowen was shy in front of such a crowd of men.  Little did she know, only one man made Mirowen shy.   “Say we two are in my room alone.  Come sing for me.”  The queen requested.  Mirowen growled at Festuscato, but now she felt trapped.  Festuscato merely smiled, knowing full well the one to whom she would be singing of young lovers.  So what if Mirowen was nearly seven hundred years old?  She was an elf, albeit disguised; but elves were always young lovers, when they were in love.

As it turned out, the song got so well sung, and with hardly a touch of magic, the men merely smiled when she finished, and didn’t dare to breathe for fear of breaking the spell.  The king and queen were holding hands and teary-eyed.  Even Unferth paused for a time to soak in something far more powerful than drink.  Poor Heinrich would have a tough act to follow.

Men began to leave the hall as the twilight came on.  Ragnard brought plenty of soft cushions and blankets for the Geats and then absented himself quickly.  Wulfgar paid his respects to Festuscato and even Aschere said that he finally understood why Lord Agitus took the woman aboard ship.

Festuscato and his crew were near the last to leave.  Only the king stayed to the bitter end to wish Beowulf and his Geats the best of fortune.  Then all was dark and quiet.

Seamus got left to guard the rooms where he could make sense of his notes before he forgot everything that had been said on that day.  Gregor, Luckless, Vingevourt and Mousden were left with the horses, well back from the city gate.  Mirowen was supposed to be with them, but she insisted on hiding in the bushes with Bran and Festuscato, not far from the main door to the hall.  They waited for hours.

Mousden fluttered up every once in a while, to look over Festuscato’s shoulder, to keep an eye on what might be happening at the hall.  Every time he came back to the others, though, he always reported the same.  “Nothing.”  One time he tried to relieve the boredom.  “I spy with my little eye something that is gray.”

“It’s all gray, you dingbat.  It’s night.”  Gregor ended the game.

It got near two in the morning before they heard noises in the hall.  A man screamed.  They heard a loud crashing and stomping of feet, and then a roar.  Then the hall seemed to erupt in a kind of madness of men shouting and what sounded like furniture breaking.  Mirowen hid her face in her hands.

“Courage,” Festuscato said.  “Wait for it.”

They heard a loud snap, like the sound of a great limb of a tree being broken, and it got followed by a howl such as they heard on that night in Mirowen’s room, only this sounded much louder and much more frightening.  A moment later, the front doors of the hall got broken down and the Grendel came running out into the night, still howling but obviously trying to keep quiet.  The beast appeared to be missing an arm, but the acidic blood came slowly.

The Grendel rushed toward the main gate of the city, and Festuscato stood.  “Shall we go?”  He asked the rhetorical question.  Mirowen wanted to rush to the hall, but Festuscato grabbed her hand.  “We are not here, remember?”  She reluctantly followed her Lord.

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: What It Is, part 1 of 3

“I know what it is!”  Festuscato shouted and sat straight up in bed.

“Festus?”  Hilde snuggled down deeply under the covers.

“Not now,” Festuscato said, pushed her away gently despite her protests, and got up to dress hurriedly.  When ready, he went and banged on Mirowen’s door.  “Mirowen,” he called.  “I know what it is.”  He waited until Mirowen came to the door, her fairy clothes shaped into a comfortable white nightgown.

“In some places, they call it a harlot,” Mirowen said.

“What?  No, Hilde’s a nice girl.  No.  The monster.  I know what it is.”

“My pardon, Lord Agitus.  I am not yet awake.”  Mirowen raised her arms and her gown shape shifted and changed color to its former style, though it looked as if just cleaned and pressed, while her hair pulled itself up into a small bun that left a ponytail which fell to the small of her back.  Mirowen also looked like she had just bathed and been preening all morning, and she smelled of hyacinth and roses.

“You do that on purpose to drive me nuts,” Festuscato said.

“I can hardly drive you to where you already live,” Mirowen responded with a grin that ever so lightly creased the corners of her mouth.

“Like your hair,” Luckless said as he came around the corner with a fist full of pork loin.  “Sets off your ears.”

Festuscato paused to look out the window.  The sun just began to lighten the Eastern horizon.  “Breakfast already?”

“Pre-breakfast snack,” Luckless said.  “The cook likes to watch the little guy eat.”

“Who can sleep with all that snoring?”  Seamus came around the same corner, stretching and yawning.

“Gregor?”  Festuscato did not really have to ask.

“Makes me hungry,” Luckless admitted.  “Anyway, Bran can.”

“A good soldier can sleep anywhere,” Festuscato told him.

“Hold it!”  Mirowen shouted.  “Would you all like to come in?”  She threw the door wide open and moved aside.  The men looked at each other and Luckless swallowed.

“Er, thanks.”  Festuscato accepted the invitation for all.  He stepped in, followed by the others.  Mousden darted in just before Mirowen closed the door.  She ended up leaving it open a crack.

“I was wondering when you would show up,” Mirowen frowned.

“What did I miss?”  Mousden asked in his most excited squeak.

“You said you know who it is?”  Mirowen turned Festuscato away from the window and the sunrise and completely ignored Mousden.

“Who is what?”  Festuscato asked.

“You said.”  Mirowen started, and he remembered and hushed her with his hand.

“I said I think I know what it is,” he corrected her.  “I have no idea who.”  He began to ponder that question.

“Well?”  Seamus seemed the impatient one, probably from lack of sleep.

“It’s a hag, I think.  A servant of Abraxas.”  Festuscato came out of his reverie.

“Can’t be.”  Luckless spoke while licking his fingers.  “It’s a male.”

“All right.”  Festuscato took a step back.  “Then son of a hag, but the look, the strength, the speed, the size, it all fits.”

“Something near enough like it anyway.”  Mirowen did not disagree.

“A hag?”  Seamus asked.

“A Doctor Jeckel, Mister Hyde.”  Festuscato said and then he quickly had to wave off their questions.  “A normal enough person most of the time, but a secret devotee of the god, empowered by the god to take on enormous power and strength at times to serve the god’s nefarious purposes.  Here’s the key.  Unlike a werewolf or other such nightmares, a hag retains her mind, or in this case, his mind.  They can still think things through, and talk.”

“And how do you know this?”  Seamus did not question.  He got curious.

“Greta had to kill one once.  Cooked her in her own oven.  And Margueritte just faced down Curdwallah; but that’s the future.  I guess I’m not supposed to talk about that.”

“So it is a hag.”  Mirowen nodded.

“Or near enough like it,” Luckless repeated her words.

“I knew it!”  Mousden fluttered down from the ceiling, and he sounded and looked very agitated.  “Monster talk.”  He shivered visibly at the whole idea.  “I thought we weren’t staying or getting involved in that business.”

“We won’t, much.  Let the Geats handle it.”  Festuscato assured the little one.  “That’s why it is so important you stay on the roof at night and keep your eyes peeled for a sail on the horizon.  If the Kairos’ timing holds up, the Geats should be along any day now.”

“Yeah, but now I’ll have daymares and won’t be able to sleep.”

“Geats and hags.”  Seamus shook his head and sat in a chair.  “Who will believe it?”

“But the creature stayed quietly absent from the hall last night,” Mirowen pointed out.  “Unless the creature shows itself, how can we know who it is?”

“No trail to follow does make it tough,” Festuscato admitted.

“We could set Gregor to sleep in the hall as bait,” Seamus muttered.  Mirowen’s jaw dropped open.

“Such a suggestion.  And from a Cleric!” she scolded.

Seamus shrugged, and turned as red as Festuscato’s hair.

“Wouldn’t work,” Luckless said.  “All that snoring would just scare the poor creature away.”

Festuscato snapped his fingers to regain everyone’s attention.  He was again watching the sunrise, but he spoke to the point.  “I figure the best candidates are Aschere, the king’s Counselor.  There is something of slime about him.  Heinrich the Bard.  It is hard to tell how much of their own stories such men believe.  Wulfgar, the king’s Herald, though he seems a good man.”

“Svergen, the officer of the Coastal Watch.”  Bran spoke up from the open doorway.  “Shouldn’t be heralding this into the hall,” he said, as he stepped inside and shut the door tight.

“It isn’t the king,” Mirowen said.  “He is too old, and too sincerely crushed by it all.  Twelve years is a long time for humans to suffer.”  She looked up and saw the others looking at her.  “I spoke with queen Wealtheow,” she explained.

“Isn’t the cook,” Luckless said.  “I don’t hold for human food, but this cook is not half bad.”

“Can’t speak for the other half,” Festuscato mumbled softly.

“No, and that servant of his, Ragnard is afraid of his own shadow,” Luckless finished with a chuckle.

“The rest of the men are too transient.”  Mirowen said, by way of conclusion.

“Except Unferth,” Seamus said

“Hrugen’s father?”  Festuscato asked.

Seamus nodded.  “He wouldn’t be the first to use drink as a cover for something else.  And he has the reputation, at least in the alleged killing of his brothers.”  Most nodded, except Bran who smiled.

“Leave it to an Irishman,” Bran said.  It seemed hard to tell if that was a compliment or an insult.

“So then, that’s the short list.”  Festuscato wanted to get it right.  “Aschere the Counselor, Wulfgar the Herald, Svergen the Coast Watcher, Heinrich the Bard, and Unferth the Drunk.”  He shook his head.  Having tasted those names on his tongue, he was not sure if any of them felt quite right.  He went to the door.  “Suns up.  Breakfast time.”  He opened the door and found Luckless already in front of him.  Bran chuckled quietly from over his shoulder.

“Festus.  Festus.”  He saw Hilde’s head poke out from behind his door.

“Keep good notes, Seamus.  I’ll catch you up.”  Festuscato disappeared into his room to a roll of Mirowen’s eyes.

It turned high noon and time for the main meal in the hall when Festuscato finally did catch them up.  “What did I miss?”  He sounded a bit like Mousden.

“Nothing,” Gregor said grumpily.  “Can’t get any of these Danes to arm wrestle.”

That did not sound like jovial Gregor, but Festuscato did not have time to ask as Wulfgar came straight to the table on Festuscato’s appearance.

“Roman.  I would not have my king filled with false hope.”

“Quite right,” Festuscato responded.  “But sometimes there is only trust.  I would not want to see your king hopeless, either.  I have felt hopelessness.  It isn’t fun.”

Wulfgar thought about that for a minute before he responded.  “I hope that what you say comes to pass,” he said, and paused again before adding, “For your sake.”

“If I am wrong, I won’t be the first in these twelve years,” Festuscato said, and Wulfgar moved off with things on his mind.

“What have you been up to?”  Mirowen asked, but before Festuscato could answer, Aschere came up.  It appeared as if the Danes were taking turns.

“Roman.”  He began as Wulfgar began, but his conversation turned in a different direction.  “Yours is the strangest crew that has ever been seen or heard of.”

“A preposition is something you should not end a sentence with,” Festuscato said, with a straight face.  Mirowen stopped translating half way through and gave him a hard look.

“This woman who speaks the king’s tongue like a native is a beauty such as few men have ever imagined,” Aschere said.

“That’s true.  He’s got you there,” Festuscato said and delighted in the way it reddened Mirowen’s ears, though of course Aschere could not see her in her true elven form as Festuscato saw her, so he did not get the full ear effect.

“Tell him I thank him for the compliment.  You have always been like a big sister to me, when you are not acting like my mother.”  Festuscato said and gave the elf a kindly frown.  She told Aschere something.  Aschere nodded as if he understood.  He turned then to his mediocre Latin.

“And this little man,” Aschere went on.  “I see no good in him except to fill his stomach.”

“He is my tinker and blacksmith,” Festuscato said.  “He is as good with gold and silver as he is with iron and steel.”

“I have seen his tools.”  Aschere admitted.  “Some are very finely wrought.”  He made the admission.  “But then what of the boy?  Where is he?”

“Sleeping.”  Festuscato said and shrugged as if to suggest that was what all young boys did.  “He stayed up late.”

“In truth,” Aschere said with a sly grin.  “I found him this morning up on the pinnacle of the roof, though without a ladder, I am at a loss to say how he came there.”  The man clearly asked.

“All right, if you insist,” Festuscato said.  “In truth, as you say, Mirowen is a light elf, Luckless is a dwarf, and Mousden is a dark elf with wings.  He flew to the roof to look through the night for the sail I am expecting.”

Aschere looked taken aback at first.  He raised his eyebrows, but then he began to chuckle.  He left laughing, certain that Festuscato had to be joking, but fortunately he did not see Mirowen slap Festuscato on the shoulder or hear what she said.

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

Aschere’s thin lips curled a little.  “Wulfgar.”  He introduced the man who was every bit as big as Bran.  “The king’s herald.”  He gave the title.

“Mirowen.”  Festuscato said, and she stepped to the fore and in perfect Danish, introduced the group.  Wulfgar took it all in and only asked one question before he signaled them to follow.  Soldiers kept their horses.

The walk to the Hall of Heorot proved not far from that gate.  Indeed, the hall did not appear to be far from any gate, as it dominated the city more like a palace than a simple hall such as they found in the countryside.  They were told to wait in the entrance-way while Wulfgar went in alone.  They did not wait long, before the double doors swung open and they were invited to an audience with the king.  Mirowen stayed close to Festuscato’s ear and only just told him Wulfgar’s comment by the gate.

“He said he hoped Hrugen and his father might become reconciled, but he doubted it.”

“Come.”  The clear, but old voice rang out from the podium.  “Welcome.  Let me see.”  The man said, and he squinted hard as the crew walked within view.  “Yes.  I see the midget and the boy.  Yes, she is a remarkable beauty, isn’t she?”  Several voices quietly agreed while the king went on.  “I am Hrothgar, king of the Danes.  What brings you to my hall?”  He got direct.

Festuscato bowed.  “We are admittedly a strange crew, but we were bound for the Germanic shore when a terrible storm arose.  Our ship was wrecked off the shore near the place of Ingut the shipwright.  He sheltered us and guided us to this place, and told us of the great generosity of the king and how he does good for strangers and wayfarers in the land”

“Those belly boats of the British are useless on the real sea,” Wulfgar interrupted.  “You were bound to wreck.”

“No, it was taking the woman on the ship.”  Another man spoke up.  “There’s a real curse for you.”

Festuscato merely smiled.  “Would you leave her behind?” he asked, knowing all eyes were on her.  Mirowen’s ears turned red as she translated the words, and purple when, after a pause to consider and some little laughter, the man conceded the point.

“And the boy?”  The king asked, staring like he saw something more than the boy.

“My cabin boy.”  Festuscato designated him with a title unfamiliar to that day and age.  “A whiz with numbers.  Better than a dwarf.  The keeper of my accounts and something like a son to me.”

“Aw.  What do you know,” a man said, rudely, and staggered to his feet.  “Who are these fools?  I thought we were done with the days of fools daring to face the Grendel.  I get tired of hearing screams in the night.  A man can’t sleep.  Say, who are you?”  The rudeness of the man at the very feet of the king startled Festuscato a little.  He had been raised, thanks to Mirowen, to maintain proper respect wherever and whenever possible, but the king said nothing.  He had his head in his hand as if struggling against a terrible headache.  Wulfgar looked disgusted with the man, but said nothing.  Aschere appeared ready to explain, but gave way when Mirowen took a half step forward.  She repeated the introductions given at the gate, word for word, until she mentioned Hrugen, son of Unferth and the man’s eyes grew wide and turned wild.

“Hrugen?”  The man shouted and struggled mightily against the alcohol that flowed so liberally through his veins.  “That no good, runaway, coward.”  He reached the table and found a sword which he pulled and spun around almost too fast.  “Where is he?”

Hrugen stood in the back, trembling for fear of the moment.

“Now, Unferth,” Wulfgar stepped between the drunk and the crew, but Aschere pulled him back.  He wanted to see what would happen.  No other man in the hall moved, and even the king seemed transfixed by the scene, alternately squinting and rubbing his eyes.

“Boy!”  Unferth shouted again and brandished his sword.  “Did you come home with a wife to care for me in my age?  Did you bring children?  Did you get gold?  Treasure?  I better not find you an empty-handed loser!”

Unferth struggled to focus himself and could not seem to find his son who stayed mostly hidden behind Gregor and Bran.

“He brought something more precious than all of those things,” Festuscato spoke and gained the man’s attention with Mirowen practically shouting the translation.

“What!  What?”  Unferth said.

“Friends.”  Seamus responded and Festuscato took a step toward the drunk who unknowingly took a step back from the confrontation.  Gregor smiled and stepped forward with Bran beside him.  Seamus pocketed his quill for once and joined them, though the cleric proved rather useless in a fight.  Luckless came up.  No one noticed where he got his axe, but they all noticed how well he cradled it in his arms.  With a little judicious staring, Unferth dropped his sword which clattered to the ground, but then, in a moment of stubbornness, he pushed forward.

“My son,” he said and squeezed between Festuscato and the Saxon who did not stop him, now that he went unarmed.

Hrugen did not tremble anymore.  He looked at his father, and the man looked back at him.

“Loser.”  Unferth said and raised his hand to strike his son, but Hrugen shoved him and the man fell to the floor.

“Drunk,” he said.  “Sober up if you want to talk to me, otherwise I have nothing to say to you.”  Hrugen stepped to a table on the opposite side of the room from where his father drank, and he sat, and after a moment, all but Mirowen and Festuscato joined him.

“No.”  The king pushed away some tonic that a young man tried to force on him.  The king knocked the drink with his hand, though accidentally due to his eyesight.  “I have had enough of treatments and medicines,” he said, while the cup fell to the ground and spilled its’ contents.  “Ragnard, get back to the kitchen,” he commanded the young man, who looked embarrassed, like all in the hall were watching him, and laughing, while he retrieved the fallen cup and retreated from the hall.

“Now dear.  You must take your remedy.”  An elderly woman spoke from a back door as she entered the room.

“Queen Wealtheow,” Wulfgar announced, and every man in the room stood briefly to pay their respects.  The old woman walked up beside the king and leaned forward to kiss his cheek, but she did not actually touch her husband except with the sentiment as he waved her off and grumbled.  Then he raised his head to look at the Roman.

“Have you come to try your luck against the monster?” he asked outright.

“Gods forbid!”  Mousden squeaked from the table, and not too quietly.  A few men laughed lightly.

“We have only just heard of the plague on your magnificent hall,” Festuscato said.  “If it was in my power.  I will do all that I can, but alas, my ragtag crew would hardly be a match for this beast as I have heard tell of him.”

“Cowards, all.”  Unferth said, having resumed his seat and his drink.

“On the contrary,” Festuscato responded.  “Rome has always been practical about such matters.  Rushing headlong with promises is folly, and I am no fool.  I will wait until the opportune moment, until the time is ripe.”

“Wisely spoken,” the queen said, and Festuscato nodded his head as a slight bow to her well-aged beauty.

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

MONDAY

Festuscato and his crew figure out what it is, and have an encounter with the monster.  Until then, Happy Reading’

*

M3 Festuscato: To the Hall of Heorot, part 2 of 3

Festuscato called a halt to their progress before they reached the first house.

“Lord?” Mousden asked as he flitted back and forth between the trees.

“I was thinking,” he said.  “It is one thing to parade through the halls of a king, but quite another to have you traipsing through the countryside with the plain folk of this world.  A party like ours is bound to attract a lot of attention.”

“This is a bad thing?” Gregor asked with a smile.

Festuscato nodded. “The sightings of little ones is becoming a rare and special event, something relegated to the ancient days.”

“And that is how it should be,” Bran spoke up

“Indeed,” Seamus added.  “Rare enough that I hardly know what to put in the journal.  Who would believe me?”

“Mousden, get big,” Festuscato commanded.

Mousden looked clearly reluctant.  He flew in a circle before he settled down and landed beside the horses.  He did not look at his Lord, but took a deep breath and changed.  His wings vanished and he stood around three feet tall, his mottled skin turned into a ruddy complexion, with a few freckles.  For all practical purposes, he looked like a nine or ten-year-old boy, and he growled when Gregor laughed and let down a hand to take him on as a passenger.

Mirowen did not need to be told.  She effected glamour to make herself appear like a mortal woman and Luckless as a more ordinary little person, and in this way, they would walk among the people of the land, still a strange enough group, but not one beyond the pale. Ingut said nothing while they took on their disguises, but when they were set, he led them into the village.

All day, they had traveled the inland road, which Ingut said would be faster.  It was not faster, of course, but everyone knew he wanted to keep Festuscato away from his daughter, Inga.  Festuscato felt sorry about that.  That young woman had a real future on the rescue squad.

In this village, there were wild, unverifiable rumors about the monster that haunted the halls of Hrothgar.  Some thought it was the ghost of a man seeking revenge on the house of Hrothgar, and they could name several dead men that fit the bill.  Some, however, imagined it as a troll, or an ogre as Mirowen had guessed at first; but then a few thought it might be something worse, something which they would only identify with a whisper.

Festuscato stopped listening after a while.  He would get no real information there, or probably in any of the places they might stop along the way.  He would have to wait until they arrived to hear the truth, and maybe see with his own eyes, if he could figure out how to do so safely.

By evening, Festuscato got back to being his normal, slightly impish self.  When the chief of the hall apologized profusely for not having any bard or singers to entertain his guests, Festuscato volunteered his crew to provide the entertainment, and in this way, they paid their way, so to speak, all the way to the Danish capitol.

Festuscato told the story of the three dwarfs at the bottom of the well, Mirowen translating perfectly.  It seemed a little awkward waiting for two sets of laughter, but even Luckless laughed more than once, and he had heard the story countless times.  Bran twice told the story of King David cutting the tassel from King Saul’s robe, and both the Jutes, and later the Danes were very impressed with David.  They judged him a king worth following.  Luckless once tried to sing the dwarf work song, the song often heard in the deeps, but it sounded so strange and alien to human ears, he chose not to sing it again. Mousden, on the other hand, had a sweet tenor, and delighted the people with his rendition of the cradle song.

When they came to their first Danish village, the reception felt less warm at first, until they discovered Hrugen as one of their own.  After that, their reception turned very welcoming, until they found out who Hrugen’s father was.  The chief of the village became quietly angry to the point where the crew began to fear for their companion.  The chief had been friends with one of Hrugen’s uncles, and he still bore a grudge against Hrugen’s father who, all these years later, remained under a cloud of suspicion of having killed both of his brothers.  Though the chief had a poet and myth-teller in the hall, and a very good one, Mirowen herself stepped up that evening.

All of the eyes of the men remained on the elf, that is, the woman, wherever she went. The glamour she wore did nothing to diminish her beauty, so it became no hard thing for her to gather everyone’s attention as she stepped to the center of the room.  The harp from nowhere came to her hand, and she stroked the strings like a mother might caress her child.  Everyone, Dane and Britain, understood her every word without the need for translation as both the words and melodies contained great magic.  She sang the tragedy of the lovers, and everyone in the hall cried, bitterly.  She sang the comedy of Raven’s Fall, and everyone laughed so hard, they began to cry again from the laughter.  Last, she sang the elfish lullaby so well-known and imitated, but never duplicated by the bards of the British Isles, and everyone in the hall, but Festuscato himself, fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.  Without a word, Mirowen laid down on one side of Hrugen, and Festuscato laid on the other side.  Thus, they slept well until morning.

With the light, they quickly went on their way to avoid any trouble.  Festuscato even relaxed a little, knowing that Bran ahead, Gregor behind, and Mousden overhead kept a sharp eye out against being followed and for any signs of treachery until they were well out of that territory.

When at last they came to the sea and the edge of the city which would one day be called Copenhagen, Ingut began to make noises that he had to be going home.  His job was done.  He said the king would expect his ship and payment was not yet due.  He said he should not enter the city because there was still a year and a day before the agreement concluded.  At last, he pointed to a gate, instructed Mirowen in some way, and wheeled around and rode off at some speed.

“I wonder what’s the matter with him?”  Festuscato mused out loud.

Mousden, who had been agitated during the whole journey, and not simply for being made to get big, chose that moment to finally speak what was on his mind.  “Do the words “bite sized pieces” mean anything to you?” he shouted.

Festuscato laughed.  “I did not say we were going to stay.  Just have a look.”  Of course, he had every intention of staying.  He had read the book several times in the future, and if things worked out, he should be seeing the young Beowulf within the week.

“Halt.” They were stopped at the gate. “What business have you in the city of the Danes?”  The guard at the gate looked sharp enough.  Festuscato responded in a straightforward way.

“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Rome,” he said and let Mirowen translate.  “And these are my traveling companions. Gregor One-eye of the Saxons, Bran the Sword of Britannia, Seamus the Cleric from Eire’s emerald shore, Luckless the Tinker of Wales, young Mousden of Cornwall in the West, the Lady Mirowen from the heather highlands, and Hrugen the Dane, son of Unferth.  As a member of the Imperial Senate of Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, I have come to pay my respects to your king.”

With that little speech, the guard at the gate no longer looked as sharp.  It seemed as if he had some difficulty trying to make all of that information fit inside his brain.  Fortunately, a well-dressed gentleman stepped out of the guard house and he appeared to have no such difficulty.  He ate a piece of fruit, and took a moment to look carefully at everyone.

 “I am Aschere, counselor to king Hrothgar.” The man said, in very imperfect Latin. “We have been expecting you. Indeed, I have been waiting all morning. Where is Ingut?”

“He mumbled something about the ship not being ready yet and left.”  Festuscato said in all honesty, not even attempting to disguise his thoughts.

The normally stoic Bran got blatant about it.  “Coward,” he said.  Gregor chuckled.

Aschere shared the chuckle.  “Yes, he is,” he said.  “But I take it you are not.”  Bran shrugged ever so slightly.  Festuscato could see Gregor was dying to say something, but his Latin was not nearly good enough.  Then all eyes turned as two men rode up quickly to the gate.  They dismounted, and Festuscato took the cue, dismounting himself, and his crew followed his lead.

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 3 of 3

Shortly, a new target got brought into the room and a Jute stood up with two spears in hand.

Gregor leapt at the chance.  “Gods I love this,” he said.  He really enjoyed the sport, like a football addict with seats on the fifty-yard line.

The man holding the spears looked at his king as if wondering if it would really be fair to contest with a one-eyed man.  The king merely sat back, shrugged and nibbled on a piece of fat from the deer set before him.

The Jute went first, and like the huntsman, he made a fair throw that landed in the target, not on, but near the center.  Gregor picked up the other spear and examined it as if he was not sure how to hold it. He fingered the point and winced as if it felt really sharp.  “Forgive an old man.”  He said, luckless translating for him.  “With one eye my aim isn’t what it used to be.”  He waggled the spear like practice throws all around the room.  Men ducked for their lives until he lost it.  He started laughing, loud, and some joined his laughter when they realized he was just having fun, until he suddenly turned deadly serious.  He bellowed a Saxon war cry and heaved the spear toward the target.  It hit dead center and split the target in two where the boards had been fitted together.  The rest of the target splintered and fell apart, and Gregor started to laugh again, paused on his return to the table to slap a Jute hard on the back.

King Hroden who had sat straight up and stopped chewing, squinted at the end of the room. “Can’t tell where it hit, exactly. Another draw,” he decided.  Again, Festuscato did not argue, but the Swede began to laugh, embarrassingly for the king.

“Axes.”  The king roared.  His anger started rising.  A new target got hustled into the room and a new man stepped to the line. Luckless came up to take his turn.

“No magic.” The king reminded the contestants of the rule.

Luckless looked at his opponent.  “Won’t need any,” he announced.  He threw first, and his throw proved as perfect as the arrows of Mirowen and Gregor’s spear.  The axe man of the Jutes just stared for a minute, and then angrily hit the dwarf on the head with the butt of his axe.  Luckless went down.

Festuscato leapt out of his seat and over the table before most people knew what happened. He reached out to the second heaven and called to his armor, cloak, helmet, sword and long knife and he became instantly clothed as one ready for war.  The sword called Fate jumped to his hand, and he slid on his knees to Luckless’ side. Mirowen stood on the table, another arrow at the ready.

Everyone in the room came to their feet, and two angry looking Jutes stepped forward to defend their Axe man, but discovered nothing they could do about Mousden.

Mousden flew around the axe man fifteen or twenty times before the axe man could turn a quarter turn.  But Mousden just built up steam.  In the next moment, the axe man rose a few inches off the ground and started spinning uncontrollably to the point of throwing up, carried along by his own little tornado.  He slammed into the wall, hard, and slid to a seat, unable to hold anything in his stomach.

The other two men came at Festuscato and the dwarf, but the first hit a wet spot and slipped, his arms flailed in the air as he fell back and banged his head, hard on the edge of the table.  It would have killed him, surely, if his head had not been harder than the wood.

“Perpetual!” Gregor’s gleeful voice rang out from behind.

The last angry Jute drew his sword as Luckless shook his head and came back to his senses. Most men backed up.  Festuscato grabbed Fate’s hilt with both hands and when the two swords met, though the Jute’s sword looked much bigger and meaner, it shattered like a piece of rotten wood against a grinder.  Festuscato then stood and slapped Fate sharply against the stunned Jute’s shoulders.  Immediately, the Jute’s chain and leather harness slipped to the floor and Festuscato pressed Fate hard against the Jute’s nearly naked heart.  The Jute looked to his king to plead for his life, and the king responded.

“Halt,” he shouted, nodded to Mirowen slightly before she got tempted to shoot one of those illusion arrows at one of his people.  “I told the Roman we have no quarrel with Rome.  That goes for his people, too. Is that understood?”  He did not really ask.  “Roman, you are my honored guest.”  The king pointed to the seat beside himself.  “And I have a proposition.”

Festuscato sheathed his sword and with everyone watching, brought his comfortable clothes back from the second heavens and sent his war suit home.  He deliberately took his time returning to sit between Mirowen and the king.

“Neat trick, that,” the king said.  “Though I would have gotten a better look at that sword of yours.”

“A gift of the gods,” Festuscato said.  That was all he intended to say.

“Made by the gods?”  He got that much.  “And how did you come by it?” he asked.

“It was a going away present,” Festuscato said.  “I’ve had it for about four hundred and some seventy years.”

Hroden looked serious, but only for a minute.  He decided Festuscato was joking and had a good laugh.  “You are everything friend Ingut declared you to be,” he said.  “And I think there is something I would discuss.”

Festuscato became all ears, but both his and the king’s eyes were where the gold had been. The king looked away, thinking someone had snitched it in the confusion.  Festuscato felt pretty sure Mousden had taken it back, or at least that the Pixie would get it back.

“It is the monster,” King Hroden said, to get his guest’s attention.  After all, the Roman won the competition fairly, even if it was one point to none.  “Grendel is the name, and he has been like a plague on the Danes for these past twelve years.  The ranks of their brave and strong have been decimated by the beast who they say is stronger than ten men and who cannot be cut by any blade forged by men.”

Festuscato nodded. The sword of the gods had not been made by men, but he decided for the moment to just listen.

The king downed his drink, but when he heard no response, he continued.  “You live with monsters, begging the good Lady’s pardon, eh?”

“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, quietly.

“Still, I have a feeling about you.  You know about these things.  I can tell. If anyone can help the hapless Danes, I believe you and your strange crew can do it.”

Festuscato finished his own drink and turned to stare.  “And why would you worry about the poor Danes?” he asked, flatly.

King Hroden slammed his open hand on the table.  “Because they are weak.”  He shouted and got some attention from the room.  “Surely you, a Roman, understand that.  Isn’t that the Roman way?”

“Not exactly,” Festuscato said, still flat in his voice.  “Rome understands when her enemies are weak, but she always finds an ally, a local people who have a grudge against the weak ones and Rome moves in to help.  Once the help is given and the weak one is easily overwhelmed, Rome never moves out, and the result is invariably two kingdoms for the price of one.  This is the way empires are built.”

King Hroden looked grim for a minute and then laughed.  “And here is Olaf, the Swede.”  He announced before he suddenly lost his laugh and turned his grim look on the hapless Swede, who shrunk in his chair.

“I will go south,” Festuscato announced to regain the king’s attention.  “For a comfortable stay for me and my people this evening and good care taken of my horses.  If in the morning, we are well fed and well rested, I will go.”

“Good, good.”  King Hroden said.  He put his hand on Festuscato’s shoulder.

“Of course, after Ingut’s daughter, it will be rather hard to sleep without some distraction,” Festuscato added.

“What? You?”  He looked at the shipbuilder who was fortunately just out of earshot, and back again at the Roman before he laughed at last, like Gregor, while Mirowen’s pointed ears turned deep red.

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

MONDAY

The the Hall of Heorot.  Ingut the shipbuilder gets roped in for further duty, to guide the Roman and his crew to hall of the king of the Danes, where the monster haunts the night.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

M3 Festuscato: The Jutes, part 1 of 3

The so-called city of Thorengard sat on the bank of a broad river that emptied into the sea. It got surrounded, more or less, by a stockade, which had been partly built of stone and partly of whole trees planted deep in the earth, lashed together with rope, and caulked with mud. Ingut called them to halt on a small hill which gave a good view of the city below, and he pointed out certain features including the docks, the market area, and the roof of Yut-Heim, the hall of the king.  Festuscato noted that the man did not speak like a proud native.  He said it all just matter of fact.  As they began to descend toward the main gate, Luckless turned to the Roman.

“And what is on your mind?” he asked.

Festuscato turned up one corner of his mouth.  “I was just understanding once again why people like these would fall on their faces in fear and trembling at the sight of the city of Rome with her tremendous walls, broad avenues and thousands of alleyways, dozens of great ships in the harbor from all over the Mediterranean, and a half million people all bustling about on important business.  This city should barely be called a town, and even that word is generous.”

“Rome must really be something,” Luckless said.

“It is,” Festuscato confirmed.  “But even Londugnum would give these people pause and it is nothing compared to the Great City.”

“So you have said,” Luckless reminded him.

“Yes, but your Rome has become like a fat cow.”  Gregor nudged into the conversation.  “It may be great in size and beauty, but it is subject to the butcher knife.”

Festuscato grew silent.  He knew in his heart that Gregor was more or less right.  He had a commission from the Emperor and the Imperial Senate which stated that after he established peace in Britain, he was to seek out the reason the Germanic tribes were pushing so violently and permanently into the west. He was to resolve the problem, or at least find a way that Rome could counter those migrations and thus preserve itself.  Such thinking, however, was foolishness.  Before he even arrived in Germany, he understood that all he would likely find were people who were glad to take advantage of Roman weakness.

To discover the reason Roman power was waning and collapsing in the West, the Emperor Valentinian III needed to look in the mirror.  Indeed, all Romans needed to look in the mirror, but this they would never do.  One of the surest signs of civilization’s collapse was when the prevailing wisdom turned away from personal responsibility and toward blaming others for every ill.  When people stopped depending on themselves to make their lives as good as they could and hand to their children better than they got, and they turned instead to government to give it to them, as if government acted like some living god independent of the people governed, then civilization became doomed.

“What ho!” Vingevourt’s pipsqueak voice came up from the ground ahead.  “I came up the river and have waited here a long time for your arrival.”

“And here we are.”  Mirowen smiled for the little one.

“Ungh!” Ingut grunted at him.

“Good to see you,” Festuscato said to turn his mind from his depression.

“Come aboard, Majesty,” Gregor said with a big smile.  “See?  I have set a clean cloth just for you to leak on.”

Vingevourt climbed up.  “I will say, you are a thoughtful mudder.”

Gregor guffawed. “No.  I’m just an old fart.”

“Smells like a new one if you ask me,” Mousden mumbled before he flew ahead to get a closer look at the city.

When they came to the gate, they found a half dozen men laying about in the late afternoon. They came somewhat to attention on the sight of such a big party, but any semblance of order fell apart when they saw the contents of the party.  The men were strange enough in their dress, though they probably recognized the German and perhaps even the Britain.  The Roman and the Irish cleric might as well have been from China, but then the little ones really grabbed their attention.

Dwarfs were not yet strangers in the world, but they were not common, while elves, like trolls and gnomes were often heard of, but rarely seen.  Fairies had always been shy of humans, but this Cornish pixie with the slight greenish tint to his skin, his bat-like wings and claw-like hands and feet with their prehensile toes hardly fit the pattern.  They did not know what to make of Mousden, but Vingevourt they knew, at least in type.  They were astonished, however, to see the water sprite out of the water.

If Ingut had not been leading them into the city, there might have been some question as to whether or not they would have been allowed in.  Some believed the sighting of any little one was a sign of good fortune to come, but many more firmly believed they were an ill omen, and Festuscato felt sure he heard Odin’s name used as a curse as much as in prayer.

The trip through the town and its’ terribly muddy and garbage-laden streets did nothing to raise Festuscato’s impression of the place.  He found the royal stables hardly worth the name.  The hall of Yut-Heim at least appeared to be well built, a solid log construction with a kind of shingled roof found on a number of buildings and houses in the town.  It looked to be a marked improvement over the thatch they found elsewhere.

“Ingut.” His name came easily to the group of men inside the hall.  Everyone knew the ship builder, and because so much of their lives and livelihood depended on their ships, whether for fishing or war, Ingut seemed to have the run of the place.  In this instance, his first duty was to march up to the king’s table and nod his respect for the king before he spoke.  Mirowen quietly translated for the group who followed in Ingut’s train.

“He’s telling the king about your wreck at sea during the great storm and how he found you washed up on his shore.”

“His shore?” Festuscato mouthed, but listened.

“You are the Roman, and we are your companions, sworn in allegiance to you, and there is great power of magic in us all, as can plainly be seen in the Roman’s choice of companions.  When the ship got driven to the rocks of Heyglund, Ingut realized it must be because the gods decided we must be a gift for the people of this war-torn land.”

“Didn’t know I was a magician.”  Gregor muttered.  Mirowen kicked him to be quiet.

“Naturally, Ingut thought of his great king, Hroden, and brought the Roman here first of all, knowing that the king would understand these things far better than the lowly ship maker.”

King Hroden eyed them with an eye of serious consideration and another eye of amusement. A couple of men at a table laughed at the sight of the strangers, but the king quickly raised his hand for silence.