R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 3 of 3

“Galla Placidia,” Festuscato made it a show.  “You are looking as lovely as I remember.”

“Your memory must be faulty,” the old woman said, but she held her hand out for Festuscato to kiss her ring.  “Your governess, though, has not aged a day since we last met.”

“Alas, her people do not show their age in the same way as us mere mortals,” he sighed. “And this lovely child beside you?”

“My sister,” Valentinian stated the obvious

“Justa Grata Honoria,” Galla Placidia said, flatly.

Festuscato took the girl’s hand and kissed the back of her hand.  “The pleasure is all mine.”  He turned the girl’s hand over and kissed her palm before he let go. “Honoria is a lovely name.”  The young woman blushed and looked tongue tied. “But here, I am taking up your valuable time with pleasantries.  I understand you have important business in mind.”  He turned again to Valentinian.  “I am yours to command.”  He bowed again.


Galla Placidia had a small packet of letters in her lap.  She wasted no time.  “Your father served the Empire well for many years in Britannia before we withdrew our legions from that island.  It was hoped that the free people might continue to prosper, but that has not been the case.  Indeed, they have reverted to petty, tribal squabbling as bad as reported in the memoirs of Julius Caesar himself.  This would be no concern for us, but the church has appealed for help, and we have caught wind of the fact that the Huns are preparing an invasion.  Your friend, Bishop Guithelm has written to us and to the Pope, and the Pope himself has appealed to us to do something. Therefore, we have determined to send you, young Lord Agitus, in your father’s place, to see if there is anything that may be done to protect and defend the church there.  Personally, I believe my concerns about you have proved true. You are a cad and a bad seed.  But you are also a man of rank, Vir Illustris, and have been generous to the state.  Therefore, an acceptable solution is to send you as far away from here as you can be sent.”  She grinned, cruelly.  “And wish you Godspeed.”

Festuscato stared at the woman with an absolute straight face.  “And yet you know I am honest, and as trustworthy as the most loyal lapdog.  And you know I am bright, and no fool.  I can assure you, if there is a way to resolve the troubles in Britannia, I will find it.”

“Yes,” Galla Placidia sighed and held out the letters.  “This I also know.”

Valentinian did not entirely follow the exchange.  Neither did Honoria.  She looked too busy swallowing Festuscato with her eyes and ignored the whole exchange. Licinia Eudoxia may have understood some of the dynamics, but she looked too busy being pregnant and getting uncomfortable having to sit for so long.

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus.”  Valentinian had been handed two scrolls by a counselor.  “Your imperial appointment is a two-edged sword.  I appoint you with the military rank of Comes Britanniarum. You may appoint whatever Dux Britannia or Dux Bellorum as you see fit.  I also appoint you Legatis Augusti pro Praetore for the free province of Britain. This is a consular appointment. You answer to no one but me.”

Festuscato took the two scrolls and thought a minute.  “I understand there is no commission to support these appointments. I will make this effort at my own expense, and gladly for your sake and for the Empire.  But between that and continuing to support you here, I ask that you go lightly on any new taxes you devise in my absence.”  He looked at Galla Placidia and she gave a slight nod of assurance.  “I also understand there are no legions to be spared, nor do I ask for any.  The people of Britain will need to find their own path to peace and a show of force from Rome might be the worst option.  But, the alps and certain parts of Gaul, despite Lord Aetius’ valiant efforts, remain treacherous.  May I take the Centurion Julius and his company of misfits to guard the way?”

“Please.  Be my guest.” Valentinian said, a bit quickly, but a glance at his mother assured him she had no objections.  “I only wish there was more we could do.”

“My Emperor,” Festuscato made another quick bow before his countenance changed and his words softened.  “My good friend.  I will endeavor to always bring honor to your name.”  He turned, and Mirowen turned with him.  Julius gave another salute and fell in behind before Valentinian bounded from the throne.

“Wait a moment.” They waited and Valentinian took Festuscato’s elbow and pulled him aside.  He whispered.  “What did you mean when you said your governess’ people don’t show age the way we mortals do?”

Festuscato glanced back, as if to be sure they were not overheard.  “She is an elf.  A house elf to be more precise.”

“No. Really?  No.”  Valentinian did not know what to say.

“Rule well. And love that baby girl.  I think your wife may need to stand up for a while.”

“Eh?” Valentinian looked.  “You may be right.”  He backed off and waved.

That evening, a messenger came for Festuscato.  The lady Honoria requested his presence to explain how he hoped to bring peace in such a faraway land.  Fortunately, Mirowen got busy repacking the wagon that barely got unpacked, so she was not there to stop him.  In the morning, Festuscato said he really had to go while it was still dark. Honoria reached for the back of his head and smiled, like she was not about to let him go.

“When times are hard on this road I travel, it is the memory of your smile that will help me carry on.”

“Mother was right,” she said.  “You are a cad.”

“Cad Illustris, first class,” he admitted.

“Oh, shut-up and kiss me again.”  And she pulled his head down to her on the bed while he covered them again with her blanket and thought he might never get betrothed, if he could help it.


Next Monday:  Festuscato, Over the Alps.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading



R5 Festuscato: The Cad in Ravena, part 2 of 3

Festuscato cut the centurion off and put his hand out for the papers.  The man handed them over, and then Festuscato had to gently slap Mirowen’s hand and hunch over to keep Gaius from reading over his shoulder. He read quickly and handed Mirowen the papers.

“It seems we have an audience with the Emperor.  It suggests we may be sent to Britain, though I cannot imagine why.  So, tell me, when Mother says jump, does my old buddy Valentinian still ask, how high?”

The centurion smiled, but wisely did not answer that question.  Fortunately, food and drink started to arrive.

“Ah, good.” Festuscato said.  He helped set the trays down so the girls could scamper off to fetch more.  “You should bring your century up on to the property.  I suspect we will be a while, packing.”  He nodded toward Mirowen and winked.  The centurion understood.  Mirowen simply returned the gentle slap on Festuscato’s hand.  Festuscato ignored her and continued talking.  “Besides, I want to see the expression on Velleius Fulvia’s face when he sees I have my own century.  I bet he runs right out to get one.”

“It is a game they play,” Mirowen said, as she handed the papers to Gaius.

“I call it, neighbor see, neighbor do.”  Festuscato called, “Mister March.”

“Sir.”  The old man came out from the corner where he had been hiding in the shadows, listening to every word.

“See if you can open a keg of that special ale when the century gets settled.”

“Very good sir.”

Gaius handed back the papers.  “It definitely suggests Britain.”

“We will have to see who among the tenants and such might want to go home.”

Mirowen spoke plainly to the centurion.  “It will take at least a month to close up our affairs here and pack for the journey.”

The centurion nodded.  “The former regent suggested you might need two months.”

“Don’t say it.” Festuscato was not fast enough.

“Too late,” Gaius confirmed, and Mirowen took the full two months to get ready.

Festuscato spent the time getting to know Julius and his Sergeant Marcellus, usually in a martial way.  They had practice swords, rode with spears where they stabbed at targets, wrestled in the Greek style, and practiced with their bows.  Julius needed the work-outs.  He was in danger of becoming a lazy officer.  Marcellus seemed fairly young for a sergeant, in his early thirties, but a proficient soldier who privately appreciated Festuscato getting his centurion in shape.

Marcellus was short and broad-chested.  The men said he always won at wrestling.  Festuscato ended the man’s winning streak with a couple of judo throws and holds, and just enough aikido to keep the bear hug at bay.  With the sword and spear, they were all on more even ground, but Festuscato could ride like he became part of the horse, and the horse would respond and do things that some said they never saw a horse do before.

It started roughly six years earlier, at age sixteen.  Festuscato suddenly found the idea of hunting exciting.  He found his horse responsive to him in a way it had never responded before.  And he found his ability with a bow and arrow unequalled among men.  Mirowen said he even surpassed her, though he disagreed. He never saw anyone as good as her.

Festuscato pondered his sudden near superhuman abilities for a long time, until he remembered Diogenes and the Princess were what he called genetic reflections.  He understood that every life he lived had a genetic reflection somewhere in history, and he concluded that his female reflection must have been gifted, possibly by the goddess Diana herself, somewhere in the deep past when she turned sixteen.  He marveled at what he could do, and he was just reflecting her gifts. He could not imagine what she must have been able to do.  He tried to find her in the time stream, but she seemed cut off from him at present. That felt typical.  Out of more than one hundred and forty lifetimes, Storyteller’s estimate, he would probably only remember twenty or thirty in his lifetime.

The century had a man, Tiberius, who had been best with a bow.  Festuscato fired an arrow which knocked Tiberius’ arrow aside in mid-air. With hardly a breath, he shot a second arrow which struck the bull’s-eye dead center.  To be sure, Festuscato spent most of those two months working with the century, on their skills and getting them in shape.  Those forty men, hardly a century, claimed to be misfits and leftovers.  They weren’t by the time they marched into Ravena.

Festuscato got called to an audience with the Emperor as soon as he arrived.  Julius and Mirowen went with him, though Mirowen complained at not being allowed to unpack.  Julius saluted and introduced them.  Mirowen curtsied and stayed down until invited to rise.  Festuscato looked straight into the scowling face of the Emperor and defied etiquette as he spoke before spoken to.

“Valentinian, my old friend, how have you been?  I see you have grown well, and married, I understand.  Good or you.”

Valentinian’s face turned from scowling to curiosity.  “We have met before?”

“Of course. In the Curia in Rome.  I was nine and you were almost seven.  I remember that.  Almost seven.”  Mirowen’s hand reached up and pinched Festuscato in his side to get him to shut-up. In that moment, the scowl moved to Galla Placidia’s face, one step down from the throne, but the light came to Valentinian’s face.

“Festuscato. I knew that I knew the name Agitus.” He glanced at his mother as he stood. “Good to see you again.  Did you marry?  Is this your wife?  Please rise.” Mirowen stood and the scowl on Galla Placidia’s face got temporarily interrupted by a gasp.

“Alas,” Festuscato shook the Emperor’s hand.  “Mirowen remains my governess, though these days she prefers the name, housekeeper. She really spends most of her time trying to keep me on the straight and narrow.”  He winked at the Emperor.  “Not married,” he sighed.  “I’m afraid no young woman in Rome will have me.”  He turned to whisper.  “Though I have had a share of them.”  He returned to a normal voice.  “And this must be your wife.”  He went to the obvious seat at the right hand of the throne where a young woman fidgeted.

“Licinia Eudoxia,” Valentinian showed her off.

“Festuscato,” he introduced himself and offered a slight bow before he noticed she was seriously pregnant.  “But wait. Don’t tell me.”  He put one hand out and made noises that would make a carnival owner proud.  “I see. I see a little girl.”  He smiled.

“Are you a seer?” Licinia asked, with genuine interest.

“Sadly, I am a guesser, but I have a fifty-fifty chance of being right.”

Valentinian smiled and leaned over to his wife.  “If I remember right, I think Festuscato sees more than just about anyone.”

“Speaking of which, I must give my greetings to your mother.”  Festuscato looked at the Emperor who had a question in his eyes. “Must be polite,” he said, and Valentinian acquiesced.  Festuscato saw Mirowen with the former Regent.  Galla Placidia appeared to have tears in her eyes.  The young woman, obviously Valentinian’s older sister, comforted her, as did Mirowen.  Valentinian stood back to watch, expecting fireworks.

R5 Festuscato: Wild and Dangerous, part 3 of 3

After a while, Mirowen spoke to Festuscato, softly.

“Diogenes or no Diogenes, you are still too young.  Let Atias and Roan deal with Castinus.”

“I am young,” Festuscato admitted.  “Let them handle it,” he decided, but when he thought of his mother and father, he wanted to take it back.  He wanted to change his mind, but he didn’t.

MIrowen, whom Mister March and the others sometimes called Princess, took over the running of the household in Festuscato’s name.  She brought in some of her own people to fill the gaps left by those who died in the assault.  Of course, she made sure they maintained glamours at all times to appear as human as possible, and while the remaining British servants found them odd, they got along well enough.

Festuscato turned nine the following year and in October received the letter intended for his father.  He got commanded to attend a special meeting of the Senate where Valentinian III and his mother Galla Placidia would be present and introduced to the Vir Illustris as Emperor and Regent.

“But it will be nothing but long winded speeches and boring stuff,” Festuscato complained.  Mirowen made him dress all the same and stay clean all morning.  They rode to the Senate building, guarded by four men dressed as house guards.  Festuscato did not ask what kind of men they were.  To be honest, he did not want to know.

When they arrived at the Curia, the long-winded speeches had already begun.  The great bronze doors opened, and as they walked in, Festuscato hoped he could find a comfortable place at the back where he could take a snooze.  No such luck. The man on the floor paused while a man at the back announced him.

“Bring him here,” a woman at the front insisted, and Festuscato got ushered to where he stood in plain sight of everyone present.  “I heard about your father,” the woman said.  “I was not aware he had a son, but I am pleased you are here. And you have brought a companion, I see.”

“My governess,” Festuscato said, as Mirowen touched him and he offered a slight bow. Mirowen curtsied and spoke.

“I am Mirowen, daughter of Macreedy, King of the Long March hard on Wales and the Isle of Man in Britannia, and I am pleased to present Festuscato Cassius Agitus, son of Lucius Agitus, a fervent supporter of yourself and your son.  After Lord Lucius was so cruelly murdered, under the direction of Lord Festuscato, we did our best to continue to support you with whatever small contribution we could make.”  She stood demurely, eyes down, but Festuscato saw Galla Placidia raise her eyebrows.  The contributions had not been so small.

“We are grateful for your support, young Agitus, and you may count yourself in our favor. Come and sit yourself beside my son so we may have the two young men together.  And let your governess sit beside you, there.”  The woman pointed.  It was down one step, but an unparalleled honor.  Festuscato felt obligated to say something and hoped he did not say too much.

“You are gracious to your humble servant,” Festuscato offered another slight bow. “I am honored also to be in the company of so many illustrious men.  I will endeavor to keep my eyes and ears open for the impartation of wisdom, though at my age it will not be easy, isn’t that right?”  He looked straight at Valentinian who nodded vigorously before he looked at his mother.  Galla Placidia frowned on top of her smile as Festuscato and Mirowen took their seats, and Mirowen pinched Festuscato.  He knew better than to yelp, but the Regent saw and nodded, satisfied.

“Gentlemen. We will dispense with further acclamations and words of support for the moment out of deference to the young.  I will gladly receive your written words on behalf of my son, but presently we have business to which we must attend.” A man came to the Regent’s side and handed her some papers.  The next hour got taken up extolling the virtues and military prowess of one Flavius Aetius.  The man came in, flanked by two of the strangest looking men Festuscato had ever seen. They were Huns, but Festuscato did not know that at the time.

Aetius got honored and commissioned to be Magister Militum per Gallius; essentially, commander in chief of the Roman army in Gaul.  Festuscato had no idea who the governor of the province might be.  He never got mentioned.  But such were the times that only the military mattered, and specifically one who could defend the border.  Aetius would have to work well with plenty of German Fedoratti, some of whom did not like each other, and the border pressure would not stop.  Just fifteen years earlier Rome had been burned by the Visigoths, and that was not something anyone wanted to see repeated.

Festuscato tried really hard to keep his eyes open so Mirowen would stop pinching him. Valentinian noticed, and he stayed awake primarily by watching Festuscato droop his head and get pinched. Valentinian winced, but grinned every time it happened.  Finally Aetius with papers in hand, brought forth another man, one dressed in the robes of the church.

“Bishop Guithelm, Archbishop of Londinium, newly appointed.”  Aetius introduced the man, and they waited while the man came forward.

“Regent,” the cleric bowed his head and turned.  “Emperor,” he bowed again, and it all came with too much formality for Festuscato, who stuck his elbows on his knees to prop his chin up with his hands. “Lord Agitus.”  The man shouted and hurried over to hug the boy. Festuscato felt surprised for a second before he recognized the man.  He knew the man as the cleric from the house whose life he presumably saved. The Bishop told the whole story right there in front of everyone, and Festuscato turned as red from embarrassment as Mirowen’s ears turned when she got angry.

Aetius came to collect the Bishop, but took a long look at Festuscato.  “Come and see me when you are older,” he whispered.  “I can always use a good man.”

“Well, young Agitus,” Galla Placidia also looked again at Festuscato, but it seemed hard to read the expression on her face.  “And how old, in fact are you?”

“Nine,” Festuscato said, honestly enough.

“I’m seven,” Valentinian blurted out, but amended that with a look from his mother. “Nearly seven.”

“Quite the accomplished young man,” Galla Placidia’s words sounded a bit cold. “Perhaps we can call upon your wisdom to decide what to do about our other business.”  She waved a hand and a man got brought forward in what Festuscato could only call a fifth century straight jacket.  The guards who dragged him to the front let him drop to his knees and he cried out, unintelligible sounds of torment and tears.

“Help me,” the man shouted.  “They come in the night.  They come in the day.  Always accusing, invisible monsters, horrors, terrors, on the edge of my eyes, accusing, always accusing.  Murderer!” He screamed and spouted more unintelligible sounds before he quieted in his tears.

“Castinus.” Galla Placidia still had her eyes on Festuscato.  “He ordered the murder of your parents among others.  What do you say we should do with him?”

Festuscato felt horrified to look at the man whose mind had been utterly broken by madness. Surely, the furies themselves could not have done a more thorough job.  Festuscato looked once at Mirowen, but she would not look at him.  The Huns with Aetius appeared to be grinning beneath their hands.  Aetius looked curious at what the young man might say.  The Bishop appeared willing to wait.  Valentinian had his mouth open, staring.

“Put him out of his misery,” Festuscato fairly shouted, and looked at the Regent, tears in his own eyes.  “When a horse breaks a leg, you do not force it to suffer.  Why should we show less compassion on a man whose mind is clearly broken beyond repair?”  The Bishop nodded, satisfied with the verdict.  Aetius looked again, like this might have been an angle he had not considered. The Huns stopped grinning and nodded. Galla Placidia said nothing.  She waved her hand and the prisoner got escorted out of the Curia.

“General Aetius.” The Regent sought to change the subject. “You will provide safe escort for the Bishop.”

Aetius, the politician, responded.  “I so pledge to bring him safely to the channel in the far north.  However, after that, he will be on his own.  We have no presence in the free province of Britannia, nor can anyone guarantee his safety.”

“That will be more than gracious,” the Bishop said.  “And no one is on his own when Christ walks beside him.”

“Of course,” Aetius let out a small smile and gave a slight bow.

After that, it took a couple more hours of blither and blather, while Festuscato went back to fighting sleep.

When it was all over, Festuscato got invited to supper with Galla Placidia and Valentinian. It felt like more formalities, but the Regent appeared to want to talk with Mirowen, and that let Festuscato breathe. He tried to be good, but Valentinian seemed taken with him so he could not exactly escape.  He did not have anything against the boy, but Valentinian was not so bright, or maybe he lived so sheltered a life it became impossible to tell if he was bright or not.  Then, there was three years of difference, which probably would not mean much when they were thirty or thirty-three, but it felt like a big gap at six and nine.

Mirowen and their four guards found a place in town for the night.  Festuscato practically went to sleep before he hit the bed.  In the morning, they moved quietly out of town, Festuscato and Mirowen side by side and the four that Festuscato started calling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse right behind.

“What on earth did you talk about with that woman?” Festuscato asked.

“About children, mostly.  She seemed impressed that you were learning your letters and both Greek and Brythonic.”

“I’m learning Greek?”

“As soon as we get home.”

“Buggers,” Festuscato adjusted his thinking.  He decided having an elf for a governess had no advantages.  “Did she say anything nice about me?”

“She said you seemed too wild and rebellious for her son.  A bad influence, and maybe dangerous besides.”

“Well.  I’m glad she liked me.”  Festuscato closed his mouth.


Next Monday:  Festuscato, The Cad in Ravena    Until then, Happy Reading