M4 Festuscato: Gaul in the Balance, part 1 of 3

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.

M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 3 of 3

By the first of April, Cologne, Tournai and Trier were sacked as expected and Cambrai and Metz were in flames, ruined by the two fists of Attila.  The Huns were headed for the edge of Frankish territory and would soon enter Roman Gaul.  There, Festuscato expected at least Amiens and Reims would fall.  After that, he thought Attila and his fist might head for Troyes while the northern fist under his eldest son, Ellak, who commanded his fist under the seasoned hand of Ardaric, king of the Gepids, headed for Paris.  When he originally thought this through, he imagined the Huns might reunite their armies at Paris, but Orleans would do around May or June, and from there they could face the Visigoths, either to invade Visigoth land or negotiate a Roman style treaty of non-aggression.  Now, Festuscato wondered if they would even get that far.

It seemed a long way, when late in the afternoon, Chlodebaud, King of the Ripuarian Franks, came into the command tent spitting mad about something. He usually stayed mad about something, and he regularly reminded them how Attila’s son, Dengizic, brought his Huns across the Rhine last fall and despoiled all the land around Nijmegen.  His men were the worst about being patient.  Of course, Festuscato, Bran, Heinz and Gregor had the good sense not to tell Chlodebaud why the Huns did what they did.

Merovech’s brother Adalbert, Duke of Moselle, looked up at his brother Chlodebaud, but said nothing.  He generally kept quiet and went along with whatever the others decided, but his men were good fighters, and proved it in the few little skirmishes they had thus far had with Ardaric’s rear guard.  Merovech himself sat with Gregor and Dibs, sipping ale and laughing.  Etheldrood, alias Egbert the Saxon sat there too, looking sour, but he responded.

“I understand your frustration.  My men are not used to waiting.  We see the enemy and we want to attack.”

Chlodebaud spit again.  “I heard when the Hun came in the front door, you Saxons with the Jutes and Angles snuck out the back door and ran away to Britain.”

Etheldrood looked angry for a second before he softened and admitted, “Yes, some have done that,”

Heinz, chief of his village, thought to add a word.   He often sat beside King Etheldrood and kept the man under control, as Lord Gregor instructed.  “But in this case, if we were to jump to the attack, the whole Hun army would turn on us, and we do not have the strength yet to stand up to them.  Once we get to Paris, that will be another story.”

Chlodebaud and Etheldrood both gave Heinz the same unhappy look, even as Marcellus came to the door.  Marcellus had arrived from Britain in March.  He brought a hundred Amoricans, all dressed in dragon tunics, who after twelve years defending the Pendragon, and now with Constantine gone and Constans taking over, decided they wanted to go home.

“Lack of patience can get you killed,” Dibs spoke up.

“There will be plenty of time for action,” Gregor said.  “But you must learn to relax when you can.  Not to stop being vigilant, mind you, but relax, like my friend Merovech is learning.”  Merovech looked a moment at his drink and nodded.

“Lord Festuscato will pounce like a great cat in the wilderness, but not before we are ready and only when we have the greatest chance for success,” Marcellus spoke up.  “I have seen him play this game with the Huns before, and in the end, he kicked them right off his island.”

Chlodebaud took a seat and looked at Etheldrood.  They would be good and wait.

At that same time, Festuscato, Bran, Luckless, Ironwood, Lord Birch, the fairy lord from the Atlantique province, Strongarm, a local elf lord, and the ever quiet four elf horsemen that Festuscato called his four horsemen of the Apocalypse, were questioning three captured Hun scouts.  The Huns were down on their knees, but not tied.

“So Ellak the coward and Ardaric the senile old man ran away,” Festuscato tested them.  One young Hun started to stand to give answer to the insult, but Bran’s hand on his shoulder quickly dissuaded him.  The other two old warriors hardly flinched, and one spoke in a calm voice.

“We escaped your trap where you would have crushed us against the Romans in Paris.  Now Lord Ellak and the great king Ardaric are lost in the wilderness and you have only guesses.  For all you know, they may be circling around behind you.  And we will not tell you where they have gone.  We are prepared to die.”

Festuscato let out a little chuckle.  “Ironwood,” he said.

“They are headed toward Orleans.  They will meet Attila along the way which will put all sixty-thousand together for the assault.”

“Lord Birch.”

“Yes, Lord.  The Alans around Orleans are prepared to fight, but King Sangiban appears to be undecided.  Attila has offered to leave him the city if he opens the gates, but King Budic of Amorica will get there first and he and his men may put some backbone into the old king.”

“You see?” Festuscato spoke frankly.  “I need no information.  That is not why you were captured, alive.  I have spared you because I want you to take a message to Attila.  Tell him, if he takes his army and goes back across the Rhine, I will spare his life a second time, and give him this ring as a sign.”  Festuscato took a gaudy, diamond studded ring from his finger and gave it to the old Hun who spoke.  “Fail to give the message and I will know it and nowhere on earth will be safe for you to hide.  But if you give him the message, be warned.  The last man I sent to Attila with a message lost his head.”

“What last man?” the young one asked in a snarky, unbelieving voice.

“Megla,” Festuscato said, and clearly all three Huns had heard the story.

“You are the dragon?” the old Hun asked.

“I am, so please give him my message and my ring.”  Festuscato and Bran stepped back.  “You are free to go.”  Festuscato waved and three elves brought up the Huns horses.  The Huns stepped warily to the horses and mounted.  The older scout who said and did nothing during the interview, turned on Festuscato the moment he got hold of his spear. Festuscato did not flinch as the man became a pincushion of elf arrows.  The horse bolted but settled down after a few yards and the dead body slid out of the saddle.

“Such a shame,” Festuscato said, as the other two Huns rode off without looking back.



General Aetius has come up from Rome and is trying to raise the men and keep the Burgundians and Visigoths pointed in the right direction.  The Alans in Orleans may be pressed for a time.  Everyone hopes King Budic can arrive in time to help.  Bran the Brit calls it a daft plan, but if the men arrive it just might work.  Gaul is in the Balance.  Until Monday:




M4 Festuscato: Huns, part 2 of 3

“Put a finger up,” Festuscato said.

“What?  I don’t see how—”

“No, I mean right now, put a finger up.”  Merovech did and Festuscato explained.  “That finger represents you, the Salian Franks, a strong people, but alone.”  Festuscato raised his hands and started with his left thumb.  “Now on this side we have Attila and about fifteen thousand Huns, and he has with him at least another fifteen thousand others.”  With each name he turned down a finger until he made a fist.  “Ostrogoths under Valamir, Bavarians, Suebi, Avars.”  He turned to his right hand and started with his thumb again.  “Here, we have the sons of Attila with another fifteen thousand Huns, and with them we have Ardaric and his Gepids, Goths, Thuringians, and your brother Cariaric and his Hessians.  Tell me how a finger alone is going to stand against two big fists.”

Merovech put his finger down and looked awkward for a moment.  “I understand.”

Festuscato continued.  “Why do you think the Huns hold sway over such a large empire?  It is because all of the various German and other tribes try to stand up, one finger against the fist.  I don’t know why.  Stupidity or pride, I guess.  They are often the same thing.  I spent the last nine or so years listening to great tales of courage and valor, but in the end, the people bow to the Huns and pay tribute.  But I was thinking if a few of those German tribes joined together to make their own fist—”

Merovech interrupted.  “I see, Chlodebaud and Adelbert.  We join forces.  Salian, Ripuarian and Mosen Franks together, like our father Clodio tried to do.”  Festuscato simply nodded while Merovech thought it through.  Childeric had come over to listen, Heather resting comfortably on his shoulder.  He put his elbows on the table and looked back and forth between Festuscato and his father.  “But that is only three fingers.  We still cannot come near to matching even one fist.  If each fist is thirty thousand as you say, and I do not doubt it, we can raise maybe ten thousand.  Not much more.”

“That is why we get the Saxons to join us,” Festuscato said.

“Saxons?”  Merovech almost objected.  The Franks and Saxons were not good neighbors, and the prejudice could be heard in Merovech’s voice, even if he only said the one word.

“Who do you think you have been drinking with at Felix’s tavern these past few months?”  Festuscato asked, knowing full well that Merovech went by the tavern any number of times. 

“Why?  Only that one-eyed loudmouth of a Saxon.  He is a rude, crude braggart and displays everything that so many don’t like about the breed.”

“Granted,” Festuscato nodded.  “But he is not a bad man.”

“No,” Merovech admitted.  “He is not a bad man.”

Festuscato nodded again.  “He is also the king of the Saxons, or father of the king, anyway.”

“What?”  Merovech bounded out of his seat with enough force to knock his chair to the floor.

Festuscato finished nodding.  “Gregor will keep his son in line and pointed at the enemy. or he will kick Egbert’s butt.”

“Etheldrood,” Childeric said.

“Yes, thank you,” Festuscato smiled for Childeric and Heather.  “Etheldrood will bring about four thousand men or more, ready for battle, men who have come to despise the Huns.  Indeed, it will probably be difficult to hold them back and stick to the battle plan.”

Merovech picked up his seat.  “So, if my brothers and I can raise about ten thousand between us, that still leaves us short.  Even with the Saxons, we will have only half of one fist.”  Merovech shook his head again as he shook his finger at Festuscato.  “But somehow I feel you have an answer.  Son,” he spoke to Childeric.  “This one is sly.  Maybe you can learn from him.”

“Yes, father.  I have been paying attention,” Childeric responded.

“Liege,” Festuscato said.  “The hills around give good cover, and the town is not a capital or of the size to be tempting to the Huns, plus it is about in the middle for you and your brothers.  Cologne will have to be abandoned, and Tournai, and probably Trier as well.  Let the men come to Liege ready to fight and let the women and children seek refuge in the country.  Leave enough treasure and food in the cities like an offering, so the Huns are not tempted to scour the countryside.  That would lead to too many unnecessary deaths.  So, leave enough food and treasure to make it worth their while and they will move on.  Remember, buildings can always be rebuilt.”

Merovech shook his head again.  “What you ask will be hard, but I see we will not be nearly ready to meet them in time to defend even one city.  And I see if we try to defend our own cities, we will not have the force on our own to stop them.”

“Or even slow them down,” Festuscato agreed.  “So, we gather around Liege, and when the Huns pass out of Salian territory, we will follow them carefully.  We might pick off their stragglers, but we must stay prepared to back away if they turn.  They will know we are behind them.”

“But wait.  You haven’t answered about the fist.  With my brothers and the Saxons, we have only four fingers.  Where is our thumb to complete the fist?”

“Aegidius,” Festuscato said.  “Right now, he has three legions with auxiliaries, about twenty thousand men building earthworks around Paris.  When the Huns arrive at Paris, Ardaric and Attila will be facing a wall.  We may be able to crush them against that wall, though I doubt it.”


“They will know we are behind them.  It will be April or May, so the weather will lighten up.  They may turn to join up with the other fist and avoid the bad position we will put them in.”

“That would be bad.  If they rejoin their two fists, they will once again badly outnumber us.  How can we hope to counter so many wild dogs?”

“General Aetius,” Festuscato smiled for the man.  “I have it on good authority that General Aetius has returned from Italy and raised many men in Provence.  He has a large number of men coming from Burgundy in the spring and is talking to the Visigoths.  Thorismund, the son, has given me his word that he will bring what men he can, and I believe if the son comes to fight, his father Theodoric will not let him get all the glory.”

“Visigoths,” Merovech sounded thoughtful and pulled on his beard.

“And you know the Visigoths do nothing by half measure.  When they come, it will be twenty-thousand or none.”

Merovech began nodding at last.  “But you give me Romans, Burgundians and Visigoths, a great army, but the fist is not complete.”

“I expect them to reach Orleans by the end of May.  There, they can pick up King Sangiban and the Alans, maybe another ten thousand.”  Merovech waved his pinky finger, but Festuscato just smiled.  “King Budic of Amorica will bring his men from the west and meet them at Orleans.  Then we will have Attila between two armies, two fists, so whichever way he turns, he will have an army at his back.”

Merovech smiled at last.  “The plan is good, even if nothing ever goes exactly to plan.  And to think you arranged all this while sitting in my prison cell.  Makes me tremble to think what the dragon will do if I set you free.”

“That reminds me,” Festuscato said and stood.  He stepped to a certain spot and kicked the floor.  They all heard the hollow sound, and a trap door opened a crack.  “Tell Branhilde I’ll meet her in the inn after an hour or so.”

“Very good, Lord.”  The deep, booming voice sounded out before the trap door closed.

“Horeburt,” Festuscato called.

“Yes, Lord.  Majesty.”  Horeburt came to the door and acknowledged both Festuscato and Merovech, his king.

“When I escape, you better go with me so you can say you are still guarding the prisoner and not get into trouble.”

“If it is all the same to you,” Horeburt responded.  “My brother has a place up north on the shore.  I was thinking of taking my family and going for a visit.”  Clearly Horeburt had listened in and thought about the Huns coming to Tournai.

“Wise move,” Festuscato said and turned again to Merovech.  Merovech smiled at the jailer’s good thinking when something sunk into his brain.  He stood suddenly.

“Why am I sitting here?  I have so much to do and only a couple of months to do it.”  He headed for the outside door but returned a thought.  “Jailer, let the rest of the prisoners out before you go.”

“Yes majesty,” Horeburt responded while Festuscato began to collect his things.

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 2 of 3

Two days later, Festuscato, Heinz, Bran and Tulip sat on the edge of a short cliff, looking down on three Hun scouts who were camped in the valley.  They appeared to be taking only minimal precautions against being found.  Either they thought they were in Hun land, or they thought Saxony was well under their thumb, or both.  Yet they were scouts, so they were looking for something.

“They are too close to the village,” Heinz whispered.  “If we take them here and men come to look for them, they will surely find us.”

Festuscato grinned.  Heinz had started learning.  Sadly, not everyone did.

“There are other men down there,” Tulip said, quietly, and pointed, not that anyone could follow her little finger.

“Morons,” Bran used Festuscato’s word.

“Hey.  No.”  Heinz tried to stand and shout, but Festuscato put his hand over the man’s mouth and they waited.  Six Saxons surprised three Huns and the final score was Saxons three, Huns two, though when Greta examined one of the Saxons back in the main camp, she pronounced the score three to three.  The man did not live two days.

“And that was taking them by surprise,” Festuscato said calmly.

“You idiots.”  Heinz did not sound so calm.  “Now when the Huns send out a whole troop to look for them, how will we avoid being found?”

“Morons,” Bran repeated.

“I like that word,” Festuscato said.

“Morons,” Heinz repeated.  “And I don’t even know what it means, but you are it.”

They got the Hun camp cleaned up and brought the bodies in with the horses and all the equipment.  Festuscato had an idea, but he waited until Gregor got back that evening.  Gregor came in smiling, his whole troop intact.  Luckless got down and spoke first.

“Didn’t hardly need to sniff out the boy,” he said.

“We caught them unprepared,” Gregor boasted.  “The terrors of the wilderness, and we caught them flat footed.  Let me tell you, it was fierce.”

A young man stepped up.  “I went to relieve myself at the edge of the camp.  There were only two guards.”

“We snatched him up and ran,” Luckless finished the story.

Gregor stared at the two with his one eye and made an expression like they were no fun.  “But it was fierce running,” he said.

“Okay!  Listen up!  Here’s the plan.”  Festuscato got everyone’s attention, and after two days of fairies and miracles, the Saxons learned to listen, even if he was a Roman.  “Gregor.  You need to leave Egbert in charge here so you can go with us.”

“Etheldrood,” Etheldrood corrected.

“But I like Egbert,” Gregor said with a laugh.

“Etheldrood.  You need to take these people to the new site.  We know the Huns have scouted all in that area, so you should be safe for a time.  You need to get word to all the other people, the ones in hiding and the ones still at home.  Don’t trust anyone with your location but tell them to be ready to turn out when the Huns pull out to go to war.  I’m guessing a year.  Tell them they will also be going to war and joining Roman and other allies to kill the Huns.  Anybody want to kill some Huns?”

“Yea.  Aye.  Aye.”  At least some of the men were ready.

“Heinz.  You know what to do with the bodies.  Are you up for it?”

“I will do my best for my king,” he said.  “Even though it cost me my life.”

“Not me,” Gregor said.  “I’m retired.  I would move to Florida if I knew where that was.  Lord Agitus says it is a warm, sandy beach and has scantily clad women who bring you drinks while you relax in the sun.  Sounds to me like that place, Heaven, that those Christians talk about.”

“Retired?”  Etheldrood got stuck on the word.

“It means you get to be king with all the headaches now and I get to go play and have fun.”  Gregor said more quietly, and Etheldrood thought that was still strange.  “It’s the least you could do for your old man.”

“All right,” Festuscato took back the conversation.  “So Etheldrood, you know what to do.  Make sure they are ready when the call comes.  And Heinz, you have your assignment.”

“And what will you be doing?” Heinz asked.

“Gregor, Bran, Luckless, Tulip and I will be talking to Merovech, King of the Salian Franks about that alliance, and if the Ripuarian Franks want to join with us in going after the Huns,” Festuscato shrugged.

“You are a scoundrel,” Heinz said.

“He doesn’t like to leave things to chance,” Gregor said and poked his son in the chest with a big finger.  “A trait you would do well to learn.”

“Every little bit helps,” Tulip gave it a positive spin.

“He doesn’t start the trouble,” Luckless chimed in.  “But he is good at ending it.”

“Cad,” Festuscato said, and when Bran looked at him, he said, “I’m a cad, not a scoundrel.”  Bran nodded.


Two days later, Heinz of the Saxons with four men rode somberly into the Hun camp.  They had three dead Huns on their horses, and the Huns were not pleased to see them.

“What is this?  What is this?”  Dengizic, Attila’s second son came racing out of his tent while the Huns grabbed and threatened the Saxons.

“We found them and thought you might like them back.  A kindness,” Heinz said.  Dengizic took a moment before he waved off the men who were holding the Saxons.  Those men only backed up one step.

“What happened?” Dengizic asked.

“Ripuarian Franks.  They crossed the river in the night and attacked us, looking for easy loot.  I guess they heard we were hiding from the terrible Huns and they figured we took our loot with us.”  Heinz grinned a very Festuscato grin.  “They must have found your men.  They carried off their dead and wounded from the attack so as not to leave evidence, but they had to be the same Franks who attacked us.”

“So, you bring them here with this tale and think we will believe you?”

“With this message.  Not everyone supports Etheldrood.  There are many of us who hate the Romans and are willing to fight, but you need to give us time to convince Etheldrood or remove him.”

Dengizic would have to think about that.  He considered his dead men.  “Thank you for returning our men.  You will have some time, I think.  We will be busy for a time paying the Franks a visit.”

Heinz nodded.  “I am Heinz.  I will see you again,” he said, and he and his men mounted, rode out, and tried hard to keep their horses at a steady pace and not look like they were running away, because, as Festuscato said, the dog will not attack until you turn your back to run.


Festuscato rode into the city of Tournai, the capital of the Salian Franks with all eyes watching him.  Luckless the dwarf could be seen as a short man with too much beard.  Gregor the Saxon looked like a Saxon, and while he might have gotten mixed reviews from the people, he was not an uncommon sight.  Bran the Sword, also not an unusual sight, apart from his size.  The Salian Franks had a good trade with Britain.  But Festuscato not only looked like a Roman, he looked like a rich Roman, and whenever such a man showed up it inevitably meant trouble and annoyance for the people.  When Tulip abandoned the horse’s mane to hide in Festuscato’s hair and sit on his shoulder, the people looked twice.

“Here we are.  Home at last,” Festuscato shouted when he came to a tavern and got down from his horse.  “The Dragon Inn.”  Festuscato read the sign and added, “Go out in the street and drag ‘em in.”  No one understood a word since he said that in twenty-first century English, but they joined him on his feet.  “Tie them off and let’s see if the ale is dragon strong.”

“Gotta be better than the last place,” Gregor said, and nodded when Luckless added his note.

“Piss water.”

“About time you got here,” someone spoke from the porch.  Festuscato took a close look before he shouted.

“Felix.  What brings you here?  You are about the last person I expected to see.  Still trading in wool and silk?”

“No, no.  I own this place.”

“Hope the ale is better than the last place,” Gregor said.

“Piss water,” Luckless added.

Bran followed them in but Festuscato turned to his childhood friend.  “So, any word from Father Gaius or Dibs?  I seem to recall telling them I would meet them here.  I suppose I’ve taken longer than planned.”

“About nine years longer,” Felix said, before he amended his statement.  “Make that ten years.  Anyway, a bit more than the three years you said.”  Felix grinned, like he had several jokes prepared, but an interruption came bursting out the door.  Father Gaius grabbed Festuscato in a big hug and Festuscato responded with a serious face and a word.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

“I look forward to hearing all about it,” Gaius said, and he and Felix brought Festuscato into the inn.

“Lord Agitus,” Luckless spoke right up.  “Dibs is apparently with his troop down around Soissons.”

“Where is Tulip?”

Bran pointed up while Gregor spoke.  “Can’t get the little lady to come down from the rafters.”

Festuscato sat and thought about it while Felix brought a mug of ale.  He tried it and protested.  “Felix.  This is good.  I know there is no way you made it, Roman that you are.”

“Murgen’s recipe,” Felix confessed.  “The Brit has his brewery out back, and in case you forgot, most of my neighbors back home were Brits as well.”

“True,” Gaius agreed.

“So, what is the next step?” Gregor sounded impatient, but not complaining.  He may have been uncomfortable being the lone Saxon in the midst of all the Franks.  Then again, Festuscato was not sure that was right because he could not remember ever seeing Gregor uncomfortable.  Festuscato nodded.

“All right,” he said, and thought a second.  “We find Merovech, king of the Salian Franks”

“That’s easy.  He went with Dibs to Soissons to meet with the new Magister Millitum, Aegidius,” Felix said.

“Now wait.  I know that name.”  Festuscato was still thinking.  “Wasn’t Aegidius General Aetius’ aid de camp?”

“He was,” Gaius confirmed.  “But what of it?”

“I have to write some letters.  Too bad Seamus isn’t around.  He always had parchment and ink handy.”


“Thorismund of the Visigoths, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans down in Orleans.  You remember him from our time there.  Let’s see.  Aetius in Italy, and I guess Aegidius in Soissons or Paris or wherever he ends up.  Then I need to write to Merovech and his brothers, wherever they are.  We need to gather what men we can, and then the hard part will be holding them back until the opportune time.  When Attila is ready, he will strike hard and fast and cities are going to burn, maybe this city.  We need to gather, to be ready to strike when the time is right and not spread ourselves out trying to defend every city.  If we spread out like that, Attila will have us for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“That will be hard for the Franks,” Gregor said.  “They are not known for patience.  They will defend their crops and homes, and you won’t be able to stop them.”

“They will get themselves killed and not stop the Huns,” Bran decided.

“We will see,” Festuscato said.  “A lot will depend on the Visigoths and Aetius and what they come up with and are willing to risk.  I can see Theodoric sticking to his own border and maybe trying to buy off Attila.  That would be like trying to buy off a lion with a steak.  The steak, once eaten, might just whet the lion’s appetite.”

M4 Festuscato: Saxons and Franks, part 1 of 3

Festuscato, Last Senator of Rome

After 416 AD Gaul, Kairos 96

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Ilistrus, Comes Britannia, Legatus Augusti pro Praetore and chief cook and bottle washer, at your service.”  Festuscato bowed low and smiled.  This had to work better than it did for Margueritte.  She got tied and gagged.

“We don’t like Romans in our land,” the big man growled from his horse, and had a dozen men to back him up.  His Latin did not sound bad, but clearly the big man did not understand most of what Festuscato said.

“I don’t blame you.  I don’t like many Romans either, although I would not mind another tussle in bed with Honoria.  That girl knew more like a hundred shades of gray.”

“The emperor’s sister?”  One man asked and looked shocked, but Festuscato figured these Saxons did not know many Romans by name.  Honoria’s name got bandied about lately, and it had something to do with the Huns.

“The very same.  Ah, Bran.”  Bran stepped from the woods into the small clearing where the company camped.  He looked wary and fingered his belt where his big sword waited, but Festuscato remained friendly, and Bran took his cue from that.  Festuscato introduced his big British friend.  “Bran the Sword meet—” He could not finish the sentence and looked to the original speaker for a clue.

“Heinz,” the man said.  “Chief of my village.”

“Heinz,” Festuscato repeated.  “I was just about to invite Heinz and his men to join us.  A hundred pounds of deer meat is more than even Luckless can eat.”

“We might just take the deer,” Heinz said.  “We don’t like Brits either and don’t like strangers hunting on our land.”

“Got any gold?”  One man asked.  “We might not kill you if you have enough gold.”

“No one ever has enough gold,” a voice spoke from the woods before Luckless the dwarf made his appearance.  “I found some spice.”  He added it to the pot and totally ignored the tension in the air.  “Are your friends ever going to get down off their high horses and join us for supper?”

On sight of a real, live dwarf, Heinz and his men looked hesitant.

“Heinz, chief of your village, please, you and your men join us.  I want to ask you about your village, because the last two villages we found were burned and uninhabited.  I hope it wasn’t Romans.  I would hate to have to crucify some over eager centurion.”

Heinz got down slowly but waved to keep his men up.  “You could do that?”

“As a Roman Senator and Imperial Governor, Lord Agitus can do pretty much what he wants,” Bran said.   It was more than he said in days.

“Maybe you could be a ransom.” Heinz started thinking.

“Maybe,” Festuscato nodded.  “But I would rather be friends and find out about the villages.  Maybe I can do something about that, and that might be worth more than ransom.”

“What can you do about the Huns?” Heinz asked.

“We drove them out of Britain,” Bran said.

Festuscato paused and looked Heinz in the eye.  “Threw them right off my island.”

“Your Island?  Britain?”  Men doubted.

Heinz quieted them.  “I heard about Meglas’ humiliation.  I heard Attila cut the man’s head off.”

“My island.”  Festuscato nodded.  “I tied him up like a pig for slaughter and sent him back, but I take no responsibility for what happened after he got back to this shore.”  He took a moment to apply his sauce to the deer.  “Probably poison,” he said to Bran.  Bran touched it with his finger and licked it.

“Tastes okay to me,” he said.

“Me too.  I’m starving,” Luckless said.

“You’re always starving,” Festuscato countered, and then paused while he watched Heinz stick out his finger to try it.  Heinz clearly approved as he turned and yelled at his men to gather around.  The Saxons tied off their horses and came clinking and clanging in their armor and dragged up lumber for chairs.

“Nice horses,” one man said in halting Latin as he examined the company’s horses.

“Danish,” Bran said.

“A gift from Wulfgar of the Danes,” Festuscato added.  “After leaving the Eastern Empire and traveling back through the Germanies, we stopped in Copenhagen again to see how things were going before finally heading west, and he insisted.”

“I heard the Danes are beset by a terrible monster,” one man started, friendly enough, but paused when he looked at the dwarf.  He thought it best not to offend.

“They were,” Luckless said.  “Let me just say, the Danes were grateful.”

“Big monster, too,” Festuscato added.  “So, tell me about the Huns.”

Heinz finally sat and looked hard at his three prisoners, as he imagined them to be.  Then again, he was not sure what to think.  “You are like a dog with a bone,” he said at last.

“I am,” Festuscato agreed.  “Last time I talked to Attila, that was more than fourteen years ago, it sounded like he had big plans.  What is it now, four-forty-nine, four-fifty AD?  I want to know what he is doing in case I have to stop him.”

“How do you propose to stop anything Attila does?” Heinz asked.

“You are not a superstitious man, are you?  Attila is a superstitious man, but you aren’t, are you?”  Heinz shook his head.  “Good,” Festuscato smiled and looked up a tree.  “Tulip.  You can come down now.  These are not bad men.  They are husbands and fathers and good sons concerned about their homes and families, as they should be.  Miss Tulip, please come to my shoulder.”  Something fluttered in the leaves before a streak of light raced to Festuscato’s shoulder to hide in his hair.

“I am asking,” Heinz said, as he and several of his men tried to get a glimpse of what it was.

“A bird?” one man wondered.

Tulip stuck her little face out from Festuscato’s red strands and shouted.  “I am not a bird.”  She disappeared again and tickled Festuscato’s ear.

“What?  Oh.  She says if you try to hurt any of us she will get her big brother to beat you up.”  Festuscato smiled and reached over to give Heinz a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Is she?”

“A fairy.”

Heinz laughed.  “Never fear, Miss Tulip?  I mean your friends no harm.”  Most of the men were smiling by then, but it all stopped when they heard a voice in the distance.

“Yahoo! Wait until you see what I found.”  Gregor one eye came riding up pulling a mule with two kegs of ale balanced over its back.  Gregor paused when he saw they had company, and Heinz and his men stood and stared until Heinz spoke.

“Lord Gregor?”

“Heinz, isn’t it?  You are all grown up.  After all these years, I can see I have some catching up to do.”

“Lord Gregor?”

“Lord Agitus.  Are these young boys bothering you?”  Wait.”  Gregor got down from his horse and stopped a few feet from the fire.  “Where is my little lady?”

“Hiding,” Festuscato said, and at the same time Tulip stuck her head out and gave Gregor the raspberries.  That set Gregor to laughing, and he slapped one of the Saxons hard on the shoulder.  The man had to catch himself to keep from falling.  He resumed his seat with a look of pain on his face and rubbed his shoulder.

“Lord Gregor?”

Luckless walked to the mule and interrupted.  “Human ale.  It’s better than piss water, but not by much.”

Bran finally asked.  “Lord Gregor?”

Heinz answered.  “Our king.”

Gregor sat by the fire.  “I went back to check out something in that last village we came through.  I was right.  The mule and the ale were just a bonus.”

“Right about what?” Tulip could be heard if not seen.

“Well, little lady, there was the mark of one of Attila’s sons left as a warning for others to find.  What game is Attila playing?”

“That is what I keep asking,” Festuscato admitted, and he stared at Heinz who appeared uncomfortable with the turn of events.  He sat and opened up.

“The talk is of war, and the Huns want to force all the Germans to fight for them.  They have cowed some of the tribes, but some are holding out.  I think they plan to invade Gaul.  They have it on good authority that General Aetius is in Italy and the one he left in charge in Gaul has just three legions available, and maybe half that in Auxiliary troops.  That is about twenty thousand men.  Attila can bring thirty thousand men by himself, maybe more, and if they can get that many Germans from the various tribes, they can go into the province with perhaps three times the Roman numbers.  But many of us are resisting.”

“My son?” Gregor asked.

Silence followed, for a moment, before Heinz pleaded.  “Forgive us, Lord.  Your son is a prisoner of Attila, a hostage, but when he was taken, he ordered us to resist, and we have resisted, though it has cost us in our homes.”

“Lord Agitus?”  Gregor did not hesitate to turn to Festuscato.

“Well, we will just have to get him back.  Tulip?”

“Maywood is my uncle and a king not far from here,” she said.

“There are two things we need to do right away,” Festuscato said.  “Maywood.”  He called in the right way, and the fairy king appeared out of thin air.  After a second to get his bearings, he approached Tulip and bowed in mid-air to Festuscato.

“Lord,” he said.

“Maywood.  I do not want you to put any of your people in danger.  We just need information.  If you would not mind, I would appreciate it if you would send out fliers to all of the Hun camps.  Anything they overhear about war objectives and Gaul would be helpful, but mostly I would like to know where Lord Gregor’s son is being held prisoner.  After that, I may need you and yours to carry some messages for me, to Thorismund, to some of the tribes that I know are not friends with the Huns, like the Samartians and Scythians, the Alans and so on, and Aldrien in Amorica.  I assume he is king now.”

“Aldrien passed away after ruling for twelve years,” Maywood said.  “His son, Budic is king now for these last two years.”

“Time has gotten away from me,” Festuscato admitted, and added quickly.  “That means fourteen years ago I was a brash youth who confronted the old king and took his younger brother on an adventure to Britannia.  Fourteen years.”  He repeated and shook his head until Tulip tugged on his hair and protested.

“And fifteen years since I have been in Saxony,” Gregor mused.

“Only about ten since you found me in Wales,” Luckless said as he struggled to open one keg.  “Most of that has been spent here, on the continent though, among the Jutes and Danes, Goths of all sorts and Germans of more types than can be counted.”

“You forgot all the different Iranian types and the Slavs,” Bran noted.  “And I was thinking when we left the Holy Land to return to the west, we might get back to civilized lands soon.”

“What is the second thing?” Heinz asked.  “You said there are two things we need to do right away.”

“Enjoy this venison, the veggie pot and the ale.  We can’t make good plans on an empty stomach.”

“Ha!” Gregor agreed.

Avalon 7.12 The Guns of Camelot, part 1 of 6

After 479 A.D. Britain

Kairos 97: Gerraint in the Time of King Arthur

Recording …

The travelers barely came through the time gate before they got surrounded by rough looking men on horseback, spears at the ready.  The men looked hardened by battle, but a bit afraid of something.  They did not move on their captives.

“Hold your fire,” Lockhart spoke generally to the air.  “No reason to start out on the wrong foot.  Which of you is in charge?”

One man moved forward, and the young man beside him came with him.  “I am Heinrich of the Sea, and this is my son, Heingurt.”

“Not much sea around here,” Lockhart said, and tried to smile.  “Lincoln,” he called.

“British highlands would be my guess.”  Lincoln compared his notes in the database with Boston’s amulet.  They sought the right map.

“You are Saxon?” Katie asked and stepped up beside Lockhart.

“Yes,” Heinrich said.  “And this is our land.”

“Fair enough,” Lockhart said.  “We are just passing though.  We will respect your land and be on our way.”

“Saxons,” Katie interrupted.  “This has to be when Britain slowly became England.  I bet this has not been Saxon land for very long.”

Before others could speak, the young man had questions he could not contain.  “Are you from the Lake of the Moon?  Do you know the Lady of the Lake?  I hear she is very beautiful.  Why did she not drive you mad?”

“Looking,” Lincoln said, while Katie and Lockhart turned to the older man to explain.

“We saw you appear out of nowhere, like a hole in the air.  Are you spirit people?”

“Only me,” Boston shouted, and leapt up on her horse, Strawberry.  She fluffed out her red hair and gave the Saxons a good elf-grin.

“We have one,” Lockhart admitted.  “We also travel with one of the elder races of the earth.  The rest of us are human, more or less, mostly.”

“What does that mean?” the young man spouted.  The older man quieted his son and spoke.

“Follow us.  We will take you to our village and our chief, Hans Bad-Hand.  He will decide.”

“Decide what?” Alexis asked Lincoln, softly.  Decker overheard and agreed.


The wraith appeared in the dungeon room beneath the great hall in Cadbury Castle.  The castle guard got locked up in the cells beneath the new tower, but the special prisoners were all kept in the original dungeon.  The wraith laughed, a wicked, evil sound that garnered everyone’s attention.  Seven-year-old Guimier barely kept herself from screaming.  She buried her face in her mother’s skirts.  Enid put one hand down to comfort her daughter.  Her other hand held on to Gwynyvar’s hand.  Arthur and Bedivere stepped in front of the women, to protect them, but they had no weapons, and they had no idea what they could do about a wraith.

“You are all here, but one, and he is on the way.”  The wraith spoke to them in a chilling voice that made Gwynyvar cover her own mouth against any untoward sound.  “Fear what is to come.  The wagons are nearly here with plenty of black powder.  When they arrive, you will become target practice.  Do you know what I mean, target practice?”

“Where is Odacer… and Harwic the blade?”  Arthur found the strength to protest in the face of that floating horror.  The wraith looked like a corpse in mid-air.  “I invited them to talk peace, not to make war.”

The wraith laughed again, and both Guimier and Gwynyvar softly shrieked, but refused to give in to the full-fledged scream. The wraith vanished as the cell door opened.  Gerraint, dragged by two big Saxons, got tossed into the room.  He collapsed to the straw covered stone floor, a bloody mess.

“Quick.  Help me get him to the cot,” Enid said.  Arthur and Bedivere got him lying down.  Gerraint moaned but did not show that he was conscious.  He had obviously been tortured.

“Daddy,” Guimier started to cry, and would have run to fling herself on him, but Gwynyvar caught her.  She hugged the girl and let her cry into her dress.

Bedivere stood and returned to the wall, where he tapped with the loose stone he found earlier.  “No secret passages in this dungeon,” he said, and turned to look at Arthur.

Arthur looked angry, in fact, he looked as angry as Bedivere had ever seen him.  He sounded angry.  “I am not the fool, but the lies these men told were masterful.  I honestly thought peace was possible with the Saxon shore.  It has been seven years since Badon.  I believed the Saxons had finally come to terms with their beating and were ready to make a more permanent peace.”  He sat heavily and Gwynyvar put Guimier in Enid’s arms so she could sit beside Arthur.

“Every right person wants peace,” Gwynyvar said, and she held him.  “Peace is one thing worth believing in.”  Arthur dropped his face into his hands as Gerraint moaned again.


Hans Bad-Hand looked over his guests.  They appeared to be three couples.  He did not like the look of the dark ones, Africans of some sort, he assumed.  The others looked normal enough, except the blonde’s husband had to duck to enter the house, as did the African.  Well, the third couple looked normal enough, until the black-haired woman mentioned that her husband only calls her a witch on her bad days.  Witchery from the woman would not surprise him.  He shifted his gaze to the window.

The old man outside had looked normal enough, and the young one that stayed outside with him might be his son.  The two girls that also stayed outside, though, made him thank the gods they did not come inside his home.  He could believe the red head was a spirit creature.  Just looking at her made is skin squirm.  He felt it all the way down in his bad hand.  The other one looked normal enough but appeared strong as an ox.  Even if she did not qualify as a spirit creature, he wondered if she might have some troll blood in her.  He turned to the group leader.

“I think you are not people to trifle with,” he said.  “Heinrich, you were right to bring them here.  You say you are just passing through.  May I ask where you came from?”  It was a loaded question.  He had been told they appeared out of thin air.

“The lake of the moon,” young Heingurt blurted out before his father hushed him.

“We don’t know what that is,” Katie said, kindly to the boy.

Lincoln cleared his throat as he got out the database to check.  “The Lake of the Moon is the place Rhiannon and her court went after Meryddin, that is, Merlin died.  She left her pet dragon in Brittany and escaped to the British highlands, so hers is not the dragon in these hills.’

“Rhiannon.  The Lady of the Lake,” Alexis said.

“The goddess?” Nanette asked, to be sure.

“I remember her from Greta’s day,” Katie said.  “She was very nice.”

“Ahem,” Hans Bad-Hand interrupted.  “If not the lake of the moon, where did you come from, if I may ask?”

People paused and looked at one another, but Lockhart did not see any harm in telling.  “An hour ago, we were in Italy, about two hundred miles north of Rome.”

“Worse than that,” Katie said.  “We were there when the Vandals sacked Rome.”

Heinrich gawked.  “That was a hundred years ago.”

“More like sixty years ago, I would guess,” Lincoln said.  “But right now, more importantly, we are looking for a man named Gerraint, the Lion of Cornwall.”  People looked at Lincoln and he realized he should not have said that.

“Ahh!” Hans shouted.  He took a deep breath before he calmly said, “I hope you intend to kill him.”

“Why is that?” Lockhart asked, and noticed Katie wanted him to be quiet, and Alexis tried to keep her husband quiet as well.”

“The Lion of Cornwall killed my brother at the mountain called Badon.”

Both Lincoln and Lockhart kept their mouths closed, so Decker spoke up.  “I am sure it was a fair fight.”

Hans Bad-Hand growled, but Heinrich spoke.  “It was in battle.  It was a fair fight.  What do you think, Brennan?”  He turned to the local man in the house who had thus far said nothing.  The man looked at the chief, but Hans Bad-Hand looked away, and looked like he was going to stew for a while, so Brennan spoke, and with a slightly different accent.

“I am from the village over the hill.  My people have been in these mountains for centuries.  About your sixty years ago, maybe more, there were reports of dragons in these hills.  At that time, many people moved from here down to man the forts in the old Roman wall.  These people are newcomers.”  He indicated Heinrich and his chief.  “They settled in this abandoned village about three years ago, now.  We were all afraid at first.  There has been too much war between my people and the German people.  But we made peace.  We trade.  It is good to have neighbors again.”

Heinrich smiled.  “Enough, Brennan.  The man will start in on the whole ancestry of his family if I let him.  Stick with the question.”

“Fair fight?” Brennan said, with another glance at Hans Bad-Hand.  “Yes.  I am sure it was a fair fight.  My uncle was there, fighting on the other side, of course.  But, like I said, there has been too much fighting and killing over the years.  Peace is better.”

Hans Bad-Hand sighed.  “Peace is better,” he agreed, and asked no more questions.

After that, and a slim lunch, the travelers got ready to leave.  When Brennan found out they were headed in his direction, he offered to guide them down, out of the mountains.  “The dragon is still around here, somewhere, you know.”

“At what price?” Lincoln asked before they went any further.

“Maybe, one gold piece, if you got one.”  Brennan grinned and held out his hand.

“When we are free of dragon lands,” Lincoln said, and Brennan shrugged.  He expected that.

R6 Festuscato: 10 Londugnum, part 1 of 2

Festuscato, Bran, Julius, King Ban, Cador of Cornwall, and the Welshmen, Hywel and Ogryvan, walked the battlefield, remembering and honoring the dead.  Constans walked with them and tried to pay attention, but Vortigen sounded like a fly in his ear and kept distracting him.  Gaius and Seamus, along with two local priests, and a host of monks and nuns from the nearest monastery, also walked the battlefield, but they were giving the last rites and directing the soldiers to cart off those who had a chance of survival.

Festuscato kept one eye out for Gorund, but the Saxon was not to be found.  All the same, he imagined Gorund would not be a problem after this slaughter.  In fact, the Saxons overall should be quiet for a number of years.  There would be peace for a time, and Festuscato felt the need to point that out over supper.  He stood to speak.

“Take the time of peace to strengthen the ties between you.  Do not go back to your isolation and personal problems.  Visit one another, now that you have gotten to know each other, and support each other as you support the Pendragon and this place of sanctuary. The Irish, the Saxons, the Picts and the rest want to keep you weak and divided, but united you can beat back the tide of chaos that is overwhelming Rome.  With apologies to Constantine, I say use the Pendragon.  He is not there for any one of you, but for all of you together.  It is in his own best interests to judge fairly and not show favoritism.  The judgment might not go in your favor, but it is not his desire to piss you off.”

The chiefs and lords around the table understood well enough, so Festuscato added a last note.  “And do not fail to send your men out when the call comes.  Do not think they keep fighting far away from home, for other lords in other lands, because they will be fighting to keep the border secure, and that will keep your land secure even if you do not live on the border. Also, if the day comes when the call goes out because your lands are in danger, there will be plenty of fighters loyal to other lords and from other lands who will come and fight for you.” Point made, Festuscato sat down, and in the morning at dawn, he and his friends left town.


“I won’t see you again,” Constantine surmised.

“To be honest, the longer I stay in Greater Britain at this point, the more I risk screwing up history.”  Festuscato spoke straight forward, but only Mirowen understood because of years of long conversations when Festuscato was young. “But I tell you what.  Give Ivy a kiss when she has another son.”

“Ivy is pregnant?  Why would Constans not tell me?”

“Oh, I don’t know if she is pregnant, but given those two being so much in love, I figure it is only a matter of time.” Constantine smiled, and as Festuscato pulled away to ride off, Mirowen at his side, he whispered to her.  “I like to leave them smiling.”

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 2 of 3

“Lord,” Mousden met them at the door, flapping away furiously with his wings, fear and excitement etched across his face.  “The Saxons are gathering on the edge of town. What are we going to do?”

“Talk first, I hope,” Festuscato said.  “You go back up on the roof with Colan where you can be safe.”

“Safe until they burn the building down,” Mousden screeched, but he went, and Festuscato called to Dibs and Bran.  He handed Bran the cross and Dibs the chalice and he stepped out, through the barricade at the wall.  Gareth and the others followed.  “Look mean,” he said, “And Abbot, keep your mouth shut about Saint Dylan, if you want to keep your relics and live.”

They stopped half-way to the Saxon line and did not have to wait long before a delegation of Saxons came to meet them. One of the Saxons, a big man recognized the dragon tunic Festuscato, Bran and Dibs wore.  He shouted.  “Dragon. I should have known it was you.”

The man had to get closer before Festuscato recognized him.  “Coleslaw!”

“Herslaw,” the man roared and pulled his sword. Festuscato reciprocated and the two crossed swords in a fight to the death.  Herslaw got a couple of good punches into Festuscato’s side, but he probably hurt his hand worse than he bruised Festuscato.  He struck, almost berserker-style with his big sword, but Wyrd moved too swift and subtle, and Festuscato proved far too skilled to let the big man land a blow.  At last, Festuscato pulled Defender, and while he parried with his sword, he ran Defender across the man’s throat.

Two of the Saxons stood and stared at the outcome. The third one stepped over and kicked Herslaw after he fell to the dirt.  “We still have the men and numbers to overwhelm you.” he said, and stared down one of the other chiefs with him.

“But why?  I am offering you the riches of Branwen’s Cove; the jeweled cross, the silver chalice and the golden candlesticks.  There is no more.  True, you can attack and watch, what, half or more of your men die only to find out it was all for nothing?  Or you can take the gold and silver and leave in one piece.  The choice is yours.  Pinewood!” Festuscato gave the Saxons no time to think before he called for the fairy.  Pinewood appeared out of thin air and flew once around the group to get his bearings before he got big and fell to one knee.


“I need to ask about the army, but hold on one second.” Festuscato took the gold and silver and the cross and handed them to the Saxons with a word.  “Be sure and tell everyone that you have everything of value so do not come here.  The only other thing these poor people have is rocks in the ground, isn’t that right Gareth?”

“True enough,” the Abbot said.  “And all those stones make it hard to grow grain.”

“And I would hate to have my friends track you down for going against my good advice; though I suppose you would hate that worse.” He turned his back on them and brought Pinewood to his feet, and asked as he walked away, “So tell me about the disposition of the army.”

“Which army would that be?  The Irish army under Sean Fen that is headed for Caerdyf or the Saxon army under Gorund said to be preparing to attack Cadbury?”

“Fudge.”  Festuscato did not want to say anything worse with the Abbot close behind.

That evening, Festuscato sent Pinewood back home with a word for Constantine in Cadbury.  The Pendragon needed to defend the place of sanctuary.  He would raise what troops he could in Wales and be along as soon as he dealt with the Irish around Caerdyf.  Then he asked Pinewood to send word to all the little ones in Wales and ask for volunteers against the Irish.

“And in Britain and Cornwall to defend Cadbury?” Pinewood asked.

“No.  I am sure Julius and Drucilla have already seen to that.”

“I am sure they have,” Pinewood said with a grin, and left.

“Fudge.”  Festuscato tried the word again.


Captain Breok and his crew opted to stay in Branwen’s Cove and help the people rebuild while they waited for the next merchant ship to pull into the cove.  Hopefully, they could hitch a ride back to Lyoness, or close enough.  Festuscato offered enough funds to cover some of the loss after the cost of passage.  Festuscato, however, knew he could not sit around, so he bargained with the monks to secure six horses, expecting Mousden to ride behind Mirowen, and as near to saddles as they could find.  The monks and the people of Branwen’s Cove offered what supplies they had for free, figuring they would have all been killed without Festuscato’s help.  The group said thanks and waited long enough for Gaius to say a mass of thanksgiving in the church before they headed off into the Welsh interior.

The centerpiece in North Wales was the town around the fort of Ogryvan.  They hoped for a pleasant visit, but Ogryvan got angry to hear about the Saxons in Branwen’s Cove.  “Haven’t we enough trouble with the Picts and Ulsterites without adding murdering Saxons to the mix?” he raved.  “At least you Romans scared them well enough, but then you left and we have had to fend for ourselves.  The whole of the Welsh shore has become a hunting ground for thieves.”

“Right enough,” Festuscato responded.  “But as your druid friend Meryddin here will tell you, at Caerdyf we have an opportunity to deal a crippling blow to the Irish pirates, and then in Cadbury we can beat back the Saxons and make them think twice before they come up again on our land.”

Festuscato did not stay long.  Meryddin made him uncomfortable, but Ogryvan agreed to send what men he could raise in the north.  Festuscato did not expect much.  He hoped central Wales might be more conducive to the idea, being closer to the action and a possible target after Caerdyf.

Chief Bryn ap Trefor sat at the table grinning like the chimpanzee who found a ripe banana.  They waited for Bryn’s friend, Chief Dyrnwch of the Mabon Hills.  Bryn told them all about Chief Dyrnwch, such tales of daring and such feats of wonder, Seamus and Mousden became convinced Dyrnwch must be a giant.  Dibs thought Bran was big enough.  He could not imagine one bigger, until Gaius mentioned Goliath.  “The problem is,” Festuscato whispered to Mirowen.  “I knew a Dyrnwch once, and he was a real giant.” They heard something.

R6 Festuscato: 8 Branwen’s Cove, part 1 of 3

The port at Branwen’s Cove seemed a bustling Welsh port in the northwest corner of the Welsh coast, at least as far as any port could bustle between visits by Irish pirates and Pictish and Saxon raiders. Captain Breok’s ship sailed in on the morning tide and his passengers were set to have a day ashore while he dropped off the sheep and picked up a load of stone for the fort and city wall building at Caerdyf.  While Mirowen, Mousden and Bran walked toward the town, the Priests said they wanted to visit the only church.  It had been attached to a monastery where a dozen monks of an unapproved order scratched out a living on a nearby hillside, growing stubborn grain and raising horses. Festuscato and Dibs opted for the nearest pub and they all agreed to meet there after their errands.  They were still on the dock laughing when the Saxons came out of the town and three Saxon warships came around the bend in the cove.

“Captain Breok.  Treeve.”  Everyone shouted, but the crew had already abandoned ship and headed for them as their only safe bet.  Festuscato, Bran and Dibs drew their swords, and Mirowen pulled out her bow to take the point.  Mousden screamed a lot and hid himself between the Gaius and Seamus.  With the crew following, they ran into the dozen Saxons sent to take and guard the docks for the oncoming ships.

The fight became brutal.  Seven Saxons went down, and three crew members.  Dibs took a cut in his hand, though not a bad one and he called it a stupid mistake; but the other three Saxons ran back into the town, which had started to burn.

“This way.”  A man in a plain brown robe looked around the corner, even as Captain Breok looked back.  The Saxon warships would be at the dock in a minute.  They really had no choice.  “Fathers. This way.”  The man pleaded, and they followed him down into a gully along the back side of some houses.  They were headed toward the monastery.  Many of the townspeople were just ahead of them, and the Saxons came a step behind.

Festuscato pulled out his bow as the crew ran past. Mirowen joined him, and they shot and mostly wounded some fifteen Saxons that came three or four at a time.  By the time they turned, the people were at the monastery, behind a four-foot stone wall, dragging whatever they could find to reinforce the barricade and fill the gap at the entrance.  Festuscato traded places with Gerraint, since he remembered the gift of elf speed, and Gerraint and Mirowen both ran at top speed, right over the barricade and into the courtyard.  Festuscato came right back, but he felt the exhilaration of that speed, and his adrenaline pumped wildly.

“Lord Agitus,” Gaius called.  “Send the wounded in to the common room with the women and children.”

Festuscato waved and jumped up on the nearest wagon. “Listen up.  Everybody pay attention.  Listen.”  Dibs, Bran and Treeve shouted the same, and the crowd quieted for a moment.  “Men grab whatever weapon you can and get to the wall.  Children and women inside with the wounded, unless you women know how to shoot a bow or want to fight beside your men.  Get to the wall and look mean.”  He jumped down and added for Dibs and Bran, “The only way to keep the Saxons out is to make it look too costly to attack.”  He added one more shout.  “Seamus, put down that book and help.”  He walked the wall where the men and some women stood on buckets, barrels, and behind upside-down wagons or whatever they could find to put their face above the wall. One of the monks came out with two dozen bows and dozens of arrows.

“A hobby,” the monk said.  “I make these because even we have to hunt now and then.”

Quiet followed, for several hours, while the people watched their homes burn, their town turn to ashes, and Captain Breok lamented the loss of his ship.  Festuscato sent Colan and Mousden to the roof to keep an eye on the enemy while he looked around.  Bran and two young monks, Cedrych and Madog secured the back door and set a watch to be sure the Saxons did not try to sneak around the monastery building to come at them from the rear.  Seamus, two older monks and several women also went out back to check the barn, the stables, and inventory their food supplies in case they were stuck for a while. Dibs and Treeve, the nearest Festuscato had to officers, organized the men and women on the wall and made sure the bows got into the right hands, and the rest had weapons of one sort or another.

“It is about all we can do for now until we see what the Saxons have in mind,” Festuscato told Gareth, the Abbot.  He claimed to be the third Abbot since Saint Dylan founded the monastery by the sea some eighty years earlier.

“We hold the saint’s bones and relics in the church,” Gareth explained.  “It is said when fishermen from the village are long at sea, the women come here to ask the saint to send them home, and he sends them home safe.”

Festuscato nodded and stepped into the church where Mirowen caught up.  “Lord,” she said.  “I have the young people, and by that, I mean those under thirteen, pledged to defend the mothers and babies and those too old to fight, though there are not many who admit they are too old.  Gaius has the wounded to tend.  One man and one woman are in danger, but most have minor cuts, and one has a broken arm.”

“I should let Greta look at the arm,” Festuscato said.

“Yes, Lord.  Gaius says he will be needed to hear confessions.”

“We rarely have a true Priest among us,” Gareth admitted.  “We are such a poor and small community.”

“You have no riches.  You only have rocks,” Festuscato agreed.  “Which is why I want to see what might bring the Saxons here. At the risk of sounding like a late medieval cliché, I need to look at your altar.”

“It is true,” Gareth said.  “The only thing we have in abundance is stone in our fields. It does not help us grow our grain.”

The cross on the altar was wood, but inlaid with gold, silver and several precious stones.  The chalice appeared pure silver, and the candlesticks, pure gold.  “The candlesticks,” Festuscato said while he grabbed the cross and chalice.  Mirowen took the candlesticks.

“Wait.  What are you doing?” Gareth did not protest so much as he simply did not understand. “These are holy.  They belong to the church.  They are not to be taken.” Gareth got in their way.  “Where do you think you are going?”

Festuscato paused.  “Abbot.  What do you think God cares more about, the lives of all those innocent men, women and children, or this gold and silver?  Trinkets can be remade.  You think about that.”  He brushed passed the Abbot and Mirowen stayed with him.

R6 Festuscato: 5 Pirates and Saxons, part 3 of 3

Once inside the gate, Festuscato grabbed the old man from the group that appeared around the parley.  “Macreedy,” He knew who it was.  “Why are you here.”

Macreedy put up his hands to forestall any anger. “There are only thirty of us, and we have come to protect my niece, Mirowen, and her ward, Mousden, and that’s all. You humans can play whatever game you want, as long as Mirowen is safe.”

Festuscato frowned, while Macreedy waited to see how his half-lie got taken.  Festuscato decided keeping Mirowen and Mousden safe was a valid concern, but Mousden would probably hide.  Mirowen would pull out her bow and wade into the midst of the fighting, but if Macreedy and his supposed thirty elves could keep her from serious injury, Festuscato would not quibble about how many Saxons they killed.

“All right.  Spread your men out along the wall, only keep a strong glamour on to appear human, please.  The best way to protect Mirowen will be to keep the Saxons from breaking into the fort.”

“Yes, Lord.”  Macreedy let go of his breath.  “To the wall,” Macreedy shouted, and his men appeared with dragon tunics, already on the wall, anticipating the attack.  Festuscato rolled his eyes, but said no more until Mirowen stepped up beside him and confessed.

“You wouldn’t let me go to the parley, so I called my uncle.  Sorry you weren’t here to ask.”

Festuscato only said one thing.  “Elf.”  It did not get kindly spoken.

MacNeill and Patrick looked over the wall at the gathering Saxons.  The Saxons had no siege equipment, not even ladders to scale the nine feet of wall, but even with men from the village added, the Saxons had twice the number of defenders.  The Saxons probably also thought that apart from the twenty or thirty men who worked more directly for MacNeill and acted something like soldiers, the rest likely did not have the stomach for a real fight.  They concluded that this would not take long, and the only reason the Saxons paused before attacking the fort was to visually determine where the weak spots might be in order to concentrate on those places.

Festuscato walked up and down the length of the wall. “Keep down,” he shouted.  Get your bows ready, but don’t stand and fire until I yell fire.  Don’t expose yourselves until I yell fire.  Bows ready, but heads down until I yell fire.”

All this time, Donogh kept Clugh entertained in the lair, and kept him quiet, but it became impossible to avoid the tension and excitement in the air.  Donogh felt it just outside the cave entrance, so Clugh certainly felt it. People say dragons can smell fear, but the truth is more complicated than that.  They can actually sense things like stress, worry, apprehension and the like and feel the general emotional state in the air around them, even if there is something near, like someone invisible that they cannot see or smell or hear.  That is why it is all but impossible to sneak up on a dragon, unless the dragon is sleeping, but as said, waking a sleeping dragon is not recommended.

“Wait until I say fire.  Ready.  Heads down,” Festuscato jumped up beside the Lord and the Bishop.

“I see you found some friends,” MacNeill said and pointed at a nearby man in a dragon tunic.

“These are not like the glorious ones that shined even in the dim light of dusk,” Patrick said.  “There is something more earthy and humble in these.”

“Like Mirowen,” Gaius said, as he stepped up beside the others.  Festuscato said nothing.  He took a good look at the enemy and jumped down to continue his walk up and down the back of the wall.

“Heads down.  Bows ready.  Wait until I yell fire.”

Clugh came out of the cave despite Donogh’s protests.  Seamus was there, but it did not help.  The people who did not find a place inside Lord MacNeill’s manor house, or in the barracks, or out back by the blacksmith’s and other shops, backed up as far as they could.  Some screamed on sight of the dragon, but not many noticed, concentrating as they were on the coming battle.  Festuscato ignored the interruption and kept walking up and down the back of the wall, yelling in as calm a voice as he could muster.

“Keep down and be ready.  Not until I yell fire.”

“Donogh, lad.  Clugh can’t be out here,” Seamus said,

Donogh had one hand on the back of Clugh’s neck, where the dragon liked it, but Clugh squirmed and Donogh appeared anxious himself, so the scratches behind the ears did not really help.

“Ready,” Festuscato yelled.  They heard the Saxons begin to scream their war cries.  They would scream wildly for a minute or so, a technique intended to unnerve their enemy.  “Ready,” Festuscato repeated as he jumped up to the back of the wall.  He raised his hand and waited while he looked up and down the line.  Men here and there could not help a peek at the assembled Germanic horde.  Some chose not to look.  Generally, the only heads above the wall were MacNeill, Patrick, Festuscato and Gaius, and they stared, and not one of them looked concerned.

“Ready.”  Festuscato yelled, though it became hard to hear him above the Saxon din.  The Saxons charged.  They did not have much ground to cover, but Festuscato immediately lowered his hand to point at the enemy and he yelled, “Fire!”  Knowing he would be hard to hear, he yelled it several times, up and down the wall.  “Fire. Fire.”  He knew the elves would hear, and spaced as they were among the men, when they stood, the men stood and the arrows flew.  He did not know Clugh would hear, and fire was one word the dragon knew.

More than thirty Saxons got dropped in the first volley.  Whether they were dead or wounded hardly mattered.  They were taken out of the action.  Another twenty fell quickly, but then the Saxons raised their shields and began to fire back, so the third volley looked much less effective.

The Saxons chose their targets well.  There were a few places along the wall where the wood had sufficiently splintered from age or got wobbly in construction so men could get handholds and climb.  The gate got the makeshift battering ram the Saxons made from a whole log taken from a house in town.  But even as Gaius started suggesting it would be inevitable that the Saxons get in, Clugh could not contain himself.  He took to the air when Festuscato yelled and, on seeing the Saxons roaring, Clugh roared and came in like a dive bomber spewing flame everywhere.  Part of the fort wall got set on fire, and one Saxon became totally crisped while quite a few were badly burned.  To be sure, when Clugh landed and roared, every Saxon within flame range turned and fled.  That seemed all it took to get the whole lot of Saxons to run.  They dragged off some of their burnt and wounded, to their credit as soldiers, but they did not stop long enough to see if some of their men might be saved.  The ones who could not even limp were abandoned.

Once Clugh landed, he slithered to the crisped Saxon and bit off the dead man’s head.  No doubt he found it tasty, but with that, Festuscato sighed.  He knew once Clugh got a taste for human flesh, he would not be contained, no matter how well the Agdaline command words were pronounced.

“Lord.  Save Clugh,” Donogh yelled as he came up alongside the others and stood on his toes to look out over the top of the wall.

“I cannot help the dragon.”  Festuscato spoke gently to the boy.  “But maybe the Lady can.  Maybe mother can help.”  Donogh and Seamus thought he spoke of Greta, but he meant Danna, and he traded places with her through time and immediately became invisible.  She floated down to the dragon where she became visible again and calmed the beast.

“Mother,” Clugh said, but Danna shook her head and lifted her voice.

“Rhiannon.  Come here. I need you.”  She spoke, not a harsh call, but a request, and Rhiannon appeared, her face full of curiosity.  “Rhiannon, dear.  You need to take this beast and keep him from people.  He has tasted human flesh, so now there is no turning back.”

“Mother.  I have nowhere to keep such a creature.”

“Well, it is either that or I have to put him down. And he is still such a youngster, you know, a child in need of a good mother.”

Rhiannon screwed up her face.  “You cheat,” she declared.  “What am I going to do with a dragon?”

“I was thinking.” Danna folded her arms and put a finger to her temple.

“A dangerous sign,” Rhiannon admitted, but she waited for the shoe to drop.

“There is a lake on the edge of Amorican territory in the forest called Vivane.  Do you know it?”  Rhiannon nodded so Danna continued.  “The naiad there is getting elderly, but she is very nice.  I am sure she would not mind if you built a castle on the small island in the middle of the lake.  There are plenty of spirits who live in the forest.  You could hold court there and keep Clugh as a pet.”

“And why would I want to do all that?”

“Because your work will come to you there.  I have seen it.”

“You have seen the future?”

“No, I live there, remember?”  Danna stepped up and kissed her many times distant daughter. “I have tweaked the image of mother in the dragon’s mind so you will fill the role, only don’t get too attached. Leave him in Amorica, and one day this male will sire babies, I think.”

“But you just told me to go to Amorica.  Now why are you telling me to leave him there?”

Danna shrugged.  “Just don’t get too attached.”

“Mother.  Why do you have to be so mean to me?”  Rhiannon reached out to pet the dragon and Clugh purred.

“Because you don’t belong here, you should be over on the other side.”

Rhiannon said nothing.  She looked unhappy but disappeared, and took the dragon with her. Danna reappeared on the wall and went away so Festuscato could return.  He smiled for his friends before he hugged Donogh.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “Rhiannon will take good care of Clugh.”

“The goddess?” Donogh wiped an eye. Festuscato looked briefly at Patrick.

“And should no longer be here, but out of Ireland at least.  And Danna should not be here, either.  She knows that.  I’m sorry. The new way has come.”

“The old way has gone, though stubbornly I see.” Patrick turned his back and said no more.



R6 Festuscato: 6 The Witch of Balmoor.  Don’t Miss it.  Until Monday, Happy Reading