Mirowen went on to whisper the king’s response.
“He is thanking the fine ship builder for his thoughtfulness and is offering him a ring of gold for his trouble.” The king stood and gave the gift. “He is telling Ingut to stay and be refreshed. He will get the finest rooms to spend the evening and can make a fresh start home in the morning.
“Ingut says his poor dear daughter will miss him in the night, and how he hates to be away from his only living kin.”
“The king says, here. This inlaid necklace should soothe her fears. Now please be seated and say no more about it.” The king sat back down while men at the table to the king’s left moved down to make room for the shipwright. Festuscato took Mirowen by the wrist and stepped forward.
“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Senator of Imperial Rome and Ambassador of his most August Emperor, Valentinian III, the Divine Caesar, ruler of the Western World, it is an honor to be at your table,” he said, Mirowen translating. The king slowly grinned.
“Ruler of the Western World?” he questioned. There were a couple of muffled laughs at that.
“The civilized world,” Festuscato said, eliciting a very loud burp from a man at the back. “And many a man has underestimated the power and reach of Rome.” He spoke plainly, not threatening.
“Lady Mirowen.” Festuscato began the introductions with her. “The big Britain is Bran the Sword, and these other good men are Gregor One Eye, the Saxon, Seamus the cleric, is Irish, Luckless from the mines of Wales, Mousden, the Pixie from Cornwall, and of course you know Vingevourt, king of the sprites of the Baltic.” Festuscato began to look around.
“I was not aware they had names,” King Hroden said.
“And ah, there he is.” Festuscato pointed. “And Hrugen the Sailor.” He knew better than to name the Dane, as a Dane, but then Hrugen surprised them by stepping forward.
“I am Hrugen son of Unferth, grandson of Edglaf of the Danes,” he said, proudly. Several benches got shoved back and several men reached for their weapons, but the king stopped them with his hand.
“I have heard of your father,” Hroden said.
“I fled my home twelve years ago when my father killed his two brothers,” Hrugen said. “I feared for my life, but I have conquered that fear and I am returning home to confront my sire, once and for all.” He sounded far braver and more confident in that assembly than he really was.
“He is a stinking drunk,” Hroden said. “He sits at Hrothgar’s feet in Heorot and fears the monster that assails them. He is a drunk and a coward.” The king baited Hrugen, but Hrugen did not bite.
“What you say may be true,” Hrugen said. “I have not been home in all these years.”
The king frowned at his lack of success, so he broadened his jibes. “Still, I suppose we can encourage enmity between Danes. You may stay. As for the rest of your crew, however, they seem no threat. Even the big one looks docile enough. Stay and eat.”
“I thank the king for his generosity,” Festuscato said. “But before you underestimate Rome, may I suggest a friendly contest or two?”
“Eh?” The shrewdness returned to the king’s eyes.
The king nodded. He indicated to a man who called for the target. “But what if you lose?” the king asked.
“Mousden.” Festuscato called. The Pixie came forward and produced a small leather purse out of nowhere. He handed it to Festuscato and flew back to the others. Festuscato took out a couple of pieces of gold as if judging how much to bet. He looked around, and then smiled, dumped half the bag of nuggets on the table before the king and set the rest of the bag beside it. “But what if we win?” Festuscato countered. The king’s wide eyes looked up at the Roman. “Rome is a fat cow,” he reminded the king.
“Enough,” the king promised. “I will give enough.” He stood. “But my men will not lose.” He roared to be sure everyone got the message. A table, one back from the front, was cleared for the strangers, but the king stopped Festuscato. “You sit with me,” he said. “And the Lady of Light.” He literally threw a man out of his seat to make room at his own table. When he sat back down, the man beside him whispered in his ear. He laughed. “Olaf the Swede has bet on you and your crew.” He laughed again. “Yonstrom!” He called out. The king’s hunter stepped forward, arrow already on the string. A line got drawn on the floor and the target set across the room far enough away to not make it too easy. Yonstrom shot, and it appeared a good shot. It was not centered, but close enough to take down a stag. The king smiled and looked at Festuscato.
“Mirowen.” That was all he said, without looking. She jumped on the table itself, adding another twelve yards distance to the target, produced a bow seemingly out of thin air and shot, not once, but two arrows so close together the second was away before the first one hit the target. The first hit dead center and the second one hit so perfectly on the end it drove the first nearly all the way through the hardwood, but without splitting the first shaft.
Mirowen got back in her seat, the bow gone, and she looked demure and sweet before the men could hardly react. Then they broke out. Some hooted. Some hollered. All praised her, in amazement, and only Festuscato noticed that she turned a little red. When the king bent over to say something, she spoke first to cut him off.
“My Lord Agitus is far better than I am,” she said. Festuscato shook his head. He knew his reflection in the past, Diana, his genetic twin, had been graced by both the goddess Justitia and the goddess Diana, her namesake. He reflected her sense of justice and power of negotiation as well as her ability to hunt and use the bow, to fire the arrow of justice as he called it, but Mirowen remained the best he had ever seen.
“Perhaps,” the king said. “But he did not shoot. Magic does not count. I will have the target examined in the morning to see if the arrows are still there or if it was all just illusion.” He looked at Festuscato and considered whether or not he might be better than the elf. “We will call it a draw,” the king concluded. “Swords.” He announced.
Mirowen wanted to protest, but Festuscato held her hand down. He looked. Bran did not have to be called. His opponent was a big Jute, though not quite Bran’s size. Neither was the Jute’s sword as big as Bran’s early broadsword. They did not wait for the word, but went at it evenly at first. When Bran looked to be gaining the advantage, and the Jute appeared to be tiring, a man at the table stuck out his own weapon, and Bran lost his grip. The broadsword clattered across the floor and king Hroden looked pleased.
Festuscato showed no emotion as the big Jute moved in for what he believed would be the deciding blow, but as he moved in close to strike, Bran did the opposite of what was expected. Instead of backing away, Bran stepped in even closer and hit the Jute with a wicked uppercut followed by two jabs and a right hook that slammed the Jute against the wall, unconscious. Bran rubbed his knuckles a bit before he retrieved his broadsword and laid it at the Jute’s throat.
“One for me.” Festuscato said to the king’s great displeasure. He called for food and thought quietly while everyone ate and drank. He called a man close and whispered to him.