Two days later, Festuscato tried hard to explain the facts to Aegidius, a stubborn, hard-headed man who also happened to be the commanding general of the Roman forces for northern Gaul. The northern part of Gaul that would one day be called Neustria, was about the only area still ruled by Rome, that and a strip of land that ran south between the Burgundians and Visigoths and the southern coast around Provence and in Septimania. All Aegidius could see was he was safe in Paris and the Huns would not come there as proved by the fact that they turned away.
“Look. Aetius is coming up from the south with more than thirty-thousand men from Italy, Provence, Burgundy and Aquitaine. Budic from Amorica and Sangiban of the Alans will soon be under siege in Orleans. If we move out soon, and I wouldn’t give more than a week or two, we can threaten Attila from the north and make Attila back away from the city. If we stay here, it will go down in history and for the rest of time that the last Roman general in Gaul was a coward.”
“What do you mean, last?” One of the legion generals spoke up.
“Sangiban won’t last long, and my information says Attila is trying to get Sangiban to switch sides. Then, General Aetius will not last long with two to one, and a veteran army against him. Then how long do you think your earthworks will hold up when Attila returns to Paris with three times your number?”
“He wouldn’t,” Aegidius began to sound like a coward.
“I won’t ask your Legions to abandon Paris and join up with general Aetius, but maybe they have to decide which general to follow, and don’t think Aetius is going to be happy with you hiding in Paris. I will give you a compromise. You have ten days and then I take the Franks and Saxons to Orleans to support Aetius.”
One of the legion generals stood and began to walk off with the comment, “I better get packed and get my men ready to travel.”
Aegidius threw his hands up even as he growled at Festuscato. “All right, we go to Orleans to support Aetius with the last of the Roman power and presence in Gaul, but I pick the route, and if the Huns turn on us, we race back to defend Paris.”
“Vir Illustris? Imperial governor?” one general asked.
“Comes Britanarium,” Bran confirmed, and the general nodded that he was satisfied. An imperial governor and general in chief of a whole province outranked the Magister Millitum in his mind, even if Festuscato was technically the governor of Britain, not Gaul.
At nine days, people were having trouble keeping their feet still. At ten days, they left, though he had said they would allow ten days to get ready, it might have been interpreted as leave on the tenth day. Lord Birch and his crew took over the spying duties from Ironwood and the other young ones from the Frisian shore. Strongarm and his elves watched the perimeter and insured that any Hun scouts saw only what they were supposed to see.
Luckless caught up with the group in Paris. He brought nearly a thousand dwarfs from the deep mines around the Rhine valley, the Moselle and the Meuse. Hogtick, the dwarf king, had a fine daughter, a young dwarf woman named Lolly, and she seemed taken with Luckless. Many of the other dwarfs teased him, and even Hogtick teased him, but Luckless would not be talked out of it. Lolly had the makings of a great cook.
“But now I have to do something right and earn her hand,” Luckless said, and everyone encouraged him, but in their hearts, everyone said congratulations because they knew Luckless would not be long for the single world no matter what happened.
It took several days to move the whole army into position just north of Orleans, or Aurelianum as the Romans called it. They found the Alans and Amoricans backed up behind the city wall, such as it was, and the surrounding suburbs were firmly in the hands of the Huns. Attila still negotiated, and King Sangiban seriously considered opening the gates and joining the Huns. Festuscato felt sure if the king did that, the men would be slaughtered, as surely as the people of Mainz were slaughtered, even though they surrendered and put up no resistance. But Goar, the Alan general and King Budic of Amorica were not for giving up.
The situation looked like a stalemate. If Attila turned on Festuscato’s army, Goar and Budic would be at his back. The Huns, Gepids and Ostrogoths together might win that battle, but they would be so devastated, the whole plan of conquest would be bust. Attila’s only hope seemed to get Sangiban to surrender. Then he could reasonably enter the city to loot and pillage where Festuscato could not get at him to stop him. The only thing then would be to get back out of the city without becoming trapped. That probably came to Attila’s mind when he pulled out suddenly and headed back east, the way he had come. People wondered why he would do such a thing. Festuscato had one answer.
“Aetius is close.”
General Aetius quickly set the battle order, keeping the various groups where they were and setting the Alans and Amoricans in the center so they could all move up quickly without having to move whole armies around. Attila stopped in the flat open fields around Chalons where his preponderance of horsemen would have the advantage. The problem for Aetius was even keeping his groups in the same order, it would take about three days to get there and get ready. The problem for Attila, was he pulled back from Orleans so quickly, even his veteran troops would string out for miles and need time to catch up, and by the time he built an encampment he could use as a redoubt, that would also take three days.
Attila proved a good general. No one ever said otherwise. He turned to Ardaric and his Gepids to set up a rear guard to insure all of his troops had time to get in position and get ready for battle. Ardaric had mostly infantry, and he knew the Visigoths were the only group that had the horsemen to challenge the Huns, but he figured Aetius would hold them back and make every effort to be sure they did not get ahead of themselves. The Alans in the center also had some good horsemen, but not in great numbers. They did not bother him. His men beat the Alans and Amoricans around Orleans and would have ruined the city if they had enough time. Then he hardly gave Aegidius a thought. The man seemed determined to preserve his legions and had no plans to spend them. Thus, the only enemy that worried Ardaric became the Dragon and his Franks and Saxons. He and Attila knew the Franks gathered around Liege several months ago, but at the time they seemed a minor inconvenience. They never imagined so many Franks in one place, nor that the Saxons and Franks would work together.
Ardaric took the Frank Cariaric and his Hessians and Turingians, about five thousand men. He took ten thousand of his own men, and they set up a line against the north to forestall any incursions into Attila’s strung-out lines. It seemed a good position, and they were arrayed behind the woods where any unsuspecting enemy troop would run into them and be trapped before they could escape. The problem for Ardaric, what he could not have known, was Festuscato knew exactly where the Hessians and Gepids were, how many there were, and where they were spread too thin to cover the whole northern flank. Festuscato came into the command tent rubbing his hands.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “We have been presented with an opportunity.” That was how he saw it. “Cariaric and his Hessians and Thuringians are on the east end of the line, furthest from the Hun gathering point I imagine because Ardaric considers them the most expendable.” Festuscato took a moment to set up a little scene on the table and took various plates and utensils to represent the different groups, while Etheldrood spoke.
“I volunteer my men to crush the Hessians and Thuringians.”
Chlodebaud interrupted. “I was thinking Cariaric and his Thuringian wife need to be taught a good lesson.” The two men looked at each other and all but shook hands.
“As I was thinking,” Festuscato said. “But the Gepids, once they realize their line is in trouble, might turn their end of the line and try to hit you on your flank.”
“Adalbert and I can be waiting in the woods to hit their line instead.” Merovech caught the idea. “We can turn their very woods against them and surprise them.” Adalbert looked game for the idea. Festuscato just smiled. He did not have to say anything more.
The fight became bloody. Fifteen thousand Franks and Saxons broke fifteen thousand Gepids, Franks and Thuringians. Ardaric clearly got the worst of it, but when he pulled his troops back, the Franks and Saxons were in no condition to follow up their victory. In a way, Ardaric got the victory because he kept the Franks and Saxons too busy to invade Attila’s lines and disrupt the battle preparations, so mostly it became just a bloody confrontation with nothing really gained by either side.