R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 3 of 3

Patrick started down the rough path, which became a bit of a climb to reach the floor of the hollow.  Bran and Greta followed him, and Giolla came and pushed up to stay near the priest.  Lord Flahartagh followed reluctantly, and Fionn came last and looked like a man who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Come, come,” the old woman cackled.  “I have been expecting you, but tell me, druid, how did things turn?”

“You failed, old woman.  The priest lives, and I should take my money back.”

“Curious,” the old woman cackled.  “They were the most poisonous serpents in the world. But who can control serpents?”

“Patrick can,” Giolla shouted.  “He cast your serpents into the sea where they all drowned.”

“You paid her to attack the priest?”  Lord Flahartagh caught up with what was going on and he hit his druid and knocked him down.  “You know what happened last time,” he roared.

“What happened?” Greta asked.  She wanted the conversation to continue while she thought of what to do.  She felt sure any direct movement toward the hole in the world would be stopped by the witch.

Lord Flahartagh explained.  “My father’s grandfather got cheated by the MacNeills and the King of Leinster when the King ruled in favor of the MacNeills and they took possession of the whole of the fens.  He came to the witch and she called up the dragons who terrorized our lands as readily as they terrorized MacNeill and Leinster.”

“Who can control a dragon?” the witch asked in a gleeful voice.

“Festuscato can,” Bran said, and Greta looked up at the man.

“Hey, I healed the dragon.  Oh, okay.”  Greta threw up her hands and went away so Festuscato could fill his own boots.  The witch looked startled, and the Irish yelled again, though not as loud as the last time.  Festuscato returned in his white tunic with the dragon on the front, and sent the cloak of Athena away.  “Good to be back,” he said, and winked at Patrick, while he walked around as if seeing things for the first time, and in truth positioned himself to take a stab at the branches as soon as the opportunity arose.

“You are the dragon,” the witch said, and with the sound of respect in her voice.  “I have heard of you.”  Clearly, hearing and understanding what she heard were two different things.  No human witch, no matter how powerful, could probe the depths of the Kairos.

“So, what’s cooking?” Festuscato asked and leaned over as if to get a look.

“The soup of life in the cauldron of life.”

“That is never the cauldron of life,” Festuscato objected.  “Dagda’s Cauldron was big enough for a man to stand inside it.  Cauldron of life?”  Festuscato scoffed.

“Patrick’s words are the words of eternal life,” Giolla spoke up.

“Jesus is the giver of life,” Patrick said, and the witch screamed and covered her ears.  That told Festuscato that the witch was not just a sorceress, she was demon possessed, a complication, and no doubt the source of her knowledge.

“I control life here,” the witch insisted and she lifted her spoon to mumble incoherently and wave her hand above the bubbles.  Spiders began to crawl over the edge of the cauldron and several bats flew up into the sky, to dive bomb the people.

“Mousden!”  Festuscato called, and since Mirowen presently held the boy’s hand, she came with him.

Mousden took one look at the witch, reverted to his pixie form, screamed and raced to hide behind Patrick’s robes.

“Mousden, come here,” Mirowen scolded and Mousden looked up and took a breath long enough to mouth another word.

“Lunch.”  The bats flew for their lives.  The spiders were not so lucky.

By the time the witch closed her mouth at the unexpected turn of events, Festuscato had Wyrd out of his sheath.  One swipe of that sword, and the old branches got cut off. He punched the remains of the branches, hurt his hand, and the wood popped out the other side of the hole, somewhere on the other earth.  The hole itself snapped shut with an audible SNAP.

The witch screamed.  Mousden screamed again on principle.  Festuscato more accurately shouted his words.  “Get out of the hollow!”  He grabbed Patrick’s robe as Mirowen scooped up Mousden, and they began to climb.  Bran went right there with them, but the others were a bit behind.  When the witch collapsed, she began to decay rapidly. She had to be over ninety.  Maybe she was over a hundred-years-old.  Maybe she was already dead and just being propped up by the demons that inhabited her.  They would never know.  As they reached the ground level above, the walls all around the hollow gave way and the hollow filled rapidly with water.  They watched while in the end it became a pond in the wilderness, and when it overflowed in one spot, it became a little stream.

“There is some water worth avoiding,” Lord Flahartagh said.

“No,” Festuscato shook his head.  “What do you think, Springs?”

A little head popped up from the stream and spoke. Flahartagh got startled, but he did not yell this time.  “Lots of muck in the water from that blasted soup the witch was cooking.  Come back this time next year and we will get things nice and cleaned up for you.  That old witch kept us out for a long time, but I knew she could not keep us out forever.”

“Thank you, Springs,” Festuscato said.  “Good to see you.”

“My pleasure.”  Springs saluted, and broke apart into the water from whence he came.

“I see you have lots of friends,” Lord Flahartagh said, and Festuscato nodded.

“Like my housekeeper Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden.” Mousden went back to walking, looking again like a nine-year-old, and it would have been easy to forget his pixie appearance or blame it on the witch casting illusions, but Mousden chose that moment to let out a big belch, and Mirowen scolded him.  “He ate too much,” Festuscato suggested.  Lord Flahartagh’s eyes got big for a second before he began to laugh.

Patrick and Fionn the Druid kept up a lively debate all the way back to the road.  To be sure, Fionn did not want to crowd his lord and remind him he went to the witch in the first place.  No one really listened to the debate, unless Bran listened, but it did seem to the casual observers that Fionn kept losing.

By the time they reached the road, Fionn started reaching for arguments that were no more than thinly disguised insults, like a man who lost the debate, and knew it, but was damned if he would admit it. He started insulting Patrick when they reached the road and Patrick had enough.

“No one is forcing you to listen to the good news, but as young Giolla plainly told you, what I am bringing is the word of life.” Patrick slammed the butt of his shepherd’s crook on the ground for emphasis.  Unfortunately, the ground seemed extra soft on the side of the road and the staff sank into the muck.  A second later, Patrick had to let go as the staff got hot.  They all watched as the staff sprouted leaves, and they watched the roots grow.

“Dern,” Festuscato said.  “I liked that staff.”

Fionn got scared when they went to see the witch. He got frightened out of his mind when he saw the pixie, and then the water sprite, but he could pretend they did not exist.  This became too much.  The fear covered Fionn’s face and he yelled the last weapon in his arsenal.

“I will call upon the gods and tell them to strike you down.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Festuscato said. “The gods don’t appreciate being told what to do.”  He stepped aside and traded places through time with Danna.  She called sweetly, “Rhiannon.”

Rhiannon did not have to come, but she came because it is polite when Mother calls.  “What is it this time?”

“This druid wants you to strike down Patrick.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t.  He is such a nice man.”

“That’s what I thought.  I told him the gods did not like being told what to do.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.  Mannanon can be as stubborn as the sea.”

“He can’t help it.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Clugh ate a whole goat and slept for almost twenty-four hours.”

“He is growing up.  You did cook the goat.”

“Of course, He made the cutest little whine when I tried to give it to him raw, so I cooked it for him and he squealed.  He was so happy.”

“So, you’re not mad at me for giving you the dragon?”

“Oh, how could I ever be mad at you, Mother.” Rhiannon stepped up and kissed Danna on the cheek, waved to everyone and vanished.  Danna turned to the Druid who stared, mouth wide open.  She stuck her finger in his face.

“Listen to Patrick.  He is telling you the truth.  In the words of my good friend Yul Brenner, his god is God.  Now close your mouth, and if you are good, and I said if, mind you, you just might find something special in your stocking … no, wait … Frosty the Snowman.  Anyway.” Danna hugged Patrick, and then she gave him three pieces of gold and some advice.

“The women, especially rich women will give you gifts.  Remember in this culture, they will be insulted if you don’t accept them.  But on the other hand, men will accuse you of accepting gifts from women.  You will have to do your best to turn those gifts to the church to answer your critics, and otherwise, go with God.  Use the gold to buy a new shepherd’s crook.  It suits you.”  Danna stepped back.  “The old way has gone.”

“The new way has come,” Patrick said, and Danna vanished, and she took Bran, Mirowen and Mousden with her.

They appeared on the road just beyond MacNeill’s fort, and Danna changed back to Festuscato.  He let his armor and weapons go away in favor of his comfortable clothes, and he spoke.  “I believe I have tempted history here far enough.”

“So, explain how the shepherd’s crook sprouted and grew,” Bran wondered.

“Maybe if he had some natural magic in him,” Mirowen started, but Festuscato interrupted.

“Can’t be natural.  The source of the magic got cut off when the hole closed between this earth and the other earth.”

“But then, how?”  Now Mirowen was curious.

“Some mysteries are best left alone.  It is time that we go,” Festuscato said, but he paused when he saw a half-dozen wagons beside the fort where they blocked the view of the town and dock.  Festuscato made sure Mirowen had her glamour on and Mousden stayed in his big size. “I smell visitors, and something else.”

“Yourself,” Mirowen suggested.  “You need a bath.”



R6 Festuscato: 7 Travelers: The tinkers bring spooks with them.  Don’t miss it.


R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 2 of 3

Dibs laughed and took Gaius by the robe to pull him back up the hill.  Patrick looked at the hillside and asked a question.

“How can you be following the snakes when there are no snakes?”

“I’m following the trail, I’ll admit, backwards.” She looked once around and started to walk.  Bran and Patrick followed, and Patrick praised his shepherd’s crook more than once as he pushed through the underbrush.  “I am from two hundred years before Christ, if you must know,” the Princess talked.  “I got blasted by Artemis, goddess of the hunt herself.  Festuscato, quite by accident, got a small spark, really a reflection of the spark given to his reflection, Diana.  Diana of Rome got sparked by Diana, the goddess, but I got blasted with the full enchilada.  The Storyteller says I could track Jesus over the top of the water, er, sorry Bishop. I can rope and ride, and I’m pretty good with a bow and arrow.”

The Princess stopped and called for the cloak of Athena, black side turned out.  She reached into the pocket and pulled out her bow and quiver of arrows.  The bow came pre-strung, and she placed an arrow on the string and started walking again.  “Let’s see what I can take on the fly,” she said.  Bran looked around, having some idea of what she might be talking about. Patrick took it wrong.

“You are a huntress?”

The Princess made no response, but turned on the third step and shot her arrow into some nearby trees.  They heard a squeal and a shout as the Princess ran toward the sound.  Bran pulled his sword and followed, and Patrick did his best to keep up in his robe. A young man, about fifteen or sixteen had his cloak and shirt sleeve above the shoulder pinned to a tree.  He looked ready to disrobe and run off, but paused on sight of the Princess.  She could do that to young men.

The Princess shifted her bow to her left hand and reached for Defender, the long knife she carried across the small of her back. “You have a name?” she asked.

“Don’t hurt him,” Patrick blurted out.

“Giolla,” the boy said, and he closed his eyes and prepared himself to be stabbed, but with a wink at Patrick, the Princess used defender to dig out her arrow.

“Sorry about the clothes, but I don’t appreciate being spied on.  Who paid you to spy on us anyway?”

“Lord Flahartagh.  He said to watch the road in case any of those Christian men decided to go traveling.”

“Why?” Bran asked the operative question, but Patrick interrupted.

“What is wrong with Christian men?”

“Lord Flahartagh says he likes things the way they are.  He says Fionn, his druid spouts more foolishness in a day than a man should have to hear.  He says I should tell him right away when someone comes.”

“We will all tell him, together.”  the Princess put her knife away and Bran sheathed his sword. Patrick stepped up to the young man and Giolla surprised him.

“I know you.  You’re Patrick.  I went to MacNeill’s barn and took my mother, more than once.  She says she wants to hear more about your Christ.”

“And it will be my pleasure to tell her,” Patrick said. He slipped his arm around the boy and they followed the Princess who stepped through some bushes and up on to a crude, two-rut wagon road.

“Aha!  The road to MacNeill’s fort.  I thought we might run into it, given our direction.”  She paused and looked down at the tracks, took a few steps and made a pronouncement.  “The snakes slithered down the road.  I feel we are getting close.  Isn’t this exciting?”  Bran shrugged and Patrick stayed busy talking to the boy.

“It is the word of life,” he said.  “And not only for this world, but when our labor here is done we have the promise of life eternal.”  Giolla did not understand, so Bran explained.

“He means you get to live forever, and in a better world.”

They walked the road for an hour, and stopped when the Princess saw the place where the snake first came up to the road. “There,” she said, and pointed out across the clover filled moor they had seen from the hilltop.  “Rest for a minute before we trudge back across the wilderness.”

Patrick nodded.  He was the elder.  Giolla could have run off at any time, but he sat by the man, eager to hear more.  He stood again when he heard what the Princess heard when she said to rest.  There were horses on the road, not pulling a cart, but ridden.  Four men rode up to them as the Princess shouted.

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

“Matthew,” Patrick said.

“The Baptist,” Bran suggested.

The Princes shook her head.  “Isaiah.  I was born two hundred years before Christ, remember?”

The men on horseback said nothing as they stared at the people on foot.  Two horsemen kept to the rear while two pushed out front.  One appeared a big man of about thirty-five or forty years.  He had red hair, but a beard that looked golden, and it gave an odd, miss-matched look to his face, especially when he scowled. The man beside him seemed younger, maybe thirty, but his beard looked long, dark and dirty, like he never trimmed it and never washed it.  Giolla stood uncomfortably with the others before he felt obliged to step up and speak.

“Lord Flahertagh, this is the Christian man, Patrick. We were just coming to see you.” The big man frowned before he got down. The one with the dirty beard looked surprised.  The Princess and Bran noticed the look on that bearded face and the Princess made a wild guess.

“And you must be Fionn, the local druid.”  The Princess stepped up and read on the man’s face that she guessed correctly.  She stuck out her hand.  “I am Princess Cassandra, Lord of the Athol and Princess of all Greece.  I am Greek, on holiday from all those responsibilities of ruling and making all those decisions.”  She grabbed the older man’s hand and shook it.  “And you are Lord Flahartagh.  It is wonderful to meet you.”  She clearly channeled Festuscato.

“Princess,” the big man mouthed the word, and he managed to crack a small smile to look at her.  “You have a strange enough accent.”

The Princess took her hand back and looked at the others.  “I do not have an accent.”

Patrick and Bran spoke together.  “Yes, you do,” and Bran almost smiled.

Giolla pushed forward and said something that was not really a surprise.  “Father. The priest brings the word of eternal life, and Mother wants to hear more about it.”

“I bring the word of life in peace,” Patrick interjected.  “I bring only words of life for all the people.  Surely it takes no great courage to listen to words.”

Fionn objected.  “I hear these Christians eat the flesh and drink the blood of men.”

“Only bread and wine as daily reminders that as we participate in the death of the Lord, we shall also be raised with him to new life, even life eternal.”

Fionn was not finished.  “I also hear these Christians make a man go under the water, and hold him there while they say strange things over him, and when they let the man up, he is so near drowned he will do and believe anything they tell him.”

The Princess interrupted before Patrick could give answer.  “It is for cleansing and a sign of being included, but mostly for cleansing, like a good bath, you know, the thing you never do.”  Lord Flahartagh tried not to laugh.  “The only thing Patrick drowned was the snakes sent to attack him.”

“That’s right,” Giolla spouted.  “The snakes attacked him and he took them to the sea and cast them in to drown in the sea.”

“All the snakes in Ireland drowned in the sea,” Bran said.

“So what I want to know.”  The Princess got in Fionn’s face, and then took a step back because of the man’s bad breath.  “Did you send the serpents, or did you pay someone to do the dirty work for you?”

“Me?”  Fionn pleaded innocence, but he did not seem very good at lying.  “I sent no serpents to attack the priest.”

“Lord Flahartagh.”  The Princess took the man’s arm and turned him to face the place where the snake trail left the road and came through the woods.  “Who lives in this direction?”

Lord Flahartagh shook his head.  “That is Balmoor, the land that separates my land from MacNeill. Only the Witch lives there.”

“Let me check.”  The Princess stepped back and went away, and Greta came to stand in her place.  She ignored the shouts of surprise that came from the Irish and raised her hand.  She wished Briana was there.  Briana’s elect intuition could sense danger miles away. What Greta sensed was a power of some sort, and she spoke.  “Take me to this witch.  She needs to hear some of my words.”

Greta stepped down into the woods, and the men on foot felt obliged to go and protect the poor woman.  Flahartagh only paused to tell his two men to hold the horses.

The woods quickly gave way to the great field of clover.  There were ferns in places and bushes here and there, and even a tree now and then, but the field itself got squishy underfoot and shoes would soon be soaked. Greta had on her waterproof knee boots with her armor, so she paid little attention to the wet.  They climbed over several small ridges, more like rocky lumps in the ground, and came at last to a hollow below the main ground level.

Greta stopped and got her bearings first.  She saw a cave, a hole dug out of the earth, and a fire out front with a big cauldron filled with something that bubbled. A very old woman in a plain black dress stood behind the fire and occasionally stirred and cackled.  She seriously cackled.  Only one more thing to note.  A very well weathered oak branch with what looked like long-dead mistletoe, and an equally weathered branch of another kind of wood, perhaps holly, looked to be floating in mid-air in a spot by the cave.  It suggested a hole in the world, a hole to the Other Earth where the creative and variable energy that people called magic could seep through into our earth.  The thing was, those branches had to be under enormous pressure to keep the hole open seventy years after the two Earths went out of phase.  Clearly, that seepage had to be the source of the Witch’s power, and while Greta relaxed to think it was not a half-breed with the ability to tap into some great spiritual power, she recognized that this had to be a very powerful witch to keep a hole open seventy years after it should have slammed shut.

R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor, part 1 of 3

After only a few days, Patrick made a decision. He had good people in Father Teigh and Father Aon, even if they were married.  He was not needed in MacNeill’s land, now that MacNeill had turned to the Lord and things were going well, so he would take his work inland.  “No offence,” he told Festuscato.  “But I hope to get far enough away from you to where I can find some peace.  You are like the whirlwind.  Nothing around you ever keeps still.”

“It has always been thus,” Festuscato confessed. “After five thousand years, you would think things would settle down, but no.”

“How long?”

“I was firstborn when that butthole Nimrod built that stupid tower.  I figured it would not last.  Not enough straw in the bricks.”

“That long?”  Patrick patted his shoulder.  “Hard to imagine, but you have my prayers.”

“And you have mine, for what they are worth.  We got lucky to find MacNeill, a man willing to let you work for the sake of his grudge against Leinster.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it,” Patrick said.

“Even so, Ireland is like a wild dog.  It might trot along for a while as long as it is getting fed, but it might also turn on you at any moment and on the least provocation.”

“I understand.”

“Then why don’t I leave and let you work,” Festuscato suggested.

“Indeed.  And I am sure the Lord will lead you to wherever you are needed next.”  They stood in silence for a moment on the wall of MacNeill’s fort, looking over to where the town was rebuilding after the Saxon raid.  The new tavern looked ready for the tourists.  “I think I am finally getting an idea of what your job really is,” Patrick added.  “I don’t envy you.”

“I’ll be taking Dibs, Bran, Gaius, Mirowen and Mousden,” Festuscato responded.  “That is going to leave you pretty isolated.”

“Take Seamus,” Patrick insisted.  “I am assigning him to you.  All he wants to do is tell exciting stories, but he doesn’t know any, so he mopes.  We are in prayer and he lets out a moan that has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.”

“What?  Making friends with a dragon and fighting off pirates and Saxon raiders not exciting enough for him?”

Patrick shook his head.  “He says he was too close to it all, and the important parts went by too fast and were too confusing.  I suspect it is always like that, but I figure some time with you and he will get his fill of exciting stories.  He is young.  Send him back when he matures.”

“I can’t promise he will come back,” Festuscato said, honestly enough, but Patrick nodded.

“The gods don’t make promises.  I heard.”

Festuscato smiled.  “I don’t envy you, and I say that from experience.”

“Eh?  You carried the gospel into hostile territory?”  Festuscato thought of the church in late twentieth century America and rolled his eyes at the church lady horror stories.  Patrick gave him another encouraging pat on the shoulder.  “I better go pray.”

Festuscato watched the Bishop walk out the back door of the fort and head for the hill.  He would climb to the top and spend the next several hours in prayer and contemplation.  Festuscato thought the man ought to be successful, if nothing else for his shear dedication.  Festuscato still stood there ten minutes later when Mirowen found him and stepped up alongside him.

“Captain Breok said it will be at least a day before we can sail.  Treeve suggested two would be better; something about bringing enough feed down from the highland farms.”  Festuscato finally looked like he paid attention, so she said, “Sheep in the hold,” and held her nose.

Festuscato rolled his eyes again.  He also had news.  “We get to take Seamus.  Patrick says he is a young man in search of an exciting adventure.  I don’t know why Patrick thinks Seamus will get an exciting adventure going with me.”

Mirowen started to laugh.  It took twenty minutes to get her to stop.


An hour later, Festuscato, Bran and Dibs were helping Hugh, Cary and young Donogh rebuild the tavern when they saw a sight to remember.  Patrick came down from the hill, walking with his shepherd’s crook, being followed by dozens of snakes of all kinds, and they were all poisonous.

“That’s not right,” Festuscato said.  “Ireland is supposed to be snake free.”

“That’s what I heard,” Dibs confirmed.

They left their work and followed with the rest of the crowd, and stopped when Patrick stopped on the edge of the docks. “Go on,” Patrick said.  He stepped back and watched as the snakes took the plunge, sank into the sea, and never came back up.

“What happened?” Gaius asked from the other side of the crowd.

“I was in prayer,” Patrick looked up at Gaius and turned to Festuscato.  “These snakes surrounded me and would not leave me alone.  I could not focus.  I got angry. Forgive me.”

“No, no.  Quite all right.  Nothing wrong with some righteous indignation,” Festuscato responded.

Patrick looked down as he spoke.  It sounded like a confession.  “I got up to walk away.  Anger is not the answer.  I wanted to get away so I could refocus my heart on faith, but they followed me. Strange as it sounds, they kept their distance, but they would not go away.  It came to me, like the Holy Spirit speaking in my heart that the sea was the answer.  I felt led to this place, and now they are gone.”  Patrick shrugged.  He looked a little dazed, like a man living in a fog.

Festuscato felt certain there was magic afoot. Snakes in Ireland shouted as much. He knew his little ones were not responsible, and according to the Storyteller’s estimate, the Other Earth, the source of the magic, went out of phase with our Earth some sixty or seventy years ago.  There should not be any natural, human magic for the next couple hundred years at least. That suggested a power, perhaps one that should have gone over to the other side, and that was not a good thought. But what power would care if Patrick moved inland?  What difference would it make to a greater or lesser spirit if the people stayed pagan or turned Christian?

“What say we all go look at your hill,” Festuscato suggested.

“I thought you might want to look,” Patrick agreed.  They walked in silence, Dibs, Bran and Gaius following.

The hill itself appeared nothing special.  It had a clearing at the top, with enough trees to shade but not enough to block the view of the distant valley.  Dibs noticed.

“With a view like this, I can understand why you might want to move inland.”

“Not a productive valley,” Bran objected. “Looks more like fields of clover on the moor.  Maybe bogs down there in places.”

“It looks to me like the great unknown,” Gaius said.

“It looks like a ripe field, ready to harvest,” Patrick said, and they stood there for a long minute before Dibs spoke again.

“Hey, where did Festuscato go?”  They had to look to find a golden-brown-haired girl going down the far side.  They might have overlooked her if she had not been wearing Festuscato’s armor. “Hey!”  Dibs yelled.  Everyone yelled and she stopped and waited for them to catch up.

“Princess,” the young woman introduced herself.  “I’m following the trail of the snakes back to their lair.  Maybe we can find out who is behind this.”

“We, we are coming with you,” Dibs insisted.

“No you must not.  Patrick, this is where you want to go.”  She paused.  She stood no small girl, being five-foot seven, but she looked up at Bran and gave him her flower-growing smile.  “And Bran. I suppose I won’t get rid of you easily. But Dibs, you need to go back and hold the boat, and Gaius, you need to get all of our things on board, including Seamus.  He is now one of our things.”

“But, if Seamus is going with us, with you, maybe I can stay here with Patrick,” Gaius looked hopeful.  The Princess looked at Patrick before she spoke.

“No.  You need to report back to Guithelm.  Do I have to change back to Festuscato to order you?  I will, even if you won’t listen.  You know, Princes is not just a pet name.”  The Princess put her hands to her hips and stared Gaius down.  Dibs commented.

“And you look like such a fun-loving girl.”

“I am,” she said, and gave Dibs a curtsey before she shouted.  “Now go away. Be off with you, you rapscallions, you scaly-wags.  We are working here.”  She bit her tongue.  She even sounded like Festuscato.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 3 of 3

Festuscato kept his hand on the dragon’s neck and the top of the head where he found a spot that made the dragon purr

“Clugh glewg,” Festuscato said the mouthful.

“Glewg,” the dragon repeated.

“Brother look.  Brother help.”  Festuscato said that several times, since Clugh got preoccupied with swallowing the raw beef Donogh laid on the rock.  Festuscato noticed the dragon did not flame the beef first, and he wondered if there might be something broken more than the hurt wing, like something wrong on the inside.

“What are you telling Clugh?” Donogh finally asked. He apparently made some peace as his hand returned to scratch under the dragon’s chin.

“Well.”  Festuscato looked at the wing with his hands and felt glad the dragon made no hostile move when he touched the break.  That had to be painful.  “First, I told him we are his brothers, like family so he won’t eat us.  Dragons have a natural sense about not setting family on fire, at least when they are as young as this.  Now I am trying to ascertain the damage and see if I can help him heal, but I can’t hardly think straight because Greta keeps yelling “no” and “no way” in my head.”

“Greta?” Seamus asked.

“She is the healer,” Festuscato told them.  “I’m surprised you can’t hear her from Dacia, three hundred years ago.  She is that loud.”

“What can we do to help?” Bran asked the more practical question.

“Well.”  Festuscato turned toward them and put his hand back on Clugh’s neck to stroke him some more.  “You and Dibs can go bag a deer, the sooner the better.  Being like family is a help, but not if the dragon gets hungry enough, and this one is a bit thin.  About any game will do.  Seamus, you could try praying for Clugh instead of for your own skin, and Donogh, talk nice to the dragon.”

“Will you teach me to speak in dragon words?” Donogh asked as Bran and Dibs slowly backed away.

“Yes, but first I am going to bring a friend of mine to help and see if we can heal the dragon wing.  She is a fine lady, and she will try very hard not to scream in the face of the dragon.  Donogh and Seamus, you must not scream either.  We want a calm and peaceful dragon.”  He turned to Clugh.  “Clugh. I bring sister to make wing better. Sister help.  Let sister make wing better.”  It seemed a complicated thought and Festuscato was not sure if Clugh processed it all, but he went away and a very reluctant Greta came to stand in his place.  She wore the full armor of the Kairos, but for the helmet, and that full armor included the cloak of Athena which, among other things, had proved seriously fireproof.

“Sister.  Family.” Greta said quickly in the Agdaline language.  “Sister.”

Clugh took the transformation in stride.  He stuck out his nose to get a good whiff of sister while she squinted and stood perfectly still.  To be sure, in that armor she had to smell very much like brother. Seamus yelped at the transformation, but softly lest he startle the dragon.  Donogh said nothing.

“I think this is foolish,” Greta said, as she examined the wing with her own eyes and hands.  “I have no idea how dragon anatomy works.”  She paused to pet the beast.  “Pet,” she said, and thought.  “Well, maybe I do know a bit where one or more of my lifetimes knows something.”

“Pet,” Clugh wrapped his serpent tongue around the word.

“Sister help,” Greta said, and added in the Gaelic, “I hope.”    She had a bag over her shoulder and got out some ointment.  The first that she found was something that would work like a general anesthetic and deaden the pain—or at least it would have that effect on human flesh and blood.  She talked while she worked, because it kept her fear at bay.  “Dragons are not native to Earth.  They belong to a people that fly between the stars.  They were bred to guard the ships in deep space while they traveled slower than light between the stars and the paranoid Agdaline sleep in cryogenic chambers.  When they land on a planet, they expel the big ones in space, but save one big one for touchdown, just in case the natives are not friendly.  I don’t know how this young one got expelled, unless it went out with the big one, which means there is likely some big mama out there, somewhere.”

“I don’t understand most of those words,” Seamus admitted, as he finally took a step closer.  Clugh took another whiff of the cleric and Greta grabbed Seamus’ hand and placed it on the dragon’s neck.

“Gently, but don’t be afraid to scratch.  You can’t hurt him, and he likes it” she said, as she returned to her work on the wing.  “Dragons are not really serpents, like reptiles, despite their appearance. They are really more like insects. The scales are like an exoskeleton and they have very few internal bones.  If they had bones, they would be too heavy to fly, you see?  And they have more help with flying as well.  They have a bladder of a sort that runs along the belly, the full length of the body.  When they digest, the bladder fills with hydrogen, a highly flammable gas. The hydrogen gives them lift, like an old zeppelin, but they have to expel some now and then to keep from becoming bloated.  They have a valve in their throat like we have that lets air into the lungs but swallows food into the stomach.  The valve lets them expel hydrogen as needed, but the thing is, they are oxygen breathers and the hydrogen is like a toxin to them.  I guess the bladder acts like our liver and kidneys and strains out the toxin. But anyway, they have this great thing, two little bones connected to the valve that rub and spark like a flint when they let out some gas.”

“And that spark sets the gas on fire,” Seamus understood.

Greta nodded.  “It is all automatic, and a great defense mechanism, don’t you think? There.”  Greta stepped back and Clugh turned his head, practically knocking Seamus down to give Greta a great, slobbering lick.  Greta’s response will remain untranslated.  It came out in her native Dacian, so no one there understood it, anyway.  She traded back to Festuscato, and he came dressed in his casual clothes.

“He feels better,” Donogh suggested as they heard Dibs in the distance.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Dibs was correct in thinking it best not to come up on a dragon unannounced.  They did manage a deer, and in such a short time, Festuscato had to ask.

“We found a small herd not far from here,” Bran confessed.

“I was surprised,” Dibs said.  “I would figure the whole area for miles around a dragon would be deserted.”

“It probably was,” Festuscato said.  “But it doesn’t take long for the animals to figure out the dragon is inured and not up for hunting.  News travels fast in the forest.  Now, put the deer on the rock.”  They did and Clugh whined a bit.  It had not been cooked, and too much uncooked meat could give a dragon a belly ache.  “Mother come,” Festuscato said in Agdaline, and he stepped aside so Danna, mother goddess of the Celts could step into his shoes.  She immediately blinked Dibs, Bran, Seamus and Donogh ten feet away, and put an invisible wall between them and the dragon, anticipating the dragon’s response.

“Mother is here,” Danna said, and touched the dragon on the nose as she tweaked her image in the dragon’s mind.  Clugh began to bob his head up and down in excitement, and then it could not help expelling a bit of fire.

“Lady!” Seamus shouted, but the fire merely warmed Danna.  Danna was rooted in the fires of Mount Etna.  She was Vesuvius on volcano day.  She was not a sun goddess, but contained the sun within her, and she had children like Gwyn and Lugh who reflected the very essence of light and radiant heat.  Danna, mother dragon, turned to face the deer and toned down her flame to almost nothing. She let it pour from her mouth which she thought of as very dragon-like, and cooked the deer to perfection.  That made Clugh get very excited, but he would not move until Mother gave permission.

“Baby eat,” Danna said, and the dragon squealed in delight and attacked the deer.  “Stay.  Nest.” Danna said, and she expanded the place in the rocks where Clugh slept, and filled the floor of the space with pebbles and rocks, an uncomfortable bed for humans, but well suited for dragons. “Stay.  Nest.”  She made sure the words penetrated Clugh’s brain, and she added, “Brother and sister will return tomorrow.”

Danna backed away and let Clugh feast.  When she left and Festuscato returned, he moved the others away from that place.  “The dragon will heal slowly,” he said.

“Of course, the question is, why would anyone go to the trouble of healing a dragon?” Bran asked.  It was a long sentence for him, and deserved an answer as Dibs and Seamus both looked at the big man with faces that said they just then realized what they had been doing and wondered if it was wise.

“Because,” Festuscato drew out the word.  “I hate to see anyone suffer, man or animal, and you never know how an act of kindness might be repaid.  Karma, you know.”

“As you say,” Dibs shrugged when Donogh interrupted.

“Remember your promise.  You promised to teach me dragon words.”  Festuscato smiled and tussled the twelve-year-old’s hair, while he thought the first words he would teach would be no fire, do no harm, friend and brother.  He imagined he might get the boy to call the dragon “Brother Clugh” to remind the dragon every time that Donogh was his brother and not to be eaten.  Brother Clugh, he thought.  Maybe the dragon could be an early Dominican.

R6 Greta: In the Middle of the Night

In the early hours before dawn, Greta got up and stripped out of her armor.  She washed herself thoroughly to get the dragon slobber off.  Mavis came instantly awake, of course, and could not help the whispered comment.

“I smell dragon.”

“Shut up and go back to sleep.”  Greta sent her armor back to Avalon, where it came from, and recalled her own dress and red cloak.  She laid down with her mind full of emotions.  She felt heartbroken for Enid and angry at Merlin.  She felt afraid for young Donogh and for her friends, but soon enough she went back to sleep, and slept well.  It had been a long day.



R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons.  Patrick does well, and Festuscato stays out of it, but they left a trail, and some are determined to catch up.  Until Monday, Happy Reading


R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 2 of 3

“I heard you are the Dragon,” MacNeill spoke first.

“I was, but I have given that title to a man named Constantine.  He is now the Pendragon of Britain, Wales and Cornwall.  I am retired.  But tell me, aren’t you afraid the King of Leinster will get mad when he finds out you have made a place for Patrick?”

MacNeill and his roughs grinned.  “I hope so,” MacNeill said.  “I hope this sticks in his craw and he chokes on it.”

Festuscato glimpsed the political workings and slipped his arm around MacNeill’s shoulder.  “Buy you a drink?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” MacNeill responded, and they all went in to an early, liquid supper.

The Fathers Gaius and Seamus caught up with them in the tavern, and after Gaius finished scolding Festuscato for his drinking, the Fathers joined them, with Gaius instructing the cleric Seamus throughout supper.  “We have to give leeway for Lord Agitus.  His is a life not like any others with many great and grave responsibilities that we cannot imagine.  You need to pray for him every day.”

“The jury is still deliberating,” Bran interrupted, and took a long swig of his beer.

“Like whether he is an angel or demon,” Dibs added with a wink.

“If only it were that easy,” Festuscato said. “Alas, I am utterly human this time around so nothing is easy or obvious.”

“Praying for him twice a day would not hurt,” Gaius added to the bewilderment of Seamus and the confusion of the Irish.  There followed silence for a second before all eyes got drawn to the end of the table.

“Milk?” Mousden groused, but Mirowen insisted it was good for him.  The men laughed, but Mousden, looking like a stubborn nine-year-old, knocked the glass and sent the milk flying.  No one got wet, thanks to Mirowen’s quick magic, but then no one especially noticed the magic.

Mirowen pulled out her handkerchief and began to clean Mousden’s mouth.  Dibs squinted as he remembered how that could hurt.  Mousden looked at Festuscato with pleading in his eyes, but Festuscato would not have it. “Go to your room,” he said in his most gruff tone, but Mousden determined to be rebellious.  He took his natural pixie form right in front of everyone, and the Irish at least shoved back and stood, prepared to run.

“I mean it.  Nap time.”  Festuscato pointed his finger at the pixie, and Mousden let out a wail and frightening shriek before he flew for the stairs.  Dibs put a finger in his ear.  Bran took another long swig of his beer, and Gaius held Seamus to his seat while Mirowen apologized.

“He is still adjusting to living in daylight hours. He still naps and is up some at night, but he is usually better behaved.”  She bowed to everyone and headed for the stairs.  Every eye in the room followed her, and Festuscato thought Mirowen could not help it.  The glamour that made her appear human did not disguise her beauty, and only made it worse in some ways.

“Come.  Sit.” Festuscato encouraged the Irish and they sat but looked wary.

“You will be staying here for a time?” MacNeill asked in a way that suggested he would not mind if Festuscato sailed off with Captain Breok.

“Yes, Lord MacNeill.”  Festuscato disappointed his host.  “There was a woman, Keela, the daughter of the tavern master in Wicklow. Three of Sean Fen’s men caught her out back and planned to rape her.”

“What happened?” MacNeill asked, curious enough.

“I killed all three,” Festuscato said, owning the work of Mirowen and her arrows.  “Now I have to be sure he does not follow and blame Patrick in any way.”

“Oh, Lord,” Seamus spoke up like a man who suddenly remembered his errand.  “I came to tell you, I was with the King when word of the Bishop came to him.  He got angry at first, thinking Palladius returned, but he did not act much better when he found out it was a different Priest. He said, “Are these men like ants where every time I squish one another takes his place?”  I was gaining a hearing with the King’s wife and son, but when he had time to consider the matter, he ordered me out of his kingdom. That very morning, I went to pack my few things and planned to say my good-byes by early afternoon, but I steered clear of the King because Sean Fen the pirate and his mate had come to the King’s table.  It was not long on that day, and I was not yet out of the town, when a rider brought word of Sean Fen’s losses.  I don’t know how the King took it, but be assured Sean Fen fell into a rage and would not be calmed down.”

“Great, you see?  I allowed Sean Fen to keep his head at Caerdyf, and this is the thanks I get.” Festuscato sipped his wine and made a face.  It was not very good wine.  “Looks like I may have to kill him after all.”  One of MacNeill’s roughs looked like he thought that might not be so easy, though the other looked like he was not sure he believed the story about killing three men. MacNeill looked like a man stymied, not knowing what to believe or do, but then the tavern keeper stepped up to the table, and Festuscato wondered which of his little ones put the man up to it, because only they were able to time things so perfectly.

“Lord Agitus,” the man said in a humble tone, and he knew exactly who Festuscato was.  “My name is Hugh and my wife is Clary and my son Donogh is a fine boy of twelve years, and we want to thank you for what you did for my niece Keela, down in Wicklow.  I heard the true story and how you saved her from a terrible fate, and I think I want to give you back the money you paid for rooms and to stay here.”

“Don’t you dare give me any money back,” Festuscato interrupted.  “A man is worthy of his rent, and I would be insulted to live off your good will.” Festuscato grabbed two more gold coins from his pocket.  “In fact, you and your family will also be under my protection, should it come to that. Here, for your trouble, because I will be staying for some time and I may have some strange or unusual visitors while I am here, so just be a good host and everything will be well.”  He handed the man the coins and the man smiled and went off to fetch another round of drinks.

“Generous,” MacNeill said, having eyed the gold.

“It’s only money,” Festuscato said.  “Life is much more precious, and I pray I don’t have to kill Sean Fen or any more of his men.”  He lifted his glass in a toast.  “Here is to the Amorican, British, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Saxons, Picts, Scots, Angles, Jutes, Galls, Danes, Goths, Franks and Romans.  May we all learn to live in peace.”

Everyone drank to that, and Gaius and Seamus added, “Amen.”


It did not take three days before young Donogh prevailed upon Festuscato to come into the swamps just south of town.  Bran and Dibs said they were up for an adventure, being tired of the tavern life after the last time.  Seamus, the cleric turned out to be a scribe, a bit of an artist, a writer and poet.  Being able to read and write explained why he had been employed by the King of Leinster. But he said he always wanted to have an adventure so he could have something worth writing about. Festuscato chuckled at the thought, knowing the way his lives went.

“Good luck with that,” Festuscato said, but the mystery Donogh presented at least sounded intriguing.  Donogh said he had a special friend named Clugh who lived in the swamp.  That was all he said.  They would just have to come and meet him.

The land proved to be all inhospitable muck and ferns, with occasional bits of rock that appeared here and there like strange weeds or bushes in the way.  Festuscato could not imagine what geological upheaval might have shoved the rock up from below.  Then again, he thought the boulders might have been dropped off in the last ice age. He wondered if any of his other lifetimes knew anything about geological formations.  Anywhere else in the world and he would have kept one eye open for serpents, but Ireland remained a place where the only serpents grew in the shape of a man.

“Clugh.  Clugh.” Donogh called for his friend like a boy might call for a lost dog. “Clugh.”

They came to a particularly large outcropping of rocks, a kind of stack of boulders that left spaces in and though the various rocks. The spaces around the boulders were enough for several trees to grow up in between the stones.  Festuscato jumped back when he saw Clugh’s head.  It looked as big as Festuscato’s head, and the body looked seriously serpent-like, about fifteen to eighteen feet long, and the nostrils were smoking. Bran froze where he stood.  Dibs looked like he wanted to run away, but he did not dare.  Seamus fell to his knees in the muck and appeared to pray.

“Come on, Clugh.  I want you to meet my friends.” Donogh appeared fearless, but it obviously came from ignorance.  He put his twelve-year-old hand right up to the dragon’s head and patted down the feathers. He had no idea about serpents, and less so about dragons.  No telling what sort of beast Donogh thought Clugh was.

“Friends,” Festuscato spouted in the Agdaline tongue, the language bred into dragons millennia ago.  All dragons were designed to obey the right words, and the clever things did when they were young.  Of course, when they got older, they got grumpy and stubborn, and sometimes became pretty slow in the obedience department.  “Brothers,” Festuscato changed the word when he looked to see that Donogh was all right.  “Brothers, family.”  He added the word when he realized this one seemed quite young, to still be sporting so many feathers.  “Family. Brothers.”

“Family,” Clugh mouthed in response to the words. It pulled from the rocks and took long whiffs of those present to be sure to identify these as family.

“Brothers,” Festuscato repeated and he dared to add, “Pet.” He reached out despite his better judgment and stroked the beast on the neck beneath the head.

“Pet,” Clugh said.  He seemed to like that.

“Isn’t he great?” Donogh said, excited.

“Great,” Bran managed the word as Clugh currently sniffed Seamus who had his eyes shut as tight as possible and appeared to be shivering.

“Clugh?” Dibs asked.

“Glewg” the dragon said.

“It means hurt in Dragonspeak,” Festuscato told them, and he took a moment to examine the beast.  It had a broken wing.  It could not fly, which was why it had taken up residence among the swamp rocks. The boy had some fresh beef in his pack and he laid it out on the rocks.  Obviously, the boy found the injured beast and made friends by bringing it food, generally a dangerous idea.  If Clugh had been bigger and older, at some point the dragon might have decided the small offering was not enough and eaten Donogh for desert.

“Clugh is a dragon,” Festuscato spoke plainly. “But a youngster, not yet a hundred years old I would guess.”

Donogh pulled his hand back which showed he had no idea what kind of animal Clugh was.  Bran and Dibs hardly flinched on the word dragon, but Seamus got back to his feet.  He just made sure the big Roman Sergeant and the bigger Bran the Sword stayed between him and the bulk of the beast.

R6 Festuscato: 4 Clugh, part 1 of 3

The sun came up over the sea to reveal a sail angling to cut them off.  Festuscato squinted, but Captain Breok recognized the ship right away.  “Our Pictish friends,” he said, and sighed, and set about getting the sail down and running his crew through their litany of please don’t kill me.

Patrick came up with a word.  “I noticed last time you asked Mousden for the small bag. I would guess Captain Keravear decided there must also be a big bag somewhere.”

“They were probably waiting just out from the docks at the Inver-dea.  Probably saw us pull into port and thought to try their luck on our way back out to sea,” Treeve suggested.

“But they had no way of knowing we would be on board again,” Gaius countered.

“True,” Treeve responded.  “But it was worth a shot, and if you were not on board, there would probably be a cargo worth something; and Captain Breok has his crew so well trained to cower and not resist.”

“They probably also decided that your water sprites did not really pose a danger,” Patrick added.  “I mean, what can a blob of water really do to hurt them?”

“Give them a bath, I bet,” Gaius said, as Bran and Dibs walked up.

“What’s the plan?” Dibs asked, not that he expected an answer.

“Doctor Who,” Festuscato said.  “I make it up as I go along.”

It took an hour for the Pictish ship to come along side and tie up.  It looked the same as last time, with Captain Breok and his crew in the bow showing the epitome of respect and abject cooperation, and Festuscato and his people in the stern, lined up like a group awaiting a family photo.

“We talked about it,” Captain Keravear started right in.  “Seeing all those water waves up on the deck was a bit of a shock, I admit, like seeing your pointy-eared woman and that demon, but then we talked about it. Maybe you are the Dragon and maybe you are not, but we figure there are only three of you and lots more of us. So the way we figured it, you should give us the rest of whatever gold and coins you have and we will be on our way.”

“Captain,” Festuscato’s words were sharp.  “You have already been paid for your trouble and I am not in the habit of paying for the same service twice.  There may only be three of us that you can see.  I won’t say how many more may be waiting in the cabins and below deck.  You know I have at least one elf who is quite capable of going unseen among humans. You also know the elf answers to me. Do you really want to know how many more may be on board?”

The Captain paused.  Apparently, these were things he had not considered.  There could easily be others in the cabins and below deck hidden and waiting to come when called.  At least one of the Picts took the thought of invisible elves seriously. He jumped when the wind picked up and shifted his hair around.

Then the wave came, and like the last time, everyone had to splay their hands and feet to keep from falling down.  This time, the deck not only got covered with water sprites, but they came with a person.  He looked tall, lean, and naked but for the seaweed that clung to him. His gray skin appeared the color of cold steel, and his eyes glowed like the furnace.  Pict and Cornish sailors alike shrieked and turned away.  Some fell to their knees, covered their eyes and trembled.  The Pictish Captain dropped his jaw and bugged out his eyes but otherwise appeared frozen in place.

Festuscato’s crew remained more composed, though Mirowen and Mousden dropped their eyes as a sign of respect.  Patrick showed no surprise when this sea-monster of a man came right up to Festuscato and dropped to one knee.  He was slightly surprised by the one word the monster said.


“How did you figure it out?” Festuscato asked.

“Really?” the man-monster responded.  “You have been broadcasting who you are from Rome to Britannia, and really since you took a governess.”

“Mannanon,” Captain Keravear exhaled the name of his supposed protector while Festuscato tapped his foot.  With a glance at Patrick, Festuscato went away and let Danna, the mother goddess of the Celts come and stand in his place.  She stepped up and bent down to kiss the man-monster on the head while she spoke and helped him to his feet.

“You bad boy.  When are you going over to the other side?  You are late, you know.”

“Soon,” Mannanon said with a grin, and an appearance that suddenly did not look so monster-like.

“Well, this is your lucky day.  This is Captain Keravear.  I believe you have met, and I have already paid him for his trouble and I will not be paying him twice.  Will you please take him and his crew and their ship back to the Caledonian shores where they will be too far away to cause us any more trouble.  I have these holy men to deliver to the Irish.”

“Yes,” Mannanon said, with a glance at the Priests. “The new way.”

“And it is a good way, and why you should not be here,” Danna insisted, as she turned Mannanon away from the clerics and toward the Picts.  “Now, please take out the garbage, only don’t hurt them.”

Danna appeared very tall for a woman, but Mannanon stood a good bit taller, like a basketball player, but with the slim build of an Olympic swimmer.  He leaned over and kissed Danna on the cheek.  “Kind heart,” he said, and smiled a sort of Bran smile, and vanished along with Captain Keravear and his whole crew and ship.  Danna traded places with Festuscato right away so he could deal with the questions.

Captain Breok wasted no time.  “Get the sail back up.  Colan, get aloft to see if there are any more sails on the horizon.  Treeve, go get Gerens out of the hold.  Tell him it is all over so it is safe to come back out.”

Festuscato stepped up to his spot on the railing where he could keep out of the way.  Mirowen took Mousden to the cabin.  Bran and Dibs helped lower the rudder.  Only Patrick and Gaius came up with a question or two.

“Who was that?” Gaius asked.

“An old Celtic sea god, and a bad boy who does not belong here,” Festuscato answered.

“The new way has come,” Patrick understood.

“And the old way needs to be gone,” Festuscato agreed.

“And the other side?” Patrick asked.

“Death,” Festuscato answered.  “As near to death as a god can get.  He needs to give up his flesh and blood and become the pure spirit he is, the true force of nature he is without eyes and ears or any senses in this world.”

“And who was that woman?” Gaius asked.

“The mother goddess of all the Celts, and another one who does not belong here,” Festuscato said and sighed.  “I lived her life eons ago.  Before Christ, nature bore witness to the truth, but now the old ways need to be gone.”

They stood in silence for a time before Patrick asked one more question.  “Were you there?”

Festuscato nodded as if he anticipated the question. “When he was born and when he was crucified, but those stories have not been told.  Someday.”  Festuscato quieted, and Patrick looked again at the sea.

“I will pray for you,” Patrick said.

“Good,” Festuscato responded.  “I need all the prayer I can get.”


Captain Breok took them to a port that straddled the land between Leinster and Ulster.  The Lord there, a man named MacNeill, had no love for the King of Leinster, and at the same time, he had not been in a place to be pestered by Palladius so the gospel might receive a fresh start.  Patrick got excited and said surely this is the place, but when they docked, they found a reception committee.  MacNeill had his two roughs with him, Murtagh and Cormac, and behind him were three clerics, the survivors of the work of Palladius, Teigh, Aon, and Seamus.

“Come,” MacNeill said with a big grin.  “I have set the barn for you to hold services after your fashion.  Fathers Teigh and Aon and their wives have made the bread and gathered the wine and the women and children are gathering there.”

Patrick did not know what to say.  He hardly knew where to begin with married priests and church in a stable.  Mirowen nudged him.  “I asked my Uncle Macreedy to let them know we were coming,” she said.

“Is everyone in your family named Macreedy?” Festuscato pulled Mirowen aside and asked, though he would know the answer if he thought about it.

“The males, mostly,” she responded quietly, as Patrick finally spoke.

“Thank you.”

Gaius turned to Festuscato.  “The Bishop will take it from here,” he said to suggest Festuscato back up.

“It is all yours.”  Festuscato smiled, hoped things would work out this time, and he took Dibs and Bran to speak a moment to Captain Breok.  Eventually, they would need passage back to Britannia, but for now they headed to the nearest tavern, and Treeve and Colan followed.  MacNeill and his roughs also followed them, but from a distance, so Festuscato thought to stop and let them catch up.

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 3 of 3

Festuscato ran.  He became dressed in his armor with hardly a thought and pulled Wyrd, his sword. He was not going to see another innkeeper’s daughter raped and left for dead.  Sure enough, there were three men in a clearing out back.  Keela’s dress had been torn, but she held it up as she backed up to a tree.  The men grinned wickedly, and two had knives ready to finish disrobing the girl or kill her if she resisted.

“Stop!”  Festuscato shouted.  He sounded like a third-rate Hollywood actor in his own ears, but the men stopped and turned on him.  One pulled a sword of his own.  Festuscato jumped to the side when they rushed him.  He let defender fly and it sliced right through one man’s jerkin and deep into the man’s ribs.  He brought his sword down, not even a trick move, and sliced the knife out of the second man’s hand, taking most of the man’s fingers with it.  He turned to face the third man when an arrow came out of the bushes.  That man dropped his sword and fell dead from the perfect shot.  The man without fingers also fell with an arrow in his chest. Festuscato called to his long knife, and defender pulled itself from the man’s ribs and flew back to Festuscato’s hand. That man moaned horribly and would not live long.

Mirowen stepped from the bushes while Festuscato cleaned his blades.  “Bad news,” she said, as she stepped toward the young woman.

Mousden flew ahead to the young woman.  “Are you all right?” he asked.  Keela took one look at the pixie in his natural form and threw a fist to her mouth to stifle the scream.  Her eyes got big and Mirowen had to grab her attention and ask the question three more times before it penetrated.

“Are you all right?”  Keela finally nodded when Mirowen helped the girl to her feet.

Keela never stopped staring at Mousden as Mousden spoke.  “Mother Elowen taught me how to sew.  I could help you fix your dress.  Mother Elowen said I was a natural.”

“Yes, Mousden.  But now we are back with people.  You need to get big again,” Mirowen spoke in a very comforting, motherly tone, as much for Keela as for Mousden.  Mousden looked once at Festuscato, but Festuscato simply nodded and returned the stare.  Mousden acquiesced and looked again like an ordinary nine-year-old boy.

Dibs and Bran chose that moment to show up.  “Bran thought he heard something,” Dibs said. “But we were inside so it wasn’t clear. We finally agreed to check it out.” Bran knelt by the three bodies to make sure they were dead.  Dibs also looked, but he recognized who he was looking at.  “These are Sean Fen’s men, the Irish pirate.”  Festuscato nodded.  He thought that might be the case.

“That means we are in double trouble,” he said.

“But you saved me.”  Keela came to herself as they escorted her back to the tavern.

“What do you mean?” Mirowen asked.

Festuscato frowned.  “I have no doubt when Sean Fen finishes telling his story, I will be the rapist and a murderer besides.”

“But that’s not true,” Mousden said.

“Truth is in the eye of the beholder,” Festuscato said.  “A beautiful young elf once explained that to me.  Patrick is here telling the truth, but most people can’t hear him.”

“Oh, but it is worse than you think,” Mirowen got his attention.  “The King of Leinster has ordered us to get out of his land, and if we won’t leave, he said to kill us and be done with it.”  Festuscato just nodded that he heard, but he could not respond right away because when they entered the tavern, Keela got all the attention of the locals, and Captain Breok stood there, waiting patiently.

“Captain.  You could not have timed that better if you were an elf.”  Festuscato patted the Captain on the shoulder.

“We came in on the tide, four hours after midday. But I must warn you, we followed an Irish pirate into the dock.  His name’s Sean Fen.”

“Yes, I know,” Festuscato interrupted. “Mirowen.  You and Mousden need to get us packed, and you better pack for Gaius and Patrick, and I guess everyone.  Dibs and Bran, you need to fetch Gaius and Patrick.  Carry Patrick here if you have to.  Captain, we will be sleeping on board tonight.  How soon can we put out to sea?”

“Not before dawn.  Maybe a couple of hours before if we set the course while it’s daylight.”

“Get on that.  We will be there soon.”  Festuscato went to see about Keela and got tackled by Aideen, who jumped up into his arms.

“But you will be going away, and I will miss you terribly.”

“And I will miss you, lovely spitfire that you are.”

Aideen held him tight and managed to hold back the words, “Don’t go,” as Keela’s father stepped up.

“I want to thank you for the sake of my daughter.”

Festuscato hushed him.  “The men belonged to Sean Fen.  I expect you will not insist on the truth, but I would appreciate it if you held back and kept this quiet until we have a chance to leave in the morning.”

The man looked astounded with the way Festuscato spoke in such a straight forward manner, and he nodded.  “I think I can do that.”

Aideen whispered in his ear.  She wanted to say good-bye.  “Find a good man for your daughter to marry, and be quick,” Festuscato added.  “And one for Aideen who can handle being burnt, though I know Aideen is not yours.”

The man grinned slightly, but nodded again as Festuscato paid him for their time at the tavern and a little extra, he said, for a dowry.  That done, Festuscato kissed Aideen and stepped out to fetch his purchase.  He found a good woodworker when he first arrived in town and paid to have a proper staff built for the Bishop. Patrick was honestly older than the rest of them, except Mirowen of course.  He had it in hand, hardly seasoned though it was, and got back to the tavern when the others arrived.

Bran and Dibs showed up with Gaius and a protesting Patrick.  Dibs had to sit the Bishop in the corner and stand over him to keep him still.  Bran went to carry the luggage even as Treeve, the first mate showed up with Colan and Gerens to help.  Together, they managed the trunks and made straight for the ship.  Dibs and Gaius followed, Patrick between them so he could not run away.

“Lord Agitus, you have no right kidnapping me,” Patrick said.  “You promised you would not interfere with my work.”

“I’m not interfering with your work,” Festuscato said. “I’m interfering with your life. By the way, here.”  He handed Patrick the staff.  “A shepherd’s crook.”

“I know what it is.”

“A gift,” Festuscato said.  “I thought it would be appropriate considering your occupation when you were last on these shores.”

“The Lord is our shepherd,” Gaius added.

“We shall not want,” Patrick understood.

“I think one of my sons wrote that one, or no, that one was David’s.”  Festuscato smiled and asked to see the shepherd’s crook one last time, pretending he saw a nick in the wood he wanted to examine.  Patrick obliged, but then they reached the dock and the planking to the deck of the ship.  Two members of the crew were there to help Patrick aboard and Dibs and Gaius would not let him back away.  Patrick suddenly realized he had been tricked and he flailed his hands and stared at Festuscato.

“I would not have hit them with it, you know.”

Festuscato held up the crook.  “Sometimes temptation is best removed.”

They were not aboard more than a half-hour before the captain of Leinster and his dozen soldiers arrived on the dock.  They were joined by a druid who appeared unhappy the Christian holy men were slipping from his grasp.  “Come down,” he shouted from the dock.  “I have an ax waiting for your head.”

Patrick stood at the railing, shepherd’s crook in hand, squeezed between Bran and Festuscato so he would not go anywhere. “When Hell freezes over,” Patrick whispered, and Festuscato chuckled.  He was not aware Patrick heard that one.

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin,” Festuscato added out loud before he raised his hand and waved to everyone ashore. “I can’t come back.  I don’t know how it works.  Good-bye folks.”  Several men and women working on the docks and a couple of soldiers returned the wave. The druid spat and stomped up and down the planking.  He yelled at the captain of the soldiers and, getting nowhere, he started to yell at the soldiers directly.  Finally, he turned to insult Patrick.

“Crooked man with your crooked staff.  Your head is crazed.  Even the head of your staff is crooked.  How dare you come into my house and stand at my table and speak impieties to my people.”

Festuscato put his hand over Patrick’s mouth and spoke for him.  “The king has ordered us to leave, and we are leaving.  The king said we are only to be harmed if we refuse to leave, but we are leaving.  If you defy the king’s orders and harm any of these men, I think your head will not sit long on your shoulders.  Captain, we are obeying the king’s orders and will leave as soon as the tide turns. Will you and your men also obey the king’s commands and see we are not harmed until our leaving can be accomplished?”

The captain paused before he set his men on the dock to guard the ship.  “By the king’s command, you will not be harmed this night,” he said, and the druid pitched an absolute fit before he stomped off, yelling at the sky.

“That Roman is a wicked sorcerer.  I have heard the truth.  You are all under a spell, and I will not rest until the Christian scourge is driven from our land, once and for all.”

Patrick pushed Festuscato’s hand away and spoke in a deadpan voice.  “Emotional fellow.”  Bran said nothing.  He just showed that hint of a grin for which he was becoming famous.  Mirowen, Gaius ad Dibs walked up and Mirowen spoke first in the same deadpan tone.

“A long hot bath would do his nerves a lot of good.”

“He does not appear to be one that does that very often,” Patrick added.

Gaius joined the emotionless expressions. “Probably took a vow of dirtiness.”

Dib’s voice was not quite so deadpan.  “Hey, Festuscato.  They are all sounding like you.”

Everyone looked at him while Festuscato nodded, and in a deadpan voice, added, “That’s because I am a wicked sorcerer and have them all under a spell, don’t you know?”

The meeting at the railing broke up, and they decided to try again further north, beyond the lands of Leinster.



R6 Festuscato: Clugh.  North there are Picts, Pirates, and a big fire-breathing beast… Until then, Happy Reading


R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 2 of 3

Everyone ran to the railing to look.  “Picts,” the Captain described their visitors.  “And their ship is much faster than ours and more heavily armed.”

“What will they do?” Gaius asked what jumped into everyone’s minds.

“Probably get mad that we don’t have any cargo to steal. The Picts generally just steal the cargo and let the ship go.  The Irish would steal the cargo and take any young ones for slaves.  the Saxons would steal the cargo and kill everybody, and then sink the ship.  I suppose the Picts aren’t so bad when you think about it.”

“No telling what they will do when they don’t find any cargo,” Treeve repeated the first thought as the captain got the crew to take down the sail and practice begging for their lives.  Festuscato dressed his people up at the stern, in front of the rudder, like they were preparing for a family photo.  By the time they were ready and quiet, the Picts were alongside and coming on board.

Captain Breok profusely apologized for the lack of a worthwhile cargo but suggested they were carrying some rich passengers whom the Picts were welcome to rob.  He did not exactly betray them, just accommodating to the circumstances. The Pictish captain stepped up to look Festuscato in the eye.  The Pict wore a leather jerkin studded with bronze circles that looked like rivets. He had a long sword at his side and no doubt had various other sharp things hidden around his person.

“And you are?”  Festuscato spoke first, his voice calm and clear.

“Captain Keravear,” the man said.  “And you?”  He grinned.

Festuscato reached out and shook the man’s hand before the man could react.  “Festuscato Cassius Agitus, an ordinary mortal human who will grow old and die like any other human.”  Captain Keravear grinned again, but did not know how to take that.  He glanced back at the half dozen men who were one step behind him, and the men with their knives drawn who were holding Captain Breok’s crew.

The Captain put on his mean face and spouted. “Whether you grow old or not remains to be seen.”

Festuscato looked down at himself and looked embarrassed. “Oh, but I see I haven’t properly dressed.”  He called out for his armor, and it fit him perfectly, Wyrd his sword and Defender his long knife fitted to his back, and overall, he wore the tunic that sported the dragon.  “Some have called me the dragon, but I really hope Constantine will own that name.” Several of Captain Keravear’s men took a step back on seeing the change, and the rest stepped back because they heard stories of the Dragon of Britain.  “Now, if you don’t mind,” Festuscato borrowed Gerraint’s thought. “I have pledged to take these holy men safely to the Irish shore and I don’t appreciate the interruption.”

Captain Keravear smiled again in an attempt to regain the upper hand. “Then give me all your money and your gold and we will let you go on your way.  Oh, but I think I will take your woman as well.”

“Not even if Hell froze over,” Festuscato responded and lifted his arm.  The glamour that covered Mirowen fell away and her true elf form looked unmistakable, complete with her cute pointed ears.  Mousden also reverted to his pixie form just in time for Mirowen to put him in Gaius’ arms.  She pulled a bow and arrows from her usual nowhere.  Dibs and Bran meanwhile slipped into their own dragon tunics and drew their swords.  This time Captain Keravear took one step back.  He had to think if it would be worth it.  He had no doubt at least some of his men would die, and given the reputation of the dragon, he was not sure if all of his men might die.

“Gentlemen,” Patrick stepped up and waved his hands like a referee calling for a time out.  “Surely this can be settled without the need for bloodshed.”

“That remains to be seen,” Festuscato turned his head and Captain Keravear pulled a small knife.  Before he got it all the way out from his Jerkin, Festuscato had Defender at his throat, and without missing a beat.  “We will see if Captain Keravear has a brain or not.”  He turned to the Captain and spoke again.  “This ship is under God’s almighty hand.  You need to leave before you get yourself in eternal trouble.”

“Which god are your speaking of?” Captain Keravear said and took another step back to get away from the blade at his throat. “I met Mannanon the sea god, one dark and stormy night by his isle of Man.  He guided us to a safe harbor until the storm passed, and I like to think of him as our protector.”

Festuscato kept a straight face when he spoke.  “It was a dark and stormy night.  He is a good son who does good for people now and then. But I was speaking of Mannanon’s God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

“Don’t start stealing Patrick’s lines,” Gaius whispered from behind.

“We aren’t in Ireland yet,” Festuscato responded with more volume.

Patrick would have stepped between the two men, but Festuscato held his arm out and would not let him.  Still, he spoke.  “What would it take to satisfy things so you leave us in peace?”

“All your money and gold.  I’ll forego the woman.”

“Kind of you,” Festuscato shook his head as a great wave struck the ship and everyone had to spread their arms and legs to keep from falling over.  The wave splashed up on both sides of the ship and formed into several hundred little blobs of gelatin looking creatures with heads, arms and legs, about a foot tall each, with mean looks on their faces, if cute little gingerbread men-like blobs could be said to have mean faces.

“Lord Steran,” Festuscato called.  He knew who it was, the king of the water sprites of the Irish sea.  “Please refrain from drowning these people.  We are trying to work out an equitable arrangement.”

“Lord.”  The water sprite offered Festuscato a regal bow and spoke in the cutest baby voice while Mousden clapped his hands and let out an excited shout.

“Water babies.”

“Mousden,” Festuscato called.  “Bring the little bag.”

“Lord?”  Mousden used the term Mirowen used and now Steran confirmed, though he knew well enough that it was the right term.  He brought the bag and hovered while Festuscato counted out fifteen pieces of gold. “Fifteen pieces!”  Mousden felt more concerned with missing the gold than he felt with the pirates.  He screamed once in the face of the pirates, but the loss of the coins made him want to howl.

“Fifteen pieces of gold for your trouble,” Festuscato said.  “But I suggest you be on your way or I cannot guarantee your safety.”

Captain Keravear ran out of arguments and knew when his luck was done.  Most of his men had deserted his back and were already on their ship.  The Picts wasted no time casting off, and soon enough would dip below the horizon.

“Thank you Lord Steran,” Festuscato said, and could not help the smile as Steran offered a wave not unlike a salute, and he and his people jumped back over the side to blend into the sea.

“Bye.  Bye,” many of the water babies said, and more than one hardened sailor returned a wave and a sweet goodbye before they went back to work getting the sail up and the ship underway.

Festuscato turned and scolded Patrick.  “What did you think you were doing?  You need to let me do my job without interference.”

“What is your job?” he shot back.

“To deliver you in one piece.”  Festuscato swallowed much of what he wanted to say before he deflected the question about his job.  “If pirates think they have the upper hand, you are dead.  You don’t bargain with pirates.”

Mousden shrieked.  “I’ll say.  You didn’t bargain at all.  You just handed them fifteen pieces of gold.  Fifteen!”

Festuscato and Patrick looked at the young man hovering beside them.  Festuscato laughed.  “It’s only money,” he said.  Patrick just nodded and laughed.


The ship pulled into the docks at Wicklow and Captain Breok wished them all well. “Leinster is as fair a trading partner as you can find among the Irish,” he told them.  They all thanked the captain for the journey, but then Festuscato took the man and his mate, Treeve aside.  They would be picking up some lumber, mostly pine in Lyoness, and be back in two weeks to ten days, depending on the weather.

“You are not going with them?” Patrick asked, having discerned that something was happening.

“No,” Festuscato admitted.  “But I have arranged for passage, and meanwhile I promise to get out of your way.”

They found some Christians in the port and Patrick wasted no time bringing them together and sharing the gospel.  He held Mass in a grove by the river every morning and spent every afternoon teaching about the people of God and the life of Christ. He invited his few disciples, the remnants of the work of Palladius, to bring in their family and friends, but found few converts.  Most of the people resisted his message.

Festuscato, Dibs and Bran stayed the next ten days in a tavern by the port.  Gaius spent most of his time with Patrick and occasionally Bran joined him; less often Dibs. Festuscato, good to his word, stayed out of it.  He paced and drank and ate enough for three people, but he kept his mouth closed.

Mirowen and Mousden went out into the wilderness on the first day and stayed gone that whole time.  Mirowen said she went looking for family, elves related to the clan of Macreedy, though the clan originally came from further north, from Ulster. Festuscato recalled that Mirowen was in fact an elf Princess, and her father Macreedy had been a king among the elves.  Mousden said he did not want to be left alone with so many clunky humans, so they disappeared, and Festuscato would have been very bored if he did not find a couple of young women to keep him in the night.  Keela, a tall and slim Celt, inspired him to bad poetry.  Aideen was a short, buxom redhead who Festuscato called little fire.

“She squeals,” Festuscato said.  “Like when the hot iron is doused in the cool water.”

“I’ve heard,” Dibs responded and knocked on the thin wall.  “And I don’t want to hear about it.”

After ten days, Festuscato began to worry that his ship might not return.  That felt troublesome, because a dozen rough men, soldiers to look at them, came riding into town under orders from the King of Leinster, the self-styled King of all Ireland.  They said they had enough of this Christian business with Palladius.  To their credit, they first listened, and one of them remarked it was hard to believe it was the same message.  Patrick taught about the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Palladius had put much more emphasis on hellfire and brimstone.

At that same time, Festuscato went looking for Keela. He had ruined another potential poem, so he imagined she might be out back by the cooking fire, ruining another roast.  That would have only been fair.  She was a beauty, but she could not cook any better than Greta.  He found her cauldron bubbling over the fire and her cooking utensils laid out on a table next to the fire.  He found baskets full of herbs and spices, but no Keela.  He started rubbing his chin when he heard her off in the bushes, screaming.

R6 Festuscato: 3 Leinster, part 1 of 3

Festuscato waved good-bye to the shore, though no one stood there to wave back.  Mirowen stayed beside him and Mousden shoved up between them, though he could hardly see over the railing.  Mousden spent the past two weeks in Cornwall and Lyoness, clinging to Mirowen’s skirt. He felt afraid of humans, especially so many big ones, but he started learning and limiting his screams to more serious concerns.

Festuscato could at least imagine Heini waving.  She seemed a fine young maid, hidden away in Weldig’s fort by the sea, and pleasant company over the last few, lonely days while they waited for the storm to pass in order to take ship for Ireland.  He remembered the way she made the bed, and tucked everything in so perfectly.  Mirowen took Mousden by the hand and walked him away when Father Gaius stepped up to the rail beside Festuscato.  Festuscato just thought how Heini’s name suited her when Gaius coughed.

“Forgive me father for I have sinned.”  Festuscato lost his smile.  Gaius simply nodded and Festuscato thought to change the subject, quickly.  “But, hey. I thought you were in a prayer marathon with Patrick.”

It became Gaius’ turn to look up with a bit of guilt on his face.  “My knees can only take so much,” he said.  “That Patrick is unstoppable.”

“He is going into battle,” Festuscato suggested. “I don’t blame him.”

Gaius nodded, put his hand to his lower back and stretched backwards while Bran came up and snickered.  No telling what Bran imagined might be going on, but Festuscato had begun to realize that the big man was bright, so he probably had a very good idea what made Gaius so stiff.

Gaius frowned and gave voice to his complaint. “Whoever decided that prayer had to be done on one’s knees?”

“Rome,” Bran offered, and it sounded like he thought it a silly idea.

“I thought prayer was inspired in a man’s heart,” Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “I was not aware the heart had knees.”  Before Gaius or Bran could answer, Mousden, in his pixie form, came flying up, screaming. He squeezed between Festuscato and the railing and clung with both hands and feet to Festucato’s robe.  Mirowen came chasing after the boy, followed by Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve.

Mirowen got down to comfort the boy and the Captain apologized.  “Lady, I am sorry.  Gerens doesn’t know when to hold his tongue.  He was just teasing.”

Festuscato turned his head while Gaius asked, “What happened?”

Treeve shrugged, but Captain Breok explained. “Gerens told the boy that the coiled ropes around the ship were really sleeping serpents that would wake and come out at night.  It is from an old tale, but there is no truth in it.”

“I heard that tale,” Mousden wailed from Festuscato’s feet and Mirowen hushed him.

“Frankly, I think your young person scared Gerens worse. He has locked himself in my cabin, and I hate having to wrench it open.”

“Get big and go with Mirowen.  She will protect you,” Festuscato insisted before he turned to face the Captain.  “Children. You never know how they are going to react.”

“No offense meant,” the Captain responded. “But that is no child.  Some of the men are going to wonder why we don’t throw the thing off the ship.”

“What’s the trouble?”  Patrick came up from below.  “Mousden, come here.”  Mousden came slowly from the railing, looking again like a young boy.  He held Mirowen’s hand until he saw Patrick hold out his arms.  Then he ran and leapt into the Bishop’s hug.  “I have spent these weeks in prayer, learning a great deal.  You would be surprised.  But above all I have learned that people come in all shapes and sizes, and I mean all shapes and sizes, and I have come to understand that the Almighty will not judge us on our outward appearance, but on the content of our hearts. This lad is a good and kind soul, and you dare to harm him at the risk of your own soul in the face of eternity.”

Festuscato spoke while Bran, Gaius and Mirowen stepped over beside Patrick and the boy.  “That a man should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  He shook his head, because he did not get the voice right.

“Besides,” Bran spoke up with the slightest grin on his face.  “You throw him overboard and he will just fly back to the ship.”

Mousden nodded his head and patted the big man on the shoulder before Mirowen took him from Patrick’s arms.  Mousden honestly made more like a teenager in age and only appeared eight or nine in big form because pixies aged more slowly and lived longer than ordinary humans.  But in his first real human contact, with Denzel and Elowen, he learned that he received better treatment when he acted as young as he looked; not that it would be hard for a pixie of whatever age to act like a child.

Mirowen took Mousden off to the cabin the Captain provided for the Lady and her son, as he had imagined them to be.  Bran also wander up to the foredeck to find Dibs for a little martial practice.  They were keeping each other in shape and teaching what they knew about their weapons. Captain Breok and his mate, Treeve stepped up to one side of Festuscato while Patrick and Gaius stepped up to the other side.  Festuscato turned them to face the sea before the Captain spoke.

“So, your woman?”  It was a question.

“My governess.  Now my housekeeper, but well-practiced at raising boys,” Festuscato answered and Gaius grinned and nodded.

“But she is not a, whatever.”  Captain Breok honestly did not know.

“A pixie?”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf.”

“And as fine a woman as you will ever find this side of Heaven,” Patrick added.

“And I suppose that makes you?”  It was another question.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Senator of Rome, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and Comes Britannia, and a normal, mortal human being who will one day grow old and die like any other human person.”

“But you don’t really die,” Gaius understood that much.

“No.”  Festuscato frowned.  “I feel all the pain and heartache of death, but I don’t get to the joy of Heaven part before I get shoved back into a new birth.  I start all over again as a baby, but as I have confessed, I think I could live a thousand lifetimes and still not get it right.  Patrick, don’t underestimate the power of sin in this broken old world.”

“I don’t,” Patrick confirmed.  “And I confess, while I have every confidence in Mirowen and young Mousden, I still have my doubts about you.

“I do my job.”

“And what is your job?”

“Right now, it is delivering a stubborn Bishop alive, into the hands of a bunch of mad Irishmen.  Then you will have your job to do, and I think it won’t be easy, and I don’t know if I can help you.”

“I think I should thank God you can’t help me.” Patrick said, with an honest smile and a friendly pat on Festuscato’s shoulder. “But I will pray for you.”  He turned to go back to his place for prayer.

“I figured you were already doing that, hopeless cad that I am.”

Patrick said nothing, but Gaius thought to answer. “Only as needed,” he said.  “Which for you is about every minute of every day.” Gaius also thought to give Festuscato an encouraging pat on the shoulder.

“Come along, Treeve,” the Captain spoke up as he turned from the railing.  “Let’s go pry Gerens out of my cabin.  I plan to sleep well tonight, and in my own bed.”


That evening, Treeve said he expected Mousden to sleep in the cabin, maybe upside down like a bat.  Gaius thought he might prefer to sleep in the darkness down in the hold, but Mousden said it smelled too much of pine trees and strange animal droppings, and besides, he already caught the only rat on board for lunch. Festuscato kindly asked him to not go into the details.  It turned out Mousden slept up in the nest at the top of the mast. He said it was a wonder to see all the stars overhead, and in its own way, not unlike the roof of a cavern, or being in a fairy circle.  It reminded him of the many times his tribe roamed the meadows at night and danced and played in the circles of the moon.

“He probably won’t sleep much in any case,” Mirowen said, with a yawn.  “Sorry. I find the sea much like a cradle. It really tires me out.”

The Captain and his mate both looked at Festuscato to explain.  “Mousden is a night creature.  Pixies in general prefer the darkness, or I should say the moon and stars.  They live underground, in caves and caverns, and find the sun glaring bright.  I’m surprised Mousden doesn’t have a headache from the sun shining off the surface of the sea all day.”

“He slept for much of the day,” Mirowen added before she excused herself and went to her cabin.

Everyone slept well that night, as is often the case at sea.  Mousden stayed up top and observed the changes in watch through the night.  Most of the time he simply looked at the unchanging sea, the horizon and counted the stars in the sky.  When Colan, the skinny young man who had the morning watch climbed up to join him in the nest, Mousden casually mentioned that he noticed a sail on the horizon.

“I can’t see anything,” Colan said, as he squinted off into the dim light before dawn.

“Right there,” Mousden pointed, but Colan shook his head.

“How far?”

Mousden did not know.  Growing up in caves allowed him no chance to learn how to judge distances in the great outdoors.  They waited in the quiet, Colan squinting now and then until the sun seemed to burst above the horizon all at once and he saw a ship much closer than he imagined.  It headed straight toward them and no doubt had seen their watch lights in the night.

“Ship off the port side,” Colan shouted.  “And it is headed right for us.”

R6 Festuscato: 2 Cornwall, part 3 of 3

Festuscato called, “Mousden,” and he put enough compulsion in his voice so Mousden appeared as if out of nowhere.  He looked no more than a foot and a half tall, covered in mottled green-gray skin, and sported two bat-like wings which were pumping to keep him aloft.  His hands had nails which made them appear claw-like and his naked feet were certainly claws with a prehensile big toe that could cling to the nearest tree branch, or stalactite.

“Harpy-like,” Festuscato mused.  “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that earlier.”

Mousden spun around several times before he focused on all the new human faces and screamed over and over.  Denzel muttered, “Well I’ll be,” while Elowen stared and shook her head like she did not believe what she saw.  Festuscato did not even glance at Dibs and Gaius, but he worried about Bran and Patrick.  Bran appeared stoic and stood as still as a statue.  Perhaps he was in shock.  Patrick got more animated

“Father in Heaven, Hail Mary, In Jesus’ name.” Patrick started to say a dozen things while Gaius held him, but eventually curiosity overcame the fear on his face and he felt his heart go out to the young thing that seemed so obviously in distress.  Mirowen already got within a foot of the hovering, howling pixie.

“There, there.  No one is going to hurt you.  Calm down. Stop screaming.  You will be all right.”  Nothing helped until Mirowen yelled, “Shut-up!”  Mirowen threw her hands out and some magic forced Mousden’s lips to close.  Mousden’s eyes got bigger than human eyes and they still heard the “Mmmph, mmph,” sounds, but they otherwise had quiet.

“Stay,” Festuscato spoke quickly, sensing that the pixie was about to fly off.  Mousden stayed, but against his will, and that made his eyes get really extra big until he turned them on Mirowen who kept saying soothing words.  “Please get big,” Festuscato added.

Mousden shook his head, but Festuscato just stared at the pixie until he floated to the ground and changed.  He got big, which in his case doubled his size to all of three feet. He appeared as an eight or nine-year-old boy, with pale skin and a few freckles.  His brown hair had a slight touch of green when seen in a certain light, but otherwise he looked human enough.

“There you are,” Elowen said suddenly, as a big smile sprang to her lips.  It seemed as if seeing Mousden in his natural pixie state did not penetrate her brain. She stepped up to hold and maybe pick up the boy, but Denzel stopped her.  He took Elowen’s hand and shook his head.

“I think these people may know where Mousden’s parents may be.  It is best to let the boy go.”

“Oh?”  Elowen sounded disappointed

“Yes, about your parents,” Festuscato started to speak, but Mousden broke down and began to weep.  Mirowen got to her knees and held and comforted him while Festuscato caught the vision from the little one’s mind.  Mousden’s tribe got decimated in the Fairy War and he got separated from his family.  His parents died, and in fact his whole family got killed in battle, and Mousden just found them a few hours ago, miles away, buried deep in the land.  Pixies are very family oriented people.  They take a spouse and are faithful as opposed to many humans who only give lip service to the notion of fidelity.  But with his family gone, Mousden had no one to look after him.  The tribe would not turn him out, but he would remain very much on his own until he came of age.

“He needs to come with us,” Festuscato said, and Mirowen looked up at him with a look that said she thought much the same thing. “So now you have another young boy to raise.”

Mirowen lost her smile as she got out her handkerchief to dry the boy’s tears.  “Let’s hope this time I get it right.”

“I don’t understand,” Patrick admitted.  “But that Mirowen is certainly a brave woman.”

Festuscato explained a bit of what happened to Mousden’s parents after Mirowen and Elowen took the boy into the house for a tall glass of milk.  Then he explained how the fairies like the untarnished woods and soft grasses that go to grain and the flowers.  “Fairies generally live in the woods, in the green under the sun.  Pixies prefer the fens and ferns, the briars and brambles and thistle grasses that grow in the meadows.  They live underground, in the dark, but in the night, they come out and build so-called fairy circles in those meadows, where they make music and dance under the stars and the moon.  They are all good people and usually work things out in time, over the centuries, but sometimes they fight.  Think weeds in the garden.”

“Still,” Patrick said.  “That Mirowen is a remarkable woman.”

“She’s an elf,” Gaius said.  “A house elf as I understand it.”

“She was my governess when I was eight, and raised me and Gaius and Dibs and another friend, Felix.”  Festuscato rubbed his chin.  “She claims now she is my housekeeper, but she still treats me like an eight-year-old now and then.”

Mirowen came out the door to fetch the water bucket and could not resist the response.  “Only when you act like and eight-year-old.”  she went back inside.

“She has good ears too.  Excellent hearing.  Did I mention that?”

Patrick patted Festuscato on the shoulder.  “I can see I will have to pray for you.”

“What?”  Festuscato glanced at Gaius.  “I assumed you already were.”

“As needed,” Gaius responded.  “Like every day.”

“Oh, you mean because now you know I consort with devils and demons.”

“Not a chance,” Patrick said.  “I saw no devil in that poor innocent boy’s tears.  And as for your governess, I have thought several times how fortunate you are to have found a woman so pure and true.”

“No demon would dare,” Dibs said, and looked up at Bran.

They all looked at Bran, but all he said was, “That was very interesting,” and he turned and began to gather the things to set their camp beside the cottage for the night, and the others helped.



R6 Festuscato: Leinster.  Festuscato takes Patrick to the heart of Ireland.  He stays at the inn and leaves Patrick alone to get on with his work, but there is a fly in the ointment, a certain unhappy pirate.  Until Monday, Happy Reading