M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 3 of 3

Morgan still had her hand covering her mouth.  “This is you in another lifetime, isn’t it?”  Gerraint nodded.  He had already breached the subject.  “When did you live?”

“Oh, it’s worse than you know,” Gerraint said with a sly smile.  “I haven’t even been born yet.”

Morgan laughed and put her hand on his arm.  “I love it.”

“Move on,” Gerraint said, and Clover got the oxen moving again.  Mercedes crawled up into the wagon and kept shaking her head.  Ironwood stayed big and talked quietly with Macy.  And she talked with him, more conversation than Festuscato got from the girl.  He looked again at Morgan who kept staring at him like she was waiting for the next chapter in the saga.

“Festuscato is thirty-five.”

“Just right.  Well matured, and I assume I won’t have to teach him manners.”

“True, but I’ve lived some lives as women.”

“I expected as much.”

“But I am the only one.  No one else has other lives like that.”

“I have no other lives, but I like what I have seen of him so far.  I like red hair.  It is exciting.”

“You have no idea,” Gerraint said.  “My life is usually like a tornado, like a hurricane.  Sometimes I can stand in the eye of the storm, but those around me often get caught up in the madness and danger.  I have been ninety-five people before Festuscato, though I don’t remember them all, or close to it.  Right now, all I know are the Princess and Diogenes before Christ, Greta, Festuscato, myself and Margueritte in these several hundred years, Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller in the future, oh and Alice who is the creator and caretaker of Avalon in the second heavens.  Worse than that, I have been a god, four gods, four different times in the deep past, and when I have to reach out to one of them it is because something so horrible is happening, the whole word is in danger. Enid, my wife, keeps begging me to stay home, but I have to do my duty, and she is a real help and a real trooper.”  Gerraint paused and took a breath.  “Still interested?”

“More than ever.”

Gerraint glanced back to be sure the Visigoths were well out of sight before Festuscato returned.  He came back and immediately caught Morgan in his arms and kissed her, passionately.  He couldn’t speak for her, but he felt the fireworks go off in his head.  When they stopped, and turned, they saw they had some catching up to do.  They held hands as they ran, then let go when they walked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Yes what?”

“I’m just practicing for when you ask me to marry you.”  

“You realize, no one knows all this, and maybe I didn’t explain the worst part.  I never get to go to heaven.  I try not to dwell on that fact, but sometimes I get depressed about it and then I am not fun to be around.  I just keep getting to start all over again from scratch, as a baby.”

“And a very cute baby, I am sure.”  Morgan took Festuscato’s arm, and Festuscato knew that this was one woman he could not just slip into bed.  With Morgan, it would be all or nothing, but as he thought about it, he didn’t mind.  “So, tell me about the fairies,” she said.

###

Once they got to Arles, they had some negotiating to do with the merchant and his son.  The boy and Mercedes looked happy with the arrangement, but the dowry did not seem right.  Festuscato felt afraid the man might try to back out of the deal, but then the chief Roman military man in the province, the Dux of Provence found out Lord Agitus, alias the dragon was in town, and the whole city turned out to guide him to the palace, like it was the return of Constantine himself.

Morgan walked beside him and asked softly.  “Is it always like this?”  She was not used to being a public spectacle.

“No,” Festuscato said through his grin as he waved at the people like a conquering hero.  “Sometimes they just arrest me and throw me in prison.”

When they got back to the merchant, three days later, he seemed more than happy to accommodate them.  The bishop of Arles himself offered to perform the wedding, and the merchant’s wife kept fainting.  It became a lovely time, but in the end, Festuscato had to dig out the last of his gold coins from the secret pocket in his armor and pay for passage for four to Rome.  Clover and Heather decided to stay in Provence and promised to look in on Mercedes now and then.  They found May’s family and the fairy troop that roamed the fields and forests of the region and fit right in, as fairies do. Ironwood decided to go with Macy, and he stayed big as much as possible, and maybe more than he should, but sometimes he got small, sat on her shoulder and hid in her hair, which made her very happy.

###

Festuscato spent a lot of time on deck, fretting and bored.  Someone said the Huns had crossed the Alps into Italy and that did not sound good to him.  Morgan comforted him as well as she could, and they hugged and kissed plenty, but then Festuscato would just berate himself for stupidity.  Why did he ever imagine he should wait for Gaius to marry them.  His only consolation was by the end of the voyage, she seemed as frustrated as him. 

When they sailed in on the morning tide, they found everyone there, waiting for his arrival.  The elf Lord Atias stood with the four horsemen decked out in their dragon tunics.  Dibs and all ten of his men were present with Marcellus and a well-worn woman who had to be Marcellus’ wife.  She stood next to Emma, and Felix and the children were with them.  Gaius, it appeared, had been elevated to cardinal, the Abbot of Marmoutier, the name given to Saint Martins looked happy, and Pope Leo himself stood with them.  Festuscato kissed the Pope’s ring and the Pope hugged Morgan and whispered, “Thank you, thank you.”

At the pope’s insistence, they were married that day in Saint Peters Basilica, the one commissioned by Constantine, the Pope himself presiding, and all Leo could say to Morgan was “Thank you, thank you.”

Gaius explained to the bewildered woman.  “Festuscato’s indiscretions are legendary.  Three popes, Celestine, Xystus, and now Leo, could only look at me and shake their head,” he spoke brightly.  “We started to fear no woman would ever get him to marry and settle down, so congratulations.”

“He is all I want,” she confessed quietly.  “But I know he has work to do that the rest of us can hardly comprehend.”

“A little advice,” Gaius confided.  “Sometimes it is better not to ask.”

Festuscato bundled Morgan up on a carriage and they headed for his home. Morgan finally got to ask something when she caught her breath.  “Are you rich or something?”

“Very,” he said.  “Want to spend it all?”

She just grinned.

Everyone went elsewhere so the couple could reach the Agitus house on the Appian Way and have the night to themselves.  They all had plans to call within the next week, but for the present, they left the couple alone.  It turned March, the spring started blooming, and though the couple had only known each other for six months, both felt it more than enough time and they were beyond ready.  As they entered the house, they found men with knives waiting for them.  Huns, Festuscato thought.  Morgan looked to be in shock.

************************

MONDAY

Romance is nice, but Attila is not finished with Rome. Monday, The Last Gasp.

*

M4 Festuscato: A Little Romance, part 2 of 3

Festuscato looked at the half-elf and waited for her to explain, but the young woman with the brown hair and fascinating Margueritte-like hazel eyes spoke up.  “Macy is the eldest.” she pointed at the half-elf who seemed tongue tied in Festuscato’s presence.  Mother was pregnant with her when she married my father.  It didn’t matter.  As soon as Macy was born with her pointed ears, it was clear that my father was not her father.  But my father tried to raise her like his own.”  Macy nodded to say that was so.  “At least until she was six.”

“And your name?”

“Morgan, and I am twenty-one and all alone in the world apart from my sisters.”  Morgan looked into Festuscato’s eyes and batted her own, just a little.  Festuscato wanted the rest of the story.  He frowned before he saw the tears in the corners of Morgan’s eyes and chastised himself for thinking his crude thoughts.

“So, what happened to your father and mother?” Festuscato asked, tenderly.

“My father got killed by Huns when I was three.  Macy was six.  Mother and Mercedes’ father survived when the Visigoths counterattacked.  They say it was a terrible battle, but after life settled down again, mother was lucky to remarry, and she had another girl.  Mother died of the plague when Mercedes was five.  I was nine and Macy was twelve.  Poor Father Flavius, Mercedes’ father, and Lucas at sixteen had three girls to take care of, and Lucas was kind of slow, if you know what I mean.  We all thought life would be better when we got to Arles.  We sold our home, and the deal was going to be secured when Mercedes married.  Father Flavius promised to find us husbands when we got to Arles, but now we have no hope.

Morgan began to cry softy, and Festuscato hugged her to comfort her.  She did not resist him.  Macy held Mercedes in very much the same way, and Heather stood right there, in her big size, crying along with everyone else.  Festuscato noticed Clover came back to comfort Heather, but since he said nothing, Festuscato figured the immediate area had to be Hun free.

After a moment, Festuscato separated from Morgan and Morgan wiped her eyes.  He had decided something and felt he needed some space, though he kept his hands on Morgan’s shoulders.  He called the head gnome that helped him steal one of Theodoric’s horses.  The gnome thought a minute without saying a word and Festuscato nodded.  Suddenly, there were twenty gnomes in that little part of the forest.  Morgan looked delighted.  Mercedes looked scared again, but Macy smiled, except she began to cry again.  

Heather reached out for Mercedes, and the girl moved to be close to Heather and Clover who were both in their big size and looking like ordinary people.  At least Mercedes did not scream when the gnomes got to work.

They found the wagon, and the oxen that had wandered off.  They hitched up the beasts and packed the tents and everything neatly in the wagon.  Two fetched Festuscato’s horse and red cloak.  Festuscato sent the red cloak back to Avalon the moment he saw it.  He tried to do it without being noticed, but Morgan saw and kept her thoughts to herself.  The gnomes also dug two graves.  They were shallow, but sufficient when the gnomes piled stones on top.  They seemed to have a knack for pulling mostly buried stones right out of the soil.

When they were done, it became noon and they had not moved an inch.  Festuscato made two crosses out of sticks, and the gnomes did something to make them root in the soil.  Then he did not know what to say, so he assured the women they would find a priest and say a mass for the dead.

Festuscato turned to his gnomes and thanked them all for their good help. “I owe you,” he said.

“Nothing,” the chief gnome spoke up.  “You have already given us everything through the centuries, since the day you first made us out of those wild imps.  You owe us nothing.  We were glad to be allowed to help, and would do it again, anytime.”

Festuscato glanced at Morgan who absorbed all of this like a sponge.  He knew there was no doing this quietly.  He clapped his hands, and the gnomes all disappeared, and he felt an explanation might be necessary.

“I sent them home.”

“And a lovely home it is, I am sure,” she said, smiled a lovely smile, and slipped into his arms for more hugging.  “Thank you for your kindness,” she whispered, and snuggled in a way that woke Festuscato right up, before she took a step back and a curious look crossed her face.  “But I don’t know anything about you, or your name other than you said you were the dragon, whoever that is.”

“Festuscato Cassius Agitus, knight errant for the duration while I deliver you to Arles.”

“Festuscato I caught,” she said.  “And I accept the offer of escorting us to Arles, but you will have to explain the rest, and all of the things you haven’t explained.  I never heard of Huns running away.”

“We should start moving first,” Festuscato suggested, and she collected her sisters while he tied his horse to the back of the wagon and Clover and Heather stepped out front to get the oxen moving.

Festuscato looked at Morgan and felt the smile in his stomach.  She looked at him and smiled outwardly in return, and Festuscato realized that nothing less that the whole truth would do for this one.  She seemed bright enough to understand and not one who would be willing to accept half measures.  In that moment, he felt like he very much wanted to explain it all, like it became a great burden on his soul.  Sadly, they barely started when Ironwood came racing back.

“Lord, the Huns have moved on to the road to the shore, but that Visigoth captain and his troop are on the road, coming back, and they almost got by me.”

Festuscato looked up as Macy said, “Men coming.”  She pointed, and Festuscato barely had time to say, excuse me, before he traded paces with Gerraint who came back in his armor, complete with helmet and swords in the right places.  Morgan squeaked like a cute little mouse.  Mercedes tried not to look.  Macy began to cry again.  Ironwood got big and stepped up to keep the girls quiet.

When the captain called his troop to a halt, Clover and Heather halted as well.  The Captain recognized the armor and got suspicious as to why a lone soldier would be out on the road.

“Soldier.  What are you doing in this wilderness?”

“Escorting this family to Arles.  As you can see, it is a most peasant duty for an old soldier.”  He removed his helmet and showed the gray hair of age.  He smiled for the captain and the captain softened his expression.  He asked about the red-haired man and the dapple-gray horse, but Gerraint could only say he saw no such man.  Morgan covered her mouth to stifle her giggle.

“Take care, old man,” the captain said.  “I heard rumors of Huns on the road.”

“I heard we crushed the Huns up north and sent them scurrying back across the border to lick their wounds.”

“We did,” the captain said as several of the men nodded, like they were there.

“Well good luck to you.  I hope you catch your man.”

The captain shook his head.  “This was an unlikely direction.  The rest of his party all went to Narbonne and by now they have probably taken ship for Rome or unknown places.  We ride.”  The captain and his men rode out and Gerraint turned to Morgan.

“How do you like my disguise?”

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 3 of 3

After two weeks, it became clear Festuscato would be there for a long time.  He spoke with Thorismund once; more of an interview where Festuscato hardly got to say anything.  He figured Thorismund felt the need to justify his actions and did not want to hear anything contrary.

After a week, he figured his troop should be in Narbonne, contracting with a ship and safe.  The Visigoth kingdom did not claim Provence or Septimania, so they had no access to the Mediterranean and could not follow Gaius, Dibs and Felix.  With that worry off his mind, Festuscato came up with a daft plan, as the Brits would call it.

Fangs the goblin enjoyed his time chasing all the bats, rats and spiders when Festuscato slept.  Heather could hardy bring herself to look at him at first, and Clover did his best to hold and comfort her, which was all she really wanted.  Ironwood stood up to the goblin, but even he did not look too steady, and it made Fangs chuckle.  The goblin seemed really a nice person, who for once did not mind being called a goblin.  Unlike so many others, he did not insist on the term dark elf in mixed company.

“So, what do you think?” Margueritte said, as she adjusted the fairy weave apron to be a little longer and then turned slowly around.  Heather kept her eyes on Margueritte but smiled at her handiwork in shaping and coloring the dress to just the right sort of drab.

“You look the very image of a Gallo-Roman washer woman,” Fangs encouraged her.

“You are still too young and pretty,” Ironwood said as he flew once around her in the opposite direction.  He showed what he meant with his hands before he said, “And too shapely for the sorry old women who clean around the castle.”

“Maybe a small glamour,” Clover suggested.

“No, not now,” Margueritte responded.  “I’ll think about it.  Right now, I have to practice.”  She screamed, frowned, and tried again.  She tried several more times but stopped when they heard a loud bang on the door.

“What is going on in there?” Gormand shouted through the door.  He caught a glimpse of the goblin one time and never opened the window in the door again.  He slipped the food through the hinged board at the bottom of the door, but never looked.  Fangs enjoyed the slop, so Gormand always got the tray back with the food eaten, and that was all he needed to know.  Festuscato, of course, dined well on the goodies the fairies pinched from the kitchens.

Margueritte made no effort to disguise her voice.  “I’m practicing, what did you think?”

“Well, you better straighten up,” Gormand said, apparently not batting an eye at the evident female voice.  “I got word Euric, the younger son wants to see you.”

“Now?”  Margueritte asked.

“Here they come.” Gormand banged once more on the door and everyone had to move fast.  Clover and Ironwood had to get the bucket and scrub brushes to place strategically when they got the word.  Heather had to get the gnomes to check on the horses.  Fangs had to walk through the walls and think directions for the fairies, though they would wait until the return trip to set the trap.  Margueritte had to go away so Festuscato could come back in his comfortable clothes and be waiting.

The door opened.

Two soldiers came in to fetch him.  Two others stayed outside with Gormand, of course, who wanted nothing to do with what went on inside that cell, even if everything looked perfectly normal at the moment.

“Lead the way,” Festuscato said, kindly.  “I haven’t met Euric.  I am looking forward to it.”

The soldiers were prepared to bring him roughly, if necessary, but his eagerness to see Euric made their job easy.  They walked, two soldiers out front and two behind, with Gormand following in the rear.  They passed through any number of halls before reaching Euric’s quarters.  They passed several of the cleaning crew on the way as well, so everything seemed set.

Young Euric tried to be sly in his pleasant conversation.  He thought he was so smart.  Festuscato stayed frustratingly pleasant and offered no information at all until the end.  When he got dismissed, he looked at the younger son and stated, “Right now you don’t have the political or military skill to succeed.  You could learn a lot from Aetius.  You won’t learn it from me because I am going home to eat oranges.  Just one word of advice.  Don’t move until you are ready.”  Euric stood with his mouth open.  He tried to be so cunning, but Festuscato showed that he had been utterly transparent.  He had no answer when Festuscato left.

Festuscato caught sight of the bucket in the middle of the hall.  When they came alongside the bucket, he did a quick bob and weave, instantly traded places with Margueritte dressed in her washer woman garb and she screamed.  The bucket got tipped over, the soldiers shouted, and she flung herself into the arms of the two soldiers who were following and paying a modicum of attention.

“What a rude man!” she shouted.  Her eyes pointed in the direction opposite the way she would be going.

“Where did he go?” the men all shouted.  Gormand said nothing.  Perhaps he recognized the scream.

One of the soldiers grabbed Margueritte roughly and shook her.  “Where did he go?  Margueritte pointed in the direction she had been looking, and the soldier threw her roughly to the floor.  “Come on.”  The soldiers raced off down the hall.  Gormand put his hand out and helped Margueritte to her feet.

“Don’t mind them,” Gormand said, with a grin that appeared almost distasteful.  Truly she was too young and shapely, as Ironwood said, but she counted on the soldiers not giving her a good look.

Margueritte took a step back and smiled for the man.  She gave him a most graceful curtsey, a sign of her good breeding and something no real washer woman could imitate.  Then she picked up her now empty bucket and scrub brush and walked away from the way the soldiers went.  Gormand might have said something but choked when two fairies flew up.

“Clover, please go check and see what horse Heather picked out,” Margueritte said.  “Ironwood, you may sit on my shoulder.”

“Yes, Lady,” both fairies responded before doing what she asked.  At the same time, they heard Gormand running away as fast as he could.

************************

MONDAY

Getting out of the dungeon is not getting home. There is trouble on the road, and maybe a little romance.  Until next time, Happy Reading

*

M4 Festuscato: Visigoth Hospitality, part 2 of 3

Their time in Tours proved brief.  The bishop greeted Gaius with all the pomp of a visiting bishop and gave Festuscato a brief smile.  Festuscato heard Gaius referred to as the apostle to the Franks and as the Bishop of Tournai, though Festuscato knew of nothing official in that direction.  Certainly, Gaius never said anything.

The abbot of Saint Martins was there, a man named Maurentius.  He came dressed to travel and go with them to apply to the Pope to approve his monastery with the appendage for women.  Maurentius, Dibs, Marcellus and Festuscato got to know each other while Gaius got wined and dined.  Festuscato found Maurentius to be a frumpy friar Tuck sort of fellow, good natured, and not a finger shaker when the conversation got a bit bawdy.  He would fit right in.

The first night after leaving Tours took them to Fierbois, hardly a village on the road to Pontiers.  Maurentius and Gaius were both surprised when Festuscato suggested it might be a good place for a church, and a satellite monastery for Saint Martins, and especially for the women.

“It would be a good place for pilgrims to stop and refresh themselves,” he said.

“Another Saint Martins?” Maurentius wondered.

“People would get confused by that,” Marcellus said.  Dibs and Gaius knew not to interrupt.

“I was thinking Saint Catherine would be a good choice, especially for any women on the road.  They would see it as a safe haven on the border between Visigoth and Roman lands.”

“I like Saint Catherine,” Emma spoke up from the cooking fire.

“Saint Catherine,” Felix echoed as he took something to his children.

“Saint Catherine de Fierbois,” Festuscato said. 

“It has a nice ring to it,” Gaius interjected.

“Anyway, after this I’ll mind my own business.  But I was thinking the Visigoths could use some spiritual guidance.  I hear many of them are Arians and do not know the true catholic faith, and this would be right on their border, or near enough.”

“No, I like the idea,” Maurentius said.  “I may mention it to the Pope.  The people of Aquitaine are mostly Christian, but many Visigoth nobles remain stubbornly Arian.  Having plans to expand the true church into the territory might help Saint Martin’s gain papal approval.”

Festuscato said no more, but in the morning, he confessed to Gaius something about the future and for once, Gaius said he had nothing to feel guilty about.

It took two weeks to reach Tolouse, the Visigoth capital.  No one bothered them all the way through Visigoth land, and when they arrive at Thorismund’s court, they appeared welcomed, at first.  Festuscato caught wind of the fact that Thorismund was not happy with Rome and with him for turning him away from finishing off Attila.

“Now my father is not avenged,” he said.  But his younger brother, Theodoric junior who also participated in the fight against Attila simply shook his head, sadly.  Festuscato understood.  Thorismund was not that bright and indeed, would not occupy the throne for long.  But in the meanwhile, Festuscato had to watch out.  During his life and career, Festuscato found that such men were easy to manipulate and easy to turn in the right direction with the simplest of arguments, as he turned Thorismund away from the battlefield; but once they got their mind stuck in a rut, they were impossible to reach.  Festuscato took Theodoric’s unspoken warning to Felix, Dibs and Marcellus.

“Felix has the money.  If I am delayed, your orders are to go to Narbonne on the south coast.  I will meet you there, but again, if I am delayed, you must take the first ship for Rome, before the cold weather arrives.  If all else fails, at least you will get home and I will meet you in Rome.”

“You are serious,” Dibs sounded surprised, though he should not have been, since he got left behind when Festuscato first sailed out of Britain for the continent.

“I have never heard you order anyone,” Gaius confessed.  “You always ask.”

“I had to order the four horsemen.  I practically yelled at them, but they will see you safely all the way to Rome, if necessary.”

“We will do this thing,” Marcellus agreed, and Felix shook Festuscato’s hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

The very next day, Festuscato found himself thrown into a dungeon cell with a single, small window much too high up to reach.

###

Festuscato got left alone by his jailer, Gormand.  He was not sure what Gormand’s orders were, but as long as they did not include torture, Festuscato could wait and hope—and try to figure some way out of his predicament.  It helped when on that very first day, the fairies Ironwood, Clover and Heather came fluttering in the little window.  Festuscato frowned and tried not to yell at them.

“Clover and Heather are running away from home,” Ironwood confessed.  “We followed you all the way here from Chalons.”

“Yes, and why are you here?” Festuscato asked.

“Well, someone has to keep an eye on these children,” Ironwood said with a smile.

“We are not children,” Clover insisted.

“I’m one hundred and three and Clover is nearly two hundred,” Heather insisted, looking very much like a petulant child.

“One seventy-six, and Ironwood is just two sixty-five.  Still young enough for a fairy,” Festuscato said, and Clover and Heather eyed each other, and realized Festuscato knew all about them in a way they had not really considered before.  He could look at them right down to the depths of their toes.  “Still, I am glad you are here,” Festuscato said, to change the subject.  He did not want to frighten the young couple with his awesome presence, as some of the ancient gods used to talk about it.  “You can help me plan my escape, and Ironwood, if you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate you taking a message to Gaius and the men to tell them to get out now and head for Narbonne while they can.”

“I can do that.  Father Gaius seems very nice, for a human.”

“Would you like us to find some diggers?” Heather asked, avoiding the name goblins.  “It would take some time to dig you out.  There isn’t an easy tribe under your feet like in Tournai.”

“No, no.” Festuscato said, like someone else might have said, “Tut-tut.”  He would have to plan his route out of the city and once he left the city, and he would need a horse among other things.  Just getting out of the cell would not be enough.  “We will work on it.  I am going to try to reason with my captors first.  Meanwhile, I would not mind one digger, as you said.  It would be good to have one while I am sleeping to keep the rats, spiders, and bats away.”

Heather shrieked loudly at the thought of rats, spiders, and bats.  She threw herself into Clover’s arms, which she felt inclined to do in any case, and which he felt glad she did.  Gormand came to the door and slid open the little window in the door to yell.

“What was that?”

“I have a young girl in here and we are making wild, passionate love,” Festuscato responded.  Ironwood flew up to the window so Gormand could get a good look at him. 

“Hello,” he said in a friendly manner, his only previous experience with jailers being the Frank who eventually made peace in his mind and heart with having fairies around.  Gormand did not strike Festuscato as the same sort of man.  He shrieked, a high-pitched sound to match Heather’s, and he shut the cover on the window in the door and ran away.

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

Festuscato and his company watched as it took all morning for the Alans and Amoricans to move into position just south of the heights where the ridge quit.  Further south, Theodoric and his Visigoths settled in, but pushed a little bit forward.  One might have imagined the Visigoths to the south were curving the end of the line toward the enemy, but in reality, they were too far forward.  Maybe they were too anxious.  Birch reported that Thorismund, the son, in the far south, sat the most forward of all.

They waited some more, and more than one man wondered if the Huns were going to do anything at all that day, but it started around three in the afternoon.  Twenty thousand Ostrogoths and with some Huns engaged Theodoric in the far south.  From his distant viewpoint, Festuscato could not tell if the Ostrogoths were told to really engage the Visigoths or if they were just supposed to keep the Visigoth horsemen occupied.

A short while later, twenty thousand Huns crashed into the fifteen thousand Alans and Amorican’s in the center.  The fighting quickly turned vicious and the Alans began to give ground, either slowly pulling back or being pushed back.  Festuscato noticed at the same time, the Visigoths began to push forward, especially Thorismund.  That exposed the Visigoth flank, badly.  For the first time all afternoon, Festuscato turned to look north.  Aegidius and his legions appeared to be lounging around.  The Franks and Saxons were waiting as patiently as they could.  Out from their position, well out of bow range, the third twenty thousand of the enemy, mostly Gepids with the Franks, Thuringians, and other Germans stood ready, but unmoving.

“Dibs,” Festuscato called.  “We need the cavalry.  It is going to have to be cavalry to the rescue.  Get every man with a horse you can find and get them here as quick as you can.”

Dibs and two men with him, grabbed their horses and went whooping down the ridge top.

“What do you see?” Gregor asked as he stood to take a look.  They all looked.

“There,” Strongarm, with his good elf eyes pointed.  The Hun flank became equally exposed to the Visigoths, but the Visigoths were not looking that way.  Fortunately, someone noticed in the fallback camp.  Theodoric left the Burgundians, Italians and Provence Romans and Gallo-Romans back in the camp in reserve.  They were mostly infantry and would not be much help against horsemen, head-to-head, but in this case, they noticed, and they could certainly catch Huns, horsemen or not, from the side where they were unprepared.  Now the Huns began to pull back, but the Alans were slow to follow and press the advantage.

As the Roman cavalry with plenty of Franks and some Saxons on horseback reached the top of the ridge, Festuscato saw the back half of the Hun attack turn to hit the Visigoths in the side, like it had been planned that way.  Most of those in the back half had no idea the front half of the charge started crumbling thanks to the Burgundians and Romans.  Aetius came up and immediately understood what was happening.  He waved his cavalry to ride to the rescue, as five thousand or so horsemen would, at this point, be hitting the Huns from the rear.  Festuscato had Bran and the four horsemen grab Aetius to keep him from riding into battle with the men.  Festuscato looked again to the north.

Somehow, Ardaric got wind of what appeared to be happening and he began to withdraw from his position.  Then the Ostrogoth line broke in the far south and Thorismund moved to ride around the back of the line.  The Ostrogoths fled as Theodoric gathered what men he could and counter attacked in the face of the Huns.  The Huns, being clobbered from every direction, gathered their own men and fled back to their strong camp.

It became a humiliating defeat.  Attila never lost a battle before.  The Huns, Romans, and especially the many Germanic tribes under the thumb, had Attila painted bigger than life, as a man who could not be beaten.  But here, he got badly beaten.  The Ostrogoths and Gepids might mount another attack, but neither seemed willing.  They had wounds to lick even if they were not as grievous as the Huns.  The Huns, so devastated in their numbers, could hardly mount a defense.

Attila raged.  His plan to conquer Gaul had been shattered.  He raged at his sons who were wisely not present.  He raged that the Roman had three whole legions which were fresh and had not even been committed to the battle.  He raged that he was done, and everything was ruined.  He raged at Ardaric the Gepid, and Valamir the Ostrogoth, and blamed them for everything.  He cursed the dragon, once, thought better of it, and cursed everyone else.  They say he went mad for a time.

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Thorismund found Aetius in the command tent Aegidius set up.  Aetius and Festuscato were there along with Gregor the Saxon, Merovech the Frank, Budic of Amorica, Sangiban of the Alans and several others.  Thorismund spoke even as he tromped into the tent.

“So, we attack at first light and finish them.”  He arrived understandably angry.  Word had come that Theodoric died on the battlefield.  Aetius remained calm but shook his head.

“Your people have suffered a great loss, many losses,” Aetius said.  “You should take your father home to be properly laid to rest.”

“My father will not rest until the Hun head is on his spear,” Thorismund yelled.

“We have already discussed all this,” Sangiban shouted back.  “Where were you?”

“Me?” Thorismund had to stop shouting to think a minute about what he got asked.  “I was chasing Huns with my men,” he said more calmly.  “I almost stumbled into the Hun camp.  My men had to get me out.  What do you mean you already discussed this?”

Festuscato took Thorismund by the arm.  He directed the man to just outside the door, and Thorismund listened, which he might not have done with anyone else.  “My friend,” Festuscato said.  “I am concerned about you and your people and providing a balance in the province.”  Thorismund did not understand, so Festuscato quickly started again.  “You Visigoths on one end and the Franks on the other end are the only things keeping the Romans honest, keeping the Romans from taking over again.  I am sorry your father died, but we can’t lose you too.”  Festuscato looked back into the tent briefly and spoke like he was sharing a great secret.  “Listen.  You don’t want one of your brothers to claim the throne while you are away.  Aetius thinks he is sending you home so he can claim all the glory for himself.  I say, take advantage of Aetius.  Let Aetius finish Attila and get his men all bloody.  You go home, have yourself a big parade, and claim the crown before one of your brothers nabs it.  Go ahead.  I won’t tell.”

Thorismund stood with his mouth open for a minute.  Though not a speedy thinker, when he spoke, he understood what Festuscato suggested.  “My people don’t need to get mixed up in a civil war, and I don’t entirely trust my brothers.”

“Sure, sure,” Festuscato encouraged him.  “Let Rome deal with Attila.  He is not your problem.  You have a land and a people to rule and take care of, but you might not get the chance if you hang around here too long.”

Thorismund nodded, went back to his horse, and returned to his own camp.  Aetius stuck his head out.

“So, what did you tell him?”

“He gets to be the next king of the Visigoths if he gets there before his brothers.”

Aetius nodded.  “I give him about three years before one of his brothers throws him out.”

“Probably less,” Festuscato said.

First thing in the morning, the Visigoths packed up and left the field.  Attila stayed, and it reached about noon before he decided the Romans were not going to attack and finish him off.  In his madness, he had piled everything he could reach in the center of the camp.  He planned a great bonfire and planned to throw himself into the flames if the Romans attacked.  No way the dragon would kill him.  He would kill himself first.  But when it became clear that Aetius would let him go, or the dragon gave him a final chance, he packed up his men and his allies and hobbled back over the Rhine.

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MONDAY

Just when you think the battle is won, there are complications.Getting home is not so easy.  Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Festuscato: Over the Alps, part 3 of 3

Gotlieb proved a dull wit, but that actually proved good, because he took the job seriously. Heinrich did steer the company away from several troubling places where Brigands were known to frequent, so all in all, those months were positive.  Heinrich and Gotlieb were found, on several occasions, rifling through the wagons, no doubt looking for where Festuscato kept his gold.  Mirowen, backed up by the Four Horsemen always stopped that before it got too far.  It got to where all Mirowen had to do was cough and Gotlieb would jump and run back to his tent.

“Old habits,” Heinrich would smile, and confess, and try again a few days later.

“Thank you, not.” Mirowen said, as they moved down into Gaul and Heinrich became obsessed with finding the gold.

“Now then.” Festuscato patted her hand.  “It can’t be worse than looking after four eight and nine-year-old boys.”

“Here, here,” Father Gaius said.

“And they were a handful,” Mister March added, with a big grin rooted in his memories.

“Still are,” Mirowen said.  “But at least I could bathe them.”

“Right,” Festuscato said, but he had stopped listening.  Julius and the elf maiden, Drucilla were getting to be on much too friendly terms.

The day came when they left the hills.  It was still August hot, and Festuscato felt pleased they made such good time. “Heinrich,” he called to the man, and Gotlieb trailed right behind like a faithful puppy dog.  “I was thinking if you plan to go back over the mountains before winter sets in, I should pay you for your service and let you go.”

“You know the way from here?” he asked.

“North. That about covers it.”  Festuscato reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a rather large pouch of coins. “Let’s see. It has been four or five months.  I believe you will find this generous.”  He opened the bag and pulled out a few gold coins. He smiled, dropped them back into the bag and handed the whole bag over to Heinrich.  “And you won’t have anyone chasing you to take your head,” he said with a smile.  “But now, I should say, you better watch out for highway robbers.”

Heinrich’s jaw dropped.  In his time, he found Festuscato to be a man of his word, and more than generous, and he still did not know how to take that.  Everyone he knew was a selfish, self-serving thief.  He really struggled, but found the words, “Thank you.” Gotlieb just grinned.  Julius yelled in the distance.

“Form up.”

“Look for me when I come back this way in a few years,” Festuscato said, offhandedly, as he rode over to see what might be on Julius’ mind, his ever present Four Horsemen trailing behind.

“Visigoths,” Marcellus pointed.

“Spears,” Festuscato said quietly.  Then he raised his voice.  “Tiberius, I want the eight best bowmen to stay here to protect the passengers.”

“Spears,” Marcellus shouted while Tiberius called off the men.

Julius counted. “I estimate two hundred.”

“Let’s wait and see what Heinrich does.”  Heinrich and Gotlieb rode out to face the Goths.  Scarface and another man rode to meet them.  It looked like they had a meeting with plenty of yelling.  Festuscato yawned.  He could not help it.

Tiberius came back with his eight and joined the ranks.  “Lady Mirowen told us to stay with you.  She said to tell you Dumdiddle and his band of merry men have the passengers well covered, whatever that means.”

“It means I hope they don’t attack.  The little ones have no business getting mixed up in human stupidity, and maybe getting killed because of it.”  Festuscato noticed the enemy starting to relax as the argument went on.  “Smoke if you got ‘em,” he said, and kicked his horse toward the meeting.  “Four horsemen stay here,” he heard the grumbles, but Julius went with him, and surprisingly, Father Gaius caught up.

“I’ll take talking over fighting any day,” Gaius said.

“And Lord Agitus is good in the talking department,” Julius confirmed.

When they arrived, the four men were standing and staring, until Heinrich stepped forward. “Lord Agitus.  This was not my idea.”

“I understand. Pinewood,” Festuscato called, and again Pinewood fluttered up like he had not been very far away.  Like last time, he got big and dropped to one knee.

“Lord.  The elves of the Marsh have their bows ready, and you know they don’t miss, and I have a hundred of my people in the grass waiting to spring out on the enemy.  And there are others.”  He looked up and grinned a true elfish grin, just in case they blinked when he flew in. “I know at least one ogre who is looking forward to crushing some bones.”

“Hardly fair,” Julius complained.  “Hardly leaves anything for my men to do.  They do need the practice, you know.”

Festuscato waved them both off.  “Scarface, who’s your friend?”

“I am Thorismund, Eldest son of Theodoric, King of the Visigoths.”  The young man had an attitude problem.

“I am Festuscato Cassius Agitus, Vir Illustris, Comes and Imperial Governor of Britannia. Good to meet you.”  He put out his hand but Thorismund declined.

“You have legions?”  Thorismund wondered.

“I do, but you cannot see them.  I take it Scarface did not tell you about my friends.  Oh, get up Pinewood.  Here, you can sit on my shoulder.”

“Thank you, Lord.” Pinewood got small and grabbed a seat without tugging too much on Festuscato’s hair.

“I’ll tell you,” Festuscato continued before Thorismund could frame his thoughts into words. “Britain is going to be a hard nut to crack, what with all those warring Celtic tribes.  But then, I bet your father is pretty hard to work for, too. Eh?  Am I right about that?”  Thorismund looked at the fairy and rolled his eyes.  “Still, at least you have a father.  Mine got murdered when I was just eight years old.”

“Murdered?” Thorismund asked.

“Oh, my little ones here,” he pointed at Pinewood.  “They drove the murderer mad, haunted him day and night.  I still haven’t decided if I am going to forgive them or not.  But let’s not dwell on my problems.  How can I help you?”

“Help me?” Thorismund asked, now confused and not quite sure what Festuscato suggested.

“How about safe passage back to Visigoth land, and I promise I won’t let any trolls or goblins eat your men along the way.”

“It is a fair offer,” Heinrich said, having seen enough over the last five months to not doubt it.

“And a piece of advice for free.  You need to surround yourself with honest men like Julius, Pinewood and Father Gaius, my old friend.”  He turned to stare at Scarface.  “And you need to get rid of those who don’t tell you the whole story and are only interested in furthering their own ambition.”

Thorismund looked at Scarface who tried to keep a straight face but dared not speak for fear of digging himself deeper into the hole.  Thorismund took his horse and rode back to his men.  Scarface followed, but Heinrich had a last word for Festuscato. “You have ruined me, you know.  I think you made me an honest man.”

“Good thing. I would guess Thorismund could use an honest man.”

He nodded and Gotlieb said, “Good-bye,” so he actually got in the last word.

“Pinewood,” Festuscato spoke softly.  “A hundred fairies in the grass?  Elves of the marsh, and others?”

“I should check on May,” Pinewood, said and flew off.  Julius and Gaius shared a laugh.  Festuscato watched the fairy fly and thought of Gerraint who might need some fairies in the grass.

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Next Monday:  Festuscato: To Orleans.  There are bumps on the road, but meanwhile…

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