Jenny: A Bird In the Hand

It was snowing. From where he lay on his couch Ambrosius could see a faint snow drifting down on the windless air outside his window. He watched it unblinkingly, feeling cold and still as if made of glass and unawake. What day it was, what he meant to do in it, who else would be in it, those things did not matter. The silver dusting of snow on the pane and the flash of a cardinal's wings were all that mattered.

But already close the weight of the world was clustering to fall about his shoulders, and with a sigh Ambrosius swung round, dropping his feet onto the cold stone floor, and already the day was awake and alive to him. He would fetch a quick breakfast and have Cyrus saddled at once. Champion would join him; he could leave the rest in Artos' and the Guttersnipe's hands to mind the villa. The day and the timeless sparkle of snow and flash of red wings changed places. He rose, folding up his rugs with precision, and sat in his chair to put on his boots. A part of his mind, considering how cold it would be, reached for the short white scarf and the wolfskin overcoat while the rest of him ran ahead and far back to the issues surrounding the knife.

He would fight this one too, of course. He stood as he fastened the toggles of the wolfskin, staring out the window at the cardinal darting among the trees. It seemed as though every waking hour he was fighting something, every moment an uphill struggle. He reached for his Syrian knife on the tabletop. What a life it was to be an idealist! He laughed harsh and noiseless to himself as he threaded the weapon onto his belt.

"My lords, my overlords, rulers of Britain - " already the words were running through his head which, if all went as he feared, he would have to speak before the Council " - for over twenty years I have served you as your military arm. I have answered to your commands, and in return you have granted me a level of autonomy for which I am deeply indebted. Today even greater threats encroach on Britain, and I must beg of you to remember my unfailing, faithful service to you, and I must beg of you not to cripple Britain by - "

By what? He jerked his buckle shut and threaded the end of the leather into a neat knot, pulling the whole to dead-centre at his middle. Politics! Alan knew, he hated politics. It was an unavoidable necessity, and Alan even assured him that he was passable at it, though his carriage and general command of person did half the work for him. But the play of words and tempers, the Scyllas and Charybdises that crowded the waters, they were not fields he cared to fight in. In a fight, he knew when he was victorious; in politics, the struggle for victory lasted to the grave, and then the playing-field was levelled in death.

The latch on his door clicked and banged as he lifted and dropped it, leaving his room. The hallway, which was always dimly lit at the best of times, was washed in a cheerless white light from the unshuttered window. There was no noise of stirring from Artos' quarter; the man was probably busy over records. He hesitated for only a fraction of a moment, then went on to Master Lucius' door and found it ajar.

There was a lamp lit on the man's desk, the shutters thrown wide to let in the snowy light, and swathed in a great green cloak the man was busy at some paperwork which untidily flowed over his desk. He seemed in a bit of a hurry, and Ambrosius noticed that his wick was low. As he moved into the doorway, the man glanced round, eyebrows flyaway.

"Master Lucius, I came to inquire of the transcript from last night."

The bird-like young man lifted several tablets off his desk, sending a fluttering cascade of vellum down onto the floor. "I made copies for you, in case you needed more than one. I'm afraid I didn't have a chance to check them to be sure I didn't make a mistake, but it took some time writing and I wanted to look up some other things as well."

Ambrosius took the tablets in hand and flicked back the wooden front of the first, scanning the writing inside. The writing was so detailed, if the script was hurried, that the images of last night sprang at once into his mind. He glanced up at the lamp. "Have you been up all night?"

The man unexpectedly coloured in the face. "I am a slow writing in the winter..." he began.

"Your short-hand is impeccable," Ambrosius protested gently, bending down to pick up one of the fallen papers. He held it out. "Have you had any training in court?"

Master Lucius' hand, outstretched to take the paper, hesitated. "No...sir." The colour vanished, and he noticed that the man had some faint freckling.

"Should you care for some?"

It was clear to Ambrosius that it was a thing Master Lucius would love with his whole being, to put himself seriously to written legal work; yet there was also in the man's face a definite wariness at the proposal. He dropped his hand and pulled his cloak tight about his shoulders. In a suddenly quiet, desperate tone, Master Lucius said, "How can I possibly help you, sir? I don't have any training, and that's a fact. In anything else - any other way - "

"And if I see otherwise, and if there is no other way?" countered Ambrosius gently.

Master Lucius was silent.

Ambrosius laid the paper down on the table. "I won't force you. Think about it, and tell me what you decide. I could use you, Master Lucius, more than even I know." He did not add, though he thought it, You may be my only way out of this corner.

He turned to go. He had the transcript, and Cyrus needed saddling. But as he had hoped, Lucius said, "Sir, wait," and he turned back to see the man had risen from his chair. Lucius was much thinner and frailer in appearance when standing, and he looked thin and frail enough when seated. But a white, firm expression had taken his face, the look of a man who knows he is going into danger, knows he may very well fail, and goes anyway. "Sir, I would be happy to assist you in any way you think I can. My person and my pen are at your service."

Tucking his tablet under his arm, Ambrosius nodded with a small smile. "My library is at your disposal, though you are probably already up to date on the Council members. I am going to see Lord Alan my neighbour about this, and I will be back. Take care of yourself, Tiro mine."

Lys: Life Goes On

Dawn found Cathair already hard at work on their new home, despite the seemingly ever-present morning mizzle. He had decided to make as much of the wattle as possible, then start putting it all together when the sun came through. If the sun came through.

"God, I know we don't talk all that much, but if you could see your way to giving me enough time to get this house up, I'd be very grateful to you. Aithne's not the sort that can survive a hard winter without a house- not in her present state, anyway. Give us time..."

He knew- they both knew- that he'd be heading out again in the spring, and he wanted to spend well what time they had before then.

And so he set back to work, so that everything would be ready when the sun came.

The sun would come through.


Aithne woke to a cold room and ears and throat to match. The Guttersnipe's concoction had certainly lessened the effects, but the soreness remained. Shivering, she inched out of bed and pulled on her clothes- clothing she'd put in the bed next to her, so that it would be warm when she arose. It was a little wrinkled, but that was a small price to pay. Leine, overgown, belt, furred shoes, and both cloaks. Overkill, some would say, but if she stayed warm, she'd get better sooner. And she had no intention of spending her days on a sickbed.

Cu woke in the middle of her preparations. He stretched his massive hind legs and limped around the room a bit, trying to get the blood flowing again.

"You're worse than I am, Cu. Come on" she said, ruffling his ears. "Let's go find us a warm fire and some food."

Cu liked the sound of that and trotted ahead of her to the door, giving it an impatient scratch. Aithne didn't feel like repremanding him, so she just opened it and let him run off and back again. The whole way to the villa he ran back and forth, until Aithne was sure he'd be warm enough before they even reached the kitchen.

But reach it, they did. She greeted Portia, who instantly fetched her a mug of cider and gave Cu a ham bone from the night before. Aithne accepted it gratefully. "Thank you, Portia. From the both of us." She added, motioning at Cu. "Give me a moment to get the feeling back into my fingers and I'll help you with the bread."

Portia waved dismissively and returned to her chores. "You take as much time as you need. We're not making half as much food now that-" she cut off, abruptly. Now that the prisoners are gone. Aithne knew what she meant. "That's good, then. I thought for awhile you may end up giving birth in the kitchen."

Portia laughed and made a face at her, and the mood was lightened.

Jenny: June's Blue Eyes

The hallways were strange, and they smelt. There were rushes on the floor where Gwenhywfar was accustomed to stone, and all was untidy and unfamiliar to her. She felt closed up on herself, drawing in as if to avoid brushing against the walls, against other people, against other minds which were not welcome to her. She felt small and alone, and not a little frightened. She did not let it show - she could not let it show. She could not let her defences down for a moment, yet a most horrible terror was beginning inside her. She began to wonder if she really would ever get out.

She walked down the passage, hoping to find her room and lock herself away for a while. Hengist's house was a maze of confusion with too many people and all their faces crowding round her. The hall, which was empty and should have been relieving, was a long soft tunnel of closing darkness so she felt like something monstrous had swallowed her and was working her down its throat. The cobwebby cling of evil was all around her. She wanted, desperately, so lash it off and run and run until she could not run any more, and pitch down and cry until she could not cry any more, and then die and be quiet and alone at last. But she forced herself to walk steadily, forced herself forward into the dark with the dark welling up behind her.

There was a sudden white glint in the dark before her, and she stopped dead still, hands clenched. A low growl reverberated so deeply that she could feel it, and in a moment she could see a black wildcat straddling the path before her, the single white patch of fur at its chest gleaming mockingly back at her. Oh no! She struggled to rouse her defences. The cat let out a single yowl and leapt straight in the air, and was caught by a figure that moved into the little pool of white light with it. It was a woman, a woman milky as alabaster with a great crown of golden hair, and Gwenhywfar knew she had met her match. The cat yowled and swiped.

All she could do was fight, so Gwenhywfar remembered who she was and what she was, and held her chin up and her hands clenched at her sides. "Stand out of my way," she said coolly.

"But I will not," the witch replied silkily. "I am the woman of the house - and your house, soon."

"Nevertheless - " Gwenhywfar was hating her more and more with every heartbeat " - I am my own house, and you are not mistress over me. So stand aside and let me pass." And thankfully her own cat came up out of the dark just then, having been chasing mice, and began spitting and reaching for the witch's beast. Gwenhywfar caught it up and held it, and felt even with the witch at last.

The witch drew herself back, the cunning coming into those blue, blue eyes, eyes blue as the June heavens on a warm day. "Nevertheless," she countered with quiet venom, "I will be mistress of your house, and I will turn your house back on itself and destroy you, long and slow - for I know who you are, and I hate all you love. Do not underestimate me."

Then she withdrew, and Gwenhywfar was left in the dark hallway feeling shaken and ill, and hot with anger, and wishing to fly into someone's arms and be safe. You are all alone, Gwenhywfar. You are all alone.

Had she not managed to save them, after all?

Lys: He Will Make Your Righteousness Shine Like The Dawn

Cathair stood on the edge of the arena, watching the two men enter, and once again he thought of Aithne's fragility. Taking her gently by the arm, he drew her attention away to him. "Aithne... I think you should go inside. This will not be pleasant."

Her eyes skittered to the combatants and back to him. "It already isn't." she said, and he found himself thinking she was not as fragile as her comment seemed. "It isn't anything near pleasant- but I think I should stay. I need it to be over."

Looking into her eyes, he saw a battle. She was frightened of something, but determined to not let it get to her. A mix of fire and steel flashed there- something he had not seen in years- and he nodded. "All right, then."


Aithne curled around so that her back rested against Cathair and his arm was around her. It steadied her, standing that way. She wasn't about to tell him that her sight had not ceased. For her, Cunorix was somewhat hard to see, through his tagalongs. When it came to the fight, though, they drew off. Aithne was uncertain why, until she looked at Ambrosius. While she could not truly see anything, not as one would usually say they saw something, he looked different.
"He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun."

There would be no help for Cunorix- from either side.

In comparison to the intensity of Lord Ambrosius, Cunorix looked like a shadow of a man. It was impossible to describe properly, and later, when she tried, she failed miserably.

Not long after, though, she was drawn into the strike and parry of the fight. She had never swung a sword, herself, but even she could see that it was well done. Both fought well, for all their differences. Lord Ambrosius fought as though Michael the Archangel guided his every stroke- which was quite possible, for all she knew.

Why do you show me the evil so clearly, and the good so vaguely, Lord?

I show you both the same, child. It is your eyes which focus more on one instead of the other.

She sighed. You are right, as usual. Guide my eyes, O God, for the enemy is near and I need you to defend me against him...

From then on she looked only at Lord Ambrosius and the quality that shone from him, ignoring the creatures that sought to draw her attention even as they toyed with Cunorix.

So focused was she that she did not realize he had made the death stroke until Cunorix's hands went to his throat and Cathair's arm tightened around her waist. It was a gruesome sight, but it meant victory as Ambrosius moved in to finish him.

All the same, she cried out when the man died, finally turning her face away from the men. The evil spirits were collecting their charge, and she did not want to see it. "Lord God, have mercy on him- such mercy as you can give to such a man."

After her first reaction, there were no tears. She did not cry for Cunorix, but she felt saddened that someone should go willingly to hell, so intentionally refusing the Christ.

Cathair gently pulled her from the front lines. "Come away, gra. You have seen enough for one day." He gathered her into his arms, kissing the top of her head. "My brave one. Foolish, at times, but brave nonetheless."

She smiled wryly. He would go and turn a compliment on its head just to elicit a response.

"Perhaps you should go to the cloister now- go to bed early..." he suggested, but she stopped him. "No, Cathair. I've had enough of being ill for one day. I'll be fine a few moments more, at least." Then she caught herself, and looked up at him, contrite. "Unless you tell me to go, that is."


Cathair was caught by her response. Would she always be so hard to predict, or would it become easier as they went along? She was willing to leave the gathering and let herself be thought weak-stomached and frail if he commanded it.

He shook his head. "No, you may stay- for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that if I find you flagging."

She nodded her agreement, and the two stood quietly for awhile, as things broke up. Cathair figured he would be called on to help dismantle the field, but then again, they may leave it until morning. So in the meantime, he tucked Aithne under his arm and simply enjoyed her presence.

Jenny: Tacitus

The rock on which Master Lucius perched was damp and uncomfortable, and the tablet lay awkwardly over his knees, shifting and flapping whenever he attempted to press down on it. Grimly setting his lips in a line, he took firm hold of the thing and brandished his writing implement. There was no time to be flapping about.

Twelve posts were set up, one at each corner of the area and two between each corner, all hung with clusters of lamps. It seemed large to me at first, more room than men would need, but as the crowd gathered in silence on the outskirts, pressing in to the fringes of the light, giving the enclosure a sense of real urgency, and when the two men stepped into the light, the area seemed tiny.

To describe their faces is the work of another man. The Guttersnipe, perhaps, whose perception lies closer to the heart of things, could do it justice - but not I. Suffice it to say that both men were stripped to their tunics, wearing a single guard upon each forearm, holding in their left hands small bucklers. Cunorix the Mercenary wore his dark red warrior's tunic, which seemed faintly mocking in this assembly, and the Lord of Eryri wore his simple white. Long ago, in the old times, men would bait men this way, and cheer for spilt blood. Even among our forward race are brutal and backward customs. And this night was one of those nights. Forward as Lord Ambrosius is, as Roman as his blood runs, the night was wild and shadow-filled, British as you pleased. He stood to the left end of the enclosure, sword and buckler in hand, the calm and eagerness flickering in his -

But I won't. There was no time wasted. They felt their weapons - Cunorix to learn what sort of sword he carried, Ambrosius for the comfortable show of it - and began the dance which to any man who has not danced it appears awkward. The bucklers flashed in the light as the men moved round and round, watching each other carefully. To one who has not danced, it is hard to understand the strain upon the nerves which each heartbeat brings. There is no idle moment in the whole movement. Everything means something: the ripple of the fingers, the twitch of an eyelid, the purse of the lips, the shift of the ball of a foot in the dirt. These men fight for their lives, and when they fight, there is nothing else in the world.

The whole crowd jerked as one when the two finally sprang together and closed the gap. The valley rang with the collision of their swords and bucklers. They did not draw off. They kept at each other like pitted stallions, both of them elegant, deadly, and furious.

There are plenty of similarities between Ambrosius and Artos which must always be between a father and a son, but where Artos fought like a hammer, Ambrosius truly fought like a dance. His strokes were each slow and sure, each graceful - but even Artos would stagger at times under those blows, and the Merlin is renowned for his arm. As Ambrosius locked into the deadly reel with Cunorix, it was a sight almost as difficult to describe as his countenance. Cunorix's fighting, superb in itself, was much like the Merlins: fast, furious, calculating but hard. The observer feared for a moment that the mercenary's strokes would be too quick for the Hawk's. Yet no matter the speed of Cunorix's blade, Ambrosius met him, and Ambrosius was never hurried. He fought as a lady dances. It was truly beautiful to see.

There is one aspect of countenance worth mentioning. Or, rather, that the observer feels can be mentioned with any accuracy. There was upon the faces of the one, the Lord of Eryri, a certain assurance, an assurance of victory; and upon the face of the other, the reckless assurance of defeat. Throughout the whole fight those expressions never wavered, and it is in my mind that it must be a terrible thing to fight across from either face.

It ended with a movement too fast to see on Cunorix's part, and with the usual slow ease on the part of the Hawk. There was a blur of the former's sword, Ambrosius turned on the ball of one foot, and in his deliberate movements both avoided his adversary's sword and brought his own across the other's neck in the open space left behind. The fight went out of the mercenary in an instant, the lifeblood pooling into his cupped hands, and the observer was too busy writing these things to see Ambrosius stoop to give the mercy stroke. Grateful is the observer.

Wulf touched his shoulder inquiringly. Master Lucius looked up and nodded, having put the last line in for now. Across the enclosure he saw Ambrosius standing with Artos and Jason and the Guttersnipe. He could not see Jason's face, but the Guttersnipe was white and Artos was flushed; Ambrosius did not seem perturbed as he cleaned his hands quietly and gave the rag over to one of the maids to bear away. But Master Lucius, who had seen the constant look upon Ambrosius' face during the fight, a look which he would never forget, nor would he ever share with another soul, knew that the composure was hardly callous ease.

He had never really realized how great a man Ambrosius was until now.

Lys: Pentecost

Aithne saw the Guttersnipe leave, though the girl did not see her, crouched as she was in the shadows.

They will be coming out soon. She thought. It was time she found Cathair.

Getting up, she made her way to the circle of light, searching for him in the flickering shadows. There- just to the left, by a tree. Jason and the Guttersnipe were nearby, speaking quietly to one another.

She picked her way over to him, and he looked up as she came, coming to meet her as soon as he recognized her. There was an odd look on his face. "Aithne... you look... different."

"Do I?" She subconciously touched her face. "I suppose it makes sense that I would..." She looked up at his puzzled expression. "Cathair... remember how my father would sometimes become different- when he would proclaim blessings or judgements on clansmen?"

Cathair nodded, wondering where she was going with the question. "I remember being terrified of him, as a child." He smiled. "Kept me out of a few scrapes, it did."

Aithne fleetingly wondered how it was possible that a boy could get into more scrapes, but let it pass.

"I just did that."

Cathair's eyebrows rose. "You just...?"

She nodded. "I just cursed Cunorix. I didn't mean to... He recognized me, and I stood and suddenly there were words coming out of my mouth. I felt powerful, filled with... with a fire... I felt like I could snap him in two, Cathair! And then, when I had done with him, I turned to Lord Ambrosius and a benediction came out..."

Lowering her head, she shuddered. "But the worst part was when I saw. There were demons around Cunorix, Cathair. A whole swarm of demons just waiting to take his soul."

She recovered a bit and looked up again. "Why, Cathair? Why me? I am not a bard. I gave that up a long time ago. I shouldn't have seen that..."

Cathair considered it. "Maybe... maybe it's an... oh what did he call it?... an Anointing. Remember? Brother Parthalan taught us about the disciples on that one day, when the Holy Ghost came on them and they changed..."

The implications of the idea caused them both to step back, somewhat intimidated by it all.

"This is all out of the range of a warrior, Aithne. I don't meddle in the affairs of priests and bards. But I think this is pretty clear. Whether you like it or not, you're a true bard now."

Aithne was at a loss for words. Cathair smiled and pulled her under his arm. "Don't think about it now. You'll have plenty of time later."

Don't think about it? How can I? But she did her best. And just then, the door moved. All eyes turned to the villa, and there was but one thought among them. It is time.

Jenny: "He Will Kill Cunorix."

Jason shrugged. "I have a girl of my own. I know what it's like. Except that - " he pointed at the white-cloaked figure that was coming down the path toward them " - she was bred man-wise, and had to learn her womanhood from the mares here. So that, next to her, your Aithne is a normal girl." He smiled charitably, though the smile did not manage to touch his eyes, and he knew it - and he knew Cathair probably saw it.

He shoved up off the tree to his feet. The Guttersnipe, carefully picking her way down the path, came to meet him with arms outstretched and held up her face to be kissed. Her cheeks were flushed and her hands were cold. He drew back. "Is it so very bad?"

Wrathfully, she shook once through and through, but it was in a calm voice that she said, "He will kill Cunorix. He has promised." She turned and looked at Cathair as though she had never seen him before. "They are coming soon," she added in a detached sort of tone.

She seemed very far away, though he held her only at arm's length, and he wondered where she had wandered to, whether to her past or to her future, and in the fitful shadows on her face he could not see the pull of her countenance clear enough to know. It was possible that even she did not know what she was seeing.

At the head of the hill the door banged again.

Lys: Babble

"Sure and it will. I've seen Cunorix fight before, and I've heard Lord Ambrosious's praises far and wide." He looked at the field as if he could already see the combatants within it. "I'm thinking, though, that it is a sight I should perhaps keep Aithne from seeing. She's been... more than usually fragile today."

He shifted. "Forgive me. You don't need to hear about that. I'm just talking, I guess."

Jenny: Cock-Fighting

Jason declined from pointing out that, in a way, the weight of the world did rest on their shoulders, and did not disclose his own personal thoughts. He pointed across the space, fingers spread horn-wise, to indicate the poles with their lamps. "This is the way we do it: give them a wide open space and let them go at it, and not let them go beyond the marked borders of the poles so none of the observers get hurt." He dropped his arm to his knees. "We've been doing this sort of thing since time immemorial. I've heard stories of men who used to put on armour with steel spurs on their wrists and heels, and fly at each other like cocks. They outlawed that ages ago, though. It was too violent, and the Army couldn't afford to lose its men to petty baiting, though it must have been a thing to see... Ambrosius and Cunorix are going to need all that room. This will be a thing to see, if nothing else."

Lys: Strange And New

"You look as though the weight of the world rested on your shoulders alone." Cathair walked over and sat by the man. In an attempt to make Jason focus on one thing, and not the whole imposing picture, he asked, "Forgive my ignorance, but what did we just make, exactly?"

He motioned vaguely at the structure. "I mean, we have single combat in Eire, but the field does not look like this."


It was getting dark, and the men had still not exited the villa. Aithne had no inclination to go back in and face them. There would be too many questions- if not spoken, there would at least be odd looks and a formal coldness. And why shouldn't they be wary? She was wary of herself! For all she knew, she might find herself taking up a sword and dispatching Cunorix then and there. No. Best she stay out of their way until the thing was done. There would be time enough for answering questions later.

She drew her cloak over her head. Lord, your servant does not understand... why would you give me this sight?

Jenny: Small Things


"Put a post there - there, a little to your right." Jason pointed and called across the flat grassless space at the foot of the villa's hill between the slope and the Long Barn. Cathair obediently raised the stake over his head and plunged it into the ground, then took a step back to begin hammering it in. At his own corner of the yard, Jason put in a stake and pounded likewise - tang! tang! tang! the notes of his hammer rang out in the valley as he smote the metal pole. There was a strong wind in the trees, rushing along the slopes of the hills in the wild dark overhead. In the valley where his stood he felt a gentle but cold and persistent wind on his skin. The cluster of lanterns which they were hanging from the poles spun crazily, casting bat-flickering shadows round their feet. High up in the hills, far to the north, a stag belled angrily; and he could imagine, though he could not hear, the silent uprush of the wolves on the hunt, the leader of the pack flying full-stretched through the flurrying dark for the white flash of the buck's throat, and the rest of them racing wild round as the big creature came down in one last desperate grunting scream.

He drove the last stake home and stood back. The dirt was a pool of tawny light - his eyes were dazzled by the lanterns - and beyond crouched the mysterious panther-dark, a sort of dark that seemed to know what was coming, to know better than he did, and seemed to wait with a quiet, satisfied sort of expectancy, which steadied the knotted feeling in his middle.

He stooped to shove a rock up against the base of the metal pole. A door banged up the hill. He wondered how long it would be before they had all withdrawn into the paws of the dark outside the pool of light and stood watching Ambrosius and the fine Attacotti warrior facing off. Not like the playing wolfish scrapping which the Companions indulged in from time to time: this would be to the death. With a little mirthless jolt of laughter he left the pole and crossed to the nearest tree and fetched up his instrument case, running his hands over the familiar clean length of it. Strange how, he thought, here on the edge of the world where the lines of law so often become blurred, a single man with no thought nor dream to tyranny can become Law himself, fighting for the head of the pack through other wolves and making himself and his into Something among the free people of Britain. What did they have with Rome? Jason sank down to the ground with his back to the tree. Rome would not help them. Rome had her own struggles.

Not that Britain did not have her struggles. Here on the edge of the world, what lived in the roaring dark beyond was seeping in at the cracks faster than they could bail. Out of the west came folk like Cunorix, from the east the stallion-banner of Hengist and his brother Horsa. The proud catskin folk of the north were shifting uneasily, remembering in their dreams how rank on rank of scarlet soldiers came and burnt their heather year after year after year... And if there was a people who could hold a grudge, Jason thought, it was the Briton people. Them, and the Jews, of course - excepting men like Caleb.

He blinked away the painful spangling of light on his vision. He had been staring up into the lantern. Moonshine! It boiled down to Ambrosius and Cunorix, and however history added up, it always boiled down in the end to a handful of men and the small mundane things that they did which made the world turn. It was as simple as that.

Lys: Awen

Aithne took a deep breath, then sat down on the ground, resting her back against the building. She was at peace, yes, but the experience left her shaken. She'd never done that before- never seen such things, never said such things. Her father had done them, though. Well she remembered him turning into something so unlike her da, fierce and terrible, with the power of God in his mouth. She'd seen massive warriors quake in fear when the Word moved him.

And now she had done it- without thinking, without trying- she opened her mouth and the words sprang to her tongue and would not be held back. She took another deep breath and exhaled.

Should I go to Cathair? She felt the need to speak to someone, but she didn't wish to interrupt him in his work- not now, anyway. It was rare he was called to work with the Companions, and she wouldn't dare interrupt that moment.

"Thank you for sitting with me, Cu. You're a great help to me."

In answer, Cu readjusted and put his massive head in her lap, looking up at her with soulful eyes.

And thank you, God, for sending him to me.

Jenny: A Crocus-Flame Alight

Artos let out a soft whistle. Ambrosius admitted that he felt rather the same. The Guttersnipe who had flared with silent objection when she had been brushed aside, stood completely still, dumb-struck - she recovered in time to flash a triumphant look at Cunorix.

He would never admit it to anyone, not even Artos, but Domitia's words had dug deep into his soul and clenched him tight like Champion's talons in his shoulder: like water in a dry place, like strains of heaven's music in a land without harmony. He knew what the Guttersnipe felt in that first few hollow moments after Domitia's speech: something wholly other than the pale little Erin-chit had erupted into bloom before them, giving no preamble, and vanishing with all the notice of a departing angel. The girl had finally found her wick and had begun to burn.

Then he saw Cunorix's face, and neither of them were smiling now. The Attacotti was looking grim, his eyes glacial in a drawn face. He met eyes with Ambrosius and nodded, his lips parting to show his teeth. Ambrosius gave him no gesture back.

"Kill him," Artos murmured. "If you do nothing else, kill him."

"Oh, I will."

Lys: Hear Me

Aithne heard the words, and a deadly calm came over her. Her hand stilled at its work. She stood, quietly pressing aside the Guttersnipe's hand. Her chin was high, her eyes flinty-cold. Fleetingly, she wished for a proper staff.

She stepped forward, challenging his gaze with her own. When she spoke, her voice was strong and level. The force of it carried into the room, beyond Cunorix's own ears.

"I would expect you to say that- you, who see only with your eyes and forget even that as soon as you turn away. If you considered what you saw, if you had wisdom in your heart, you would know that you do not see a slave, for no man here keeps slaves, but rather a Bard of Eire, whom you stole from her family, yea, from Eire herself.

"And that is not all you have done, Cunorix Mercenary. You have orchestrated the brutal death of another Bard of Eire, robbing her people of knowledge, her most precious possession. For your own amusement and convenience you pitted clan against clan, dividing my island against itself, shattering the blessed peace and creating many a widow and orphan among her people."

She raised her hand in declamation, every bit the bard, the satirist, the avenger of wrongs. "Hear me now, Cunorix of Gaul, for I speak on behalf of Eire and her children. The Holy Writ itself says, 'I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.'

"You have cursed us, therefore you have brought a holy curse upon yourself. Beware! I see your pride, your arrogance. You set yourself up as important among men, as though you were some sort of lesser god. Hear me! Pride is a harbinger of destruction. Watch your footing, O Cunorix, for your downfall is at hand, lest you repent and call on Christ."

She startled herself, though it did not show. Where had that last bit come from? Why did she suddenly feel the need to offer him the only rescue? He would not take it. That was certain. But she was a servant of the One God, and the One God had given her the words to speak.

She pressed on.

"I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. You, our enemy, will meet with darkness in the day time. You will grope in the noonday as in the night. Your hand will be weakend and unable to succeed.

"To God belongeth vengeance and recompence; your foot shall slide in due time. The day of your calamity is at hand! Repent of your sins, Cunorix, for if you do not, you will surely die, and after that comes the true suffering."

She stepped closer. She could almost see it. Her sight blurred, then focused sharply. Yes, she could see them. He had wrapped himself in the darkness of demons, and did not even know it. And they were crowing at his imminent demise...

Her voice lowered into a warning tone. "It is near already. You can hear it, breathing in your ear- a fearsome sound of death and pain, a twisted anticipation of your soul. It waits to devour you, O Cunorix of Gaul. My Lord Ambrosius may easily take your body, but this doom will devour your very soul, and that slowly. An eternity, in fact.

"Fear and tremble, Cunorix, for there is more in store for you than simple death on cold steel."

With that, she turned her back on him and walked away. Then, suddenly, she turned aside to Lord Ambrosius. Raising her hand once more, she hailed him. "My Lord Ambrosius, hear the Word of the Lord Over All: God shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. He shall redeem thee in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season. Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good."

With that, she went to the door and out into the yard, leaving the combatants to themselves.

It was not until she was fully outside that her hands began to shake. Cu came up out of nowhere, shoving his head under her hand and whining. He always seemed to know when she wasn't completely well. She stroked his head and back, and presently she felt better. All her fears, all her anger... it was gone. She'd handed it over to God and was, finally, at peace.

Jenny: Faces

From under her lashes, the Guttersnipe was watching Cunorix as warily as Artos was. She had caught Ambrosius' glance for just a moment, for as long as she dared lest Cunorix see, and he had given her through his eyes the briefest steadying look, all seriousness, though the little flare of smile had never gone from his lips. He knew what he was doing. But knowing that did not stop the hammering of her heart in her chest. Oh! she was proud: fiercely, furiously proud of him, as she had been for Artos when he had slung himself half-lamed into the saddle and gone off into the jaws of hell. So proud! And yet the fear, just as fierce, threatened to smudge the dark lining round her eyes.

And so she kept her eyes fixed on Cunorix, finding safety in filling herself with the loathsome sight of him. He moved with decisive ease, like a girl, like a stallion. He kept patiently in one place, shifting on his feet, a cool little smile on his face, doing nothing to provoke the watchful Companions. He knew better than Calidus did, not being charged with unreasoning hatred, to snatch up a knife and fly at Ambrosius. But what would he do? she wondered. He did not strike her as the sort to easily lay down the hope of promised glory: lands, fame, the loveliest woman in the insular country. What was going on, she desperately wanted to know, behind those cool blue eyes?

Suddenly the eyes flared to life, and the Guttersnipe realized they had lighted, at first only in passing, and then with fixed interest, on Domitia, who was on one knee scrubbing at the goresome mess Ambrosius' whip had made of Calidus' ear. Trying not to remember how he had laughed at her across the distance when her own cool mask had come down, she lifted the hem of her skirt and moved at once to Domitia's side, just in time to hear Cunorix muse swift and soft, "Why, you! I am remembering you, the little chit like a broken harp that I caught and sold in Erin. How the gods do weave our lives... Ambrosius' slave! It is something sweet to taste, this fate."

The Guttersnipe flung out a hand between them, gesturing for him to be silent, but having no desire to be pitting with him in conversation. She let her hatred burn at him through her gaze. His own look was all mockery.

Lys: To Work

Cathair jumped slightly when Jason called his name. This is new. And perhaps a bit of a demoralizer for Cunorix and his men. One of his own helping to arrange his death.

He strode forward, more than ready, then paused and turned back to Aithne. She'd been looking a little green earlier...

"Go, muirnait. I'll be fine." She smiled at him, and he set off after Jason, eager to help the man. He may not be able to strike the killing blow, but he had something to do.


Aithne watched him go. Her Cathair. Somehow sending him off thus, even just to go outside, made her feel warm and proud.

But a moment later she shook herself. There was more work than that to be done. The puddle on the floor, for instance. That would only get nastier as it sat. Let the other men see how short a time Calidus's stench is allowed to be remembered.

With some regard for her clothing, she retrieved the necessary items from the kitchen and began cleaning up the mess. She hoped, as it was still wet, that it would come up without much scrubbing. She could not scrub in these clothes. She could clean, however, and that she would do.

Jenny: Two Wolves

Master Lucius hastily swept up his tablet. It appeared they were going to be adjourning to the out-of-doors presently. The impression tablets were wonderful for field-work: he could write down his thoughts in ink later.

Wulf approached, present whenever he was needed, holding a cloak. "It's cold and windy out," he said in earthy grumbles. "It's ungood for your health."

The manservant was probably right, Master Lucius reflected as he dug through his leather pouch for his stylus. But history was being made here. "History is being made here, Wulf," he said forcefully. "History. I'm not staying inside because it's damp and chilly. Damp and chilly! If you waited to see history until this place ceased to be damp and chilly, Wulf, the Lord Jesus will be back and history will be done and gone. Ah, thank you."

He fussed with the brooch at his throat while Wulf, patiently nodding in an understanding sort of way, took the tablet from him and held the stylus gingerly in one huge paw. In the background of his awareness he knew Cunorix's men, who were still bound at the wrists, where being pushed farther back to the edges of the room, out of the way, and Jason was hopping off his stool to fetch old Hunno and Buic to help lay out the fighting area. He called on Cathair for help as he passed, and the two vanished into the night. The Guttersnipe, looking very small and sharp, stood by her Lord Ambrosius as if to take reassurance from his presence. Ambrosius himself seemed not in the least perturbed, though Artos was watching Cunorix's pretty girlish eyes with frank distrust. Ambrosius and Cunorix did not need to look at each other. The Lord of Eryri actually had his back to the warrior as he took his sword from the Guttersnipe, who had fetched it, and Cunorix was idly watching what was being done to his fellows. But they were looking at each other, all the same. Master Lucius knew that the moment they had laid the wager between themselves, they had not taken their eyes off each other.

This was history worth writing about!

Lys: Arrogance

Cunorix! Cathair's blood boiled that the man would be given a fighting chance. For a moment he wished he was a less honorable man with a less honorable lord. His dagger would be resting in the mercenary's heart right now if it were so.

The man was full of arrogance. He knew what they were capable of, and knew the ways in which they would hold back. He danced along the line, never going too far, knowing so long as he kept to his side, they would hold back their power.

How I ever thought he was worthy of allegience...


Aithne's resolve hardened as she listened to Cunorix taunt her lord. This was the man who'd orchestrated the complete destruction of her family- who'd pitted tribe against tribe, simply to fuel his own ends. And looking at him now, Aithne was not entirely certain it wasn't just for his amusement.

She thought she not only could, but would want to see this man die. Oh dear God, forgive me. Your will be done.

Jenny: Draughts

Now that Calidus was removed, Master Lucius noticed the atmosphere was remarkably lighter. Jason shifted from where he was perched on a high stool, finding a most comfortable position, and a sort of openness unfurled between Ambrosius' brows. The chief enemy was away. Cunorix, invader and stranger, was something the Lords of Eryri and Arfon were accustomed to dealing with. Ambrosius gestured and sat down again, and Curonix stepped forward with all the eager pride of a stallion being shown off before a buyer. Ambrosius, catching these motions, moved his whip to his knee and did not look amused.

"Who are you and where do you come from?"

Cunorix spread his big hands. "I am Cunorix, and I am a mercenary, and I am not afraid because you broke a dunghill cock's neck with your whip."

The Lord of Eryri actually smiled, and it was a real sort of smile this time. "Since you came against me with all of your best men, I do not doubt that, mercenary. The pay must have been very good."

Cunorix flashed back an open smile in return. "If you were anyone else, you would be flattering yourself beyond your due. My master is in the habit of it - I know the smell of it. But you, Ambrosius, Last Roman in Britain, do not flatter yourself beyond your due. The bitterness of my defeat is well-mixed in my mouth with the sweet taste of meeting you in a fight... And yes, the pay was very good."

Master Lucius looked to the Guttersnipe, but she, caught once, was not to be caught again, and she did not meet his gaze nor waver as she looked back at Cunorix. He was left alone to his own thoughts about Gwenhywfar. Brave girl! she was free of the threat of Cunorix now. She did not need to worry. He wondered if she knew, in that strange way that she could know things, that the noose was drawing shut around the mercenary's neck.

"Cunorix Mercenary," Ambrosius asked, "what am I to do with you?"

The man knew he was being toyed with, like a mouse between a cat's paws, but with all the swagger of his kind he enjoyed even that attention. "Do? Put a sword in my fist, and let me die tasting that sweetness a little more strongly - or taste your blood, which would be sweetest of all."

To Master Lucius' surprise, Ambrosius seemed to actually entertain the thought. The face was a still mask, the grey eyes faintly paling; the corner of the lips was touched with a smile. Cunorix waited, one hand held out in an almost theatrical gesture.

"Uncle - " Artos said in Iceni.

The young Greek kept his eyes on his lord's face, breathless, wanting to speak and completely unable to. What was the man doing? Victory was in his grasp! But then his moment of disbelief gave way to memories of yesterday and the brutal, chilling game of draughts Ambrosius had run him through. It was reckless in appearance, but perfect in its whole. Cold and brutal. That was Ambrosius.

"You know I am not a man to put a man's head on the block because he went to war. Let it be fair. I will touch swords with you, Cunorix Mercenary. And as I am an honest man - " he got to his feet. " - be sure you do not make foul play." The smouldering storm came into the grey eyes. "If you do, I will make sure you remember your death for a very long time."

Cunorix touched the heel of his palm to his chest in mocking salute. "The words of the peace of Rome endure through the ages," he said.

Lys: Filth

It was done. Aithne knew by the sounds and the silences that it was all over. She heard Kay's heavy steps out the door. Only when they faded did she step away from Cathair and return to her place.

There was a red pool on the ground where Calidus has fallen. "So much for a clean floor..." she muttered.

Beside her she heard Cathair's low chuckle.

Jenny: No Angel, There Is Blood In Her Cheeks

"Kay, if you please," said Ambrosius, rolling his whip back up around his fist. The Guttersnipe barely heard him through the drumming of blood in her ears. It must have been the same for Artos - they had both jumped at once: the uprush of darkness on their vision, lashed with a red sort of light and, as though it were happening already, the fractal image of Calidus springing with the knife. She had felt a panic where he had gone on the defense. She had never seen such an image before, and it took her a moment to smooth her feathers.

Across the room she caught the eye of the fair enemy warrior, watching her closely, the eyes two black-rimmed slits of mocking ice. He had seen her moment of disarming. Her cheeks flamed. She tipped up her chin, dropping her eyes to where Kay was hauling the fallen body over his shoulder and striding from the room with it, refusing to look back into the warrior's taunting face.

Lys: A Harsh Mercy

Mercy? The Hawk would give mercy to this boy? Cathair unconciously started forward, coming to himself when Aithne stumbled because of it.

Whatever it was it seemed to scare the wits out of Calidus. Cathair wondered if this 'mercy' wasn't less merciful than death. He smiled. He didn't mean to seem to enjoy the man's downfall, but to see the pride be put in its place was in some way satisfying.

Then all hell broke loose.

Cathair pushed Aithne aside and behind him as the blade flashed in the firelight. His own hand was ready on his dagger, about to spring in if necessary. But the Hawk easily deflected and disarmed the boy. He had things in hand. He had things well in hand.

Cathair stood and looked on calmly. He knew where it would end. The kitten had brought it on himself. And Cathair was not sad to see him go.


Aithne gasped when the knife flashed. Merciful Christos! Then the whip sang through the air and she breathed again. There was no danger now. The whip sang again and blood was spilled. Aithne turned away, knowing what was coming, knowing she'd be ill if she watched, and knowing she was a coward all the same.

She laid her head against Cathair's back and closed her eyes until it was done.

Jenny: Black Lightning

"Would you have done it? Would you have come back to us after six years, something man-grown, and tried to pick up the knife which Rufrius dropped had you never known about his death?"

It was Artos who spoke now, leaning forward a little in his chair to let the light play on his face. He wore a little smile, a smile one could almost call cruel if one did not know him better. He was fiercely handsome, dangerous and rather potent. Master Lucius could easily see what Gwenhywfar saw in him.

"Our little girl beat you last you were here, Calidus. How is it that it came into your mind that would could beat us?"

"I know you." Calidus threw Ambrosius' words at the Lord of Arfon. "Did I not grow up here? Was I not born and raised in this valley, in these hills? Britain sets her clocks by you: when it is time for the kings to go out to war, you go; when autumn closes the ways, it closes the ways up on your heels as you draw back into your valley. I knew that you would be secure in your little villa, all shut off from the world. I knew that I could be a sort of man within the gates, knowing you and your ways - for there are many in Britain who want you as dead as I do. And did I not almost succeed?" He flung up his head, looking round at them all with a fierce little smile on his narrow face. He looked back into steely faces and immutable countenances, but underneath that Master Lucius knew they all felt the closeness of the thing. If it had not been for the Fox, whipping back the tide at the last moment, they would not all be here having this uncomfortable conversation.

But Ambrosius said, "There is a reason that you failed, a reason so fixed that your almost success might as well be a routing defeat."

"And that is?"

"In a little while you might have opportunity to ask."

Revenge. It was rather simple, really, Master Lucius considered, remembering that his pen was dripping on his vellum. While he had to focus on his papers, he could not deny himself a boyish shiver of delight which, even as he chided himself for it, he could not suppress. How he had longed to see someone unnerve Calidus and put him in his place! To have his boyhood hero do so was almost too much to ask for. Revenge.

Ambrosius was speaking again when Master Lucius could look up from his work. "I am disinclined to extend mercy a second time to you, Calidus - "

"I am disinclined to take it."

"Sir," said Kay.

The Hawk's eyebrows lifted. " - but I will do so, because you were misinformed of the manner of Rufrius' death, which made you come back. I will give you a mark by which to remember me, and to remember the defeat you suffered here, so that you will never return - and I will drive you out again."

Rage mixed with fear skirted Calidus' features. Fear, Master Lucius thought, not of being driven back into the harsh, unforgiving world - Calidus could stand that; but fear of having Ambrosius drive him out, to brand him as the enemy of the Hawk and of the Merlin and to be driven out by the hand he so desperately hated. That Calidus feared. It would be a thing which would haunt him like his shadow, laugh at him in his dreams. Ambrosius was removing from him the last claim to a man's dignity and honour he possessed: the freedom of his own name. Artos suddenly started, coming half to a stand in his own chair. The Guttersnipe stepped backward, her hands flying outward as if to ward off something, and faster that Master Lucius could see, Calidus had whirled aside and snatched the knife clean out of Kay's hands. He sprang at Ambrosius.

But the Hawk with the Second Sight must have seen this too, for he was waiting. He was on his feet, shoulders back, a stockwhip uncurling from his fist. It hissed and he let it fly, Jupiter's black lightning cracking the fabric of the tumultuous atmosphere. Calidus gave an angry yelp of pain as the whip closed with the fangs of an adder about his wrist, biting deep and yanking the knife free. Ambrosius released Calidus and let fly again. The whip sang through the air. A spurt of blood from Calidus' ear jerked the young man aside. Kra-kow! The whip barked again and again.

The whip snapped back into Ambrosius' fist. Calidus knelt on the blood-spattered floor, flanks heaving. "Did you truly want to fight me?" asked Ambrosius softly.

The young man spat out blood and turned smouldering eyes on the Hawk. The hate was there, but the fear had gone. They both knew how it would end, and they seemed, in a quieted, sombre sort of way, to welcome it. Calidus reached for the knife. The whip caught him round the neck and yanked the spine until it cracked. With a sharp grunt, Calidus dropped to the floor and lay perfectly still, lifeless.

The vellum was ruined now.

Lys: Preposterous

"The mewling kitten thinks he can bait the stag and win..." Cathair muttered. It was just like that, watching the two. Everyone but Calidus knew it. Cathair had a fair idea of what the boy's earlier offenses were, and he did not think less of the stag for wanting to rid himself of the kitten, however small. Cats grew quickly in strength. But that the kitten thought he could win was utterly preposterous.

"He should be silent, but instead he makes himself more and more condemned." Aithne leaned back against him, drawing his arm around her waist. Her way of settling me. He kissed the top of her head and was quiet.

Jenny: The Lords of Eryri and Arfon

Master Lucius' pen stilled a moment. The moment lingered, hanging in the balance, the looks between the Lords of Eryri and Arfon and the young man tangible as the heat of the fire beside him. The hate was throat-catching. Young Epona's nostrils flared and the shadows flickered across her brow as her eyes widened a fraction. The hand on the sword-pommel slowly curled in on itself. Only Ambrosius did not change in his appearance. Master Lucius thought perhaps the stormy grey of his eyes grew faintly white, like the sea, but he could not be sure.

The moment broke. Behind Calidus stepped the beautiful warrior with the black wings about his eyes, and after him a handful of other men, all of them warriors but stripped of their weapons, holding in their fists only their sullen pride and hate, which touched Ambrosius and left as much impression as a man's blow leaves upon the rocky cliffs of the shore.

Remembering himself, he picked up his pen again and began to write once more. Fittingly, it was Calidus whom Kay, teeth showing a little with mutual distake, led up before Ambrosius. Master Lucius caught the questioning glance he cast his lord, but Ambrosius, in some way Master Lucius could not see, called Kay off from dropping Calidus to his knees. Kay took a step back, but kept within the younger man's view - kept his knife within the younger man's view - as a quiet and constant reminder.

The scene fixed itself again, like a tapestry, on Master Lucius' vision. The pen slowed. He had heard it all from the Guttersnipe, how six years ago she had bloodied the boy's nose and Artos, in a quiet, seething rage, had sent the boy off cold and alone into the unforgiving world. Why was it, he wondered, that such as Calidus survived? Six years ago. Six full, long, defining years. Calidus survived, dead inside and carrying with him the empty corpse of Rufrius; the Guttersnipe had survived, alive with her own life and the lives of her people and the pulse of her bare feet running on the green turf of her Eryri runs. It was a scene to him at once hideous and beautiful.

Lord Ambrosius said, "You have a thing to say, Calidus, to us after all this time?"

The young man shook his head. His fists clenched, and he took a moment to find his words through the tightness of his chest. He was probably feeling a bit ill, judging from the paleness of his face. "You hold me on trial here - "

"Sir," said Kay.

" - as if I had done any different from yourself, sir." Master Lucius wondered that he did not vomit in his hate. His words tasted of the bile. "You kill in battle, and no one lifts a hand to stop you. I do the same, and you find fit to put me on trial as though I were a criminal. But you are the criminal, and I will not call you sir. You are a cold-blooded murderer, and do not think you will convince me otherwise."

Kay's fingers flexed, but the tall Companion kept his peace with remarkable grace. Master Lucius, along with the rest, looked to Ambrosius. Once more the Lord of Eryri had not moved, and the eyes were as grey as before. "Is it required of me," he asked, "to explain to you what I do and do not do, as though you could understand, and as though light came from your eyes and not darkness?"

"You are a murderer!" said Calidus sharply, his hand flying up to push the word through the air at Ambrosius. "Don't think the gods do not see."

Ambrosius spread his own hand outward above the floor, as though to brush a thing aside. "But I will tell you - not because you deserve to know, and not because it has any bearing on your offense tonight, but because I am honest, and I am no murderer." Calidus quivered a moment, as though he would object, but silence won him out and the two regarded each other a moment before the lord went on. "I know you, Calidus. I knew Rufrius. I could smell you as a sickness among my people and so I drove you out. Your eyes are dark in your head and you cannot see, nor can you understand the words in your ears, but this is why I drove you out: because you are wholly wicked and stink of the stench of wickedness. Do not underestimate me, Calidus. I See and Know more than you think I do, and I am not unright in this. It was not I who killed Rufrius. He killed himself."

Master Lucius caught the glances the Companions gave Ambrosius, though not one of them made a move. He frowned, looking to the Guttersnipe; she did not take her paling eyes off Calidus' face.

"I went to drive him out the day you left, but he would not be moved. In the end his rage took him, and out of simple self-defence I dropped him on his own stone flags when he made to put a knife between my ribs."

"Would that he had," said Calidus venemously.

Ambrosius gave a mirthless smile, which Master Lucius found chilling.

Lys: Revulsion

Aithne watched them bring in the first prisioner. Her eyes widened when she saw him. Calidus! She shrank back a bit, coming up against Cathair's bulk.

He put a concerned hand on her shoulder and she felt a little braver. "He almost killed the Guttersnipe two months ago." she whispered to him.


Ah. That explains some things. Why the Guttersnipe's normally cold demeanor was now making Nordic ice seem like a campfire, for instance.

The man looked sullen and angry. And there was a certain quality about him that Cathair found utterly repulsive. He didn't remember coming across the man in the long march here. But if he'd been with the Guttersnipe, they must've picked him up at Vortigern's rath.

His grip tightened reassuringly on Aithne's shoulder.

Jenny: Silver, And the Colour of Death's Knife

By the time he was fully prepared, Master Lucius found himself surfacing to an atmosphere wholly different from before. The atrium had become a shell of golden light, lined with black velvet, and he had the distinct impression of something huge and angry breathing just behind him. He forced himself not to look round, knowing there would be nothing there. But the whole huge angry sensation, golden as a lion's mane, which filled the atrium and breathed long and low was something he had never felt before.

The farm folk had all slipped away now. Caleb and Kay were missing from the Companions' ranks, but the others stood round near the head of the room, waiting, eyes on the doorway, hands on their swords. And at the end of the room were Jupiter and Tyr and Epona. The pen began to move across the page. Ambrosius and Artos were both seated in their chairs of antler-make, and the Guttersnipe stood between them and behind them. She was dressed in a white mare's hide as her cloak, lined with bright red taffeta, slung over her fine catskin dress, amber at her ears and in her hair. He had never seen her quite so fine, nor so elevated and cold: even the fire in her eyes was cold, and her countenance, while not meant for him, pierced him with a knife's blow. One did not notice her smallness in that moment, nor the fineness of her build. She was charged with the reckless anger that filled the room, reckoning nothing of the consequence of blood, and even he, seeing that lovely familiar face so changed with pride, was a little afraid.

At her left hand Artos sat like a dark lion, his head up and his nostils flared unconsciously. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword which, like a hunting dog, rested quiet but tangibly eager beneath his touch. He was dressed far more simply than the Guttersnipe, clad in his weathered scarlets and a tunic of embossed black, his greatest adornment his bear-claw brooch and his own lively grey eyes.

He saved the best for last. Almost reluctantly he dragged his gaze to Lord Ambrosius. Like his nephew, the man was dressed in simple war-gear: a plain, clean white tunic under his battered black leather harness, a silver-ticked wolfskin cast over his shoulders. His signet ring flashed in the light as he turned his hand upon the arm of his chair, and the scars on his face and hands became alternately slashes of electrum and soft feathery lines as the light played on his skin. He had chosen his wardrobe perfectly. His hair, cropped short, and his knees bare between tunic-hem and the tops of his riding boots, the styling of his harness... All was Roman. Behind them stood all that was tempestuous and driven by the fires of passion which was Britain, but in himself and his nephew there was all that would ever be Rome, all that Rome would be remembered for: her law, her reason, her ideals. The Guttersnipe, cold in her flames, was a wild thing; Artos was a creature who had counted the cost and was eager for the hunt. In those grey shifting skies of Ambrosius' eyes, Master Lucius saw only the calculating mind of an angel of death.

He shivered.

There was a scuffling in the vestibule, and he wrenched his attention away to see who entered. The many formless sounds in the little dark room distilled, and the first through the doorway was a man Jason's age, young and slender with hands that made big fists. There was a purple thundercloud bruise on one fine cheekbone, which Master Lucius could see as the boy, coming into the room, cast up his head to the light to stare with a burning rage on the three who waited for him.

Lys: Perception

Cathair found them good places. Only just out of the way of the others, and very close to the proceedings. The Guttersnipe's concoction was starting to take effect- Aithne did not feel near so uncomfortable as she had before. The aromatic steam coming from the hot cider did much to help, too. She thought she could handle what was to come.

Surely they won't be executing them right here. We've only just finished scrubbing out the last bits of blood from this floor.

"Cathair, would you hold this a moment? I've just discovered I'm an absolute wreck." She handed Cathair her mug, and he took it, though not without comment. "Nonsense," he said. "You look beautiful."

She smiled. "Aww, you're sweet. But you see me from different eyes, Gra. I'll not be bringing shame upon us by standing here like a bedraggled scullery maid."

Pulling her hair back, she tied it with a leather thong which was previously around her wrist. She straightened her gown, smoothing it out as best she could, and re-folded and re-pinned her cloak in a manner worthy of a bard, not a cold working-maid.

"There. How's that?" she asked, taking back her cup.

Cathair eyed her with a grim expression. "You were right. You looked horrible earlier. Good thing you fixed yourself up."

Aithne was incredulous. "Why you... I ought to..." But he only smiled at her, eyes dancing with laughter. She mock-shoved him and he gave ground, only to catch the hand holding her cup and keep it from sloshing. "Careful, Gra. And hush! I think they're about to begin."

Aithne obeyed, turning to pay attention to the proceedings.

Jenny: Time Is Put On A Honeycombed Shelf

He might not have caught Ambrosius before the Hawk slipped off, but he was looking expressly for the opening now, and at a little indescribable gesture from his hand, Ambrosius turned to Master Lucius, eyebrows quizzical.

"Would it be a good thing, sir," Master Lucius asked, "if I took down a record tonight?"

Ambrosius nodded at once. "Yes, that would be a good thing. Thank you, Lucius."

The man slipped away, leaving Master Lucius to position himself by the warmth of the firmly-entrenched fire, a low table pulled close on which to set his papers and writing implements. The lid of his little ink-pot clinked softly as he cast it back, baring the fathomless black liquid within: a potent image, he thought, looking into its depths. It was fitting that such a medium should capture for ever the impression of time. With all the mystical elegance of the swan the pen dipped itself in and withdrew, black as jet, and in perfect lines inscribed the day, the place, and the person upon the virgin expanse of vellum.

Master Lucius let out a faintly shaky breath. "Here we go."

Lys: For Lo, His Doom Is Sure

Aithne managed some bread and a few apple slices. The cheese, she discovered, was beyond her abilities at the moment. Cathair let it slide, and she carried a cup of cider when they walked back to the room.

The two of them stood in the doorway- Cathair behind her. Though she could not see his face, she knew what it would look like now. Grim, determined... she wondered if Lord Ambrosius realized just how much Cathair respected and esteemed him. A lesser man would've been ignored in Cathair's rush for revenge.

Or maybe her husband-to-be was changing. Ten years settled a person, this she knew. She had to remember that she wasn't the only one who had lived those ten years. Cathair wasn't seventeen. The fact that his first seventeen years were exactly the same in regards to personality didn't truly matter. Somewhere along the way, her Cathair had learned some patience and self-control.

She looked about the room. It was set for council- for the trial of the valley's enemies captured in battle. England's enemies. She looked at the faces of Lord Artos and Lord Ambrosius, and saw the side reserved for those who would do their people harm.

Terrible is the judgement which comes from our lord's hands.
Swift as Nike, more fearful than Thor.
Our lord, our two lords, both answering to One-
Truth is their scale, justice their sword.

Fear, you wrongdoers. Hide your face.

Your doom is sure.

She shuddered and came back to herself. Cathair was trying to find them an appropriate place to stand.

Jenny: A Real Masquerade

The Guttersnipe withdrew inside herself as an owl, pensive, withdraws inside its feathers, peering out with two moon-eyes upon the suspicious world; she followed Cathair with such eyes, noting the lag in Domitia's tired step. Domitia, like a glass, was fragile: he was likely to put too much inside her and regret it later, and she, obedient like a lamb, would let him. Her fingers moved along the sticky rim of the cups. Unwise, taking food after that draught. But Domitia had will enough, she might be fine in the end and not, as the Guttersnipe feared, vomit all she had at the most inopportune moment of all.

She raised her chin and came out of her feathers a little, returning to Jason's side. Already the atmosphere of the room was beginning to change as the darkness gathered outside. Kay was putting aside his leather-work, a sombre look upon his face. Gaius and Bedwyr were rising, beginning to move chairs back from the centre of the room. Best not to watch it all, the Guttersnipe considered, lest the magic of the thing by ruined by the sight of its making. So she bent down to Jason's ear - he turned his head as she approached - and murmured, "I am going to get ready. I will be back when it is time." He nodded, understanding, and touched her hand companionably and not a little comfortingly as he rose to join the others in preparing the room.

She retired to her own room and climbed up on the bed to peer out the window. The rain had ceased now - the bands of storm were raking over them, and left them for the moment in the misty clear. She found herself looking up through the streaked pane upon a lovely autumn landscape, enfolded in the gathering dark and greys: the trees in their apple and plum and peach colours flamed out amid the late-year green. The wind hushed upon the face of the pane, and she heard it, felt it as though it were her face, flat and cold, and happy in a deeply tragic sort of way. She touched the pane and saw, not the tumble of blurring colours, but the blur of her own face looking back at her with the light of her lamp making her eyes glow oddly moony-gold in the silver of the glass. Her fancy wondered for a moment if, when she was gone, when they were all gone, the face that looked back at her would look back at others wandering through this room, pausing to look out the window upon the climbing tangle of wild apple.

With a shake of her shoulders and a little cruel sigh she broke away from the window and sat down to comb her hair; and she knew, in a little way, how it was for Gwenhywfar each day, rising and combing her hair and putting on her best attire, closing herself in ivory castles with gilt edges, aloof and far away. How rarely the Guttersnipe had to shut herself up in cold facades! How rarely Gwenhywfar was allowed to unpin her pretenses and warm herself at her own inner fire. She cast up her head, looking back at the reflection which came out of the mirror now, noting the clenched brows and the determined line of mouth. It could be a pretty face. It could be a cold one. It could be, like the first primrose of spring, open and be warm. So she put on the face she wanted, and put on the dress she wanted, and when she rose there was more of Gwenhywfar in her than ever before, and never less the Guttersnipe.

Lys: Take Charge

You may not have stomach for it. Aithne may not have stomach for it, but she will be eating it. Cathair knew what happened with Aithne did not eat. It was not good. Even if she ended up leaving it somewhere later, she would be eating.

He intervened on Aithne's behalf. "Aithne will be coming with me to the kitchen, then we will join you in whatever way your lord sees fit." Touching his hand to his forehead, he added, "Thank you for the offer. We will be back soon."

He helped Aithne up and directed her towards the kitchen, where he sat her down by the fire there. He busied himself with gathering food, much to the bemusement of some of the women. "I don't care whether there's a set meal tonight or not, you're going to eat something." He brought a plate to her and knelt next to her chair, smiling. "I don't need you fainting on top of everything else." he said, kissing her on the cheek. "Now eat."


Where do I want to be? Aithne wasn't sure. She felt as though the Guttersnipe's chambers might be best- away from noise and bustle, in warm quiet peace. But she didn't want to miss Cunorix's judgement...

Fortunately for her, Cathair interjected, taking over in that roughish way she found strangely endearing. He never hurt her- never yanked her around or yelled at her- and he always had her best interests at heart, but when he took control there were no buts to be made. She simply trusted him to steer her true.

So she followed him into the kitchen and sat obediently, then fell all to pieces inside when she realized he was fixing her some supper. Faith, he can make a girl's heart go all butterflies...

"You know I'll never finish all this..." she said, chuckling.

"Eat what you can. Long night ahead of us, you know." He snitched a piece of cheese off the plate and she playfully slapped his hand.

But she did start eating. She tried not to think of how the council would end. There were too many gruesome questions to ask, and right now she was trying to get some bread and cheese down her throat.

She wondered if the Guttersnipe read Cathair aright, or if she misunderstood. He'd been polite enough- didn't storm off or anything, but with the Guttersnipe, one never knew if one took the right approach or not. Ah well. He'd tried, and that would have to be that. There were more important things in the air.

Jenny: A Place of Honour

The Guttersnipe took back the cups, spreading one hand in a dismissive gesture toward Cathair. She hesitated a moment then, noting the hollowness of the shadows round their eyes and feeling the drop of evening outside. She glanced over her shoulder, waiting until she caught Ambrosius' eye. He frowned, questioningly, then nodded with a mirthless sort of smile, and she turned back on Cathair and Domitia.

"We are not having supper tonight," she told them solemnly. "We will be calling the council at sunset, and there is no time and I think that none of us have the stomach for supper. Will you stand by me," she asked Domitia directly, "or would you rather sit here by the fireside?"

Lys: Unexpected Physician

Cathair watched the Guttersnipe hand Aithne the brew. His eyes narrowed. Yes, she had approved him, yes, she had Aithne's best interest at heart, but he wondered if she knew what she was doing. It was her man that was the doctor, not she.

"Shouldn't Jason..."

But Aithne put a hand on his arm and addressed the Guttersnipe. "Thank you. Exactly what I would've done, myself." With no further thought, she gulped it down like a warrior after battle. Swallowing, she shuddered, shaking her head against the bitterness. She took the wine at a slower pace, but he could tell she was thankful for it.

He looked at the girl and nodded his assent. "Thank you, then. And... thank you for caring for her when I could not."


Aithne was still doing her best to rid herself of the taste of tansy, but she was happy to hear Cathair speaking so openly to the Guttersnipe. The two had had an air of friction between them since they met, but now she wondered if it might not be changing...

Jenny: Ministrations

Jason was taking a sound beating from Ambrosius when the Guttersnipe returned from the kitchen. Kay was idly braiding another whip, leaning in to watch the game. Jason looked up as she drew closer, eying the two full vessels in her hands. "Is all that witchcraft going to help me win?" he asked hopefully.

"No," she returned mildly. "Unless you want to spend the rest of the evening in the outhouse."

He crunched up his nose. "What have you done with my plants?" he asked, reaching across for the nearest cup.

"I haven't - done - anything," she assured him, quickly moving the cup out of his reach. "Oh!" she said, as Artos, stepping up behind her, took the cup and sniffed its contents. "Give it - don't - " she told him, but he hastily returned it.

"Who is the unhappy victim?" he asked, sinking into a chair with a grimace.

The Guttersnipe smoothed her ruffled feathers. "Domitia has got the hill sickness, poor thing. I made her something to knock the knife out of its grasp."

"Did you put my things back in order?" asked Jason, embroiled in his pending slaughter by Ambrosius.

She assured him that she had, and left them to return to Domitia. Her young man sat by her, awkward and a little forlorn. The poor big brute really cared; she was impressed that he was so steadfastly attached to Domitia, who went from sickness to sickness as a child, just learning to walk, goes from doorframe to doorframe. She approached them and handed Domitia the first cup. "Tansy for you," she said, "for the fever, and horehound with thyme to knock the edge off that cough in you chest. Drink it all down - don't mind the heat; and here is wine to dull the other edge of that blade, and to steady the uneasiness the ling-honey with the brew might give you. Drink it all down before the honey goes to thick again."

She set her hands on her hips and watched to be sure Domitia took it all to the last drop, moving only to stoke up the fire.

Lys: Overzealous

Aithne did not know what this "hill sickness" was, but she knew what she had. She had it at least once every cold season. She would be coughing and choking on snot for awhile, but eventually, if she took it easy and didn't push herself in any way, it would clear up.

She was thankful for the Guttersnipe's ministrations, and took them with a smile. The girl seemed to have forgotten she was treating someone who knew a good bit of healing, herself. Aithne wagered that when the girl returned, she'd be able to identify at least three quarters of the herbs in whatever treatment was brought.

But she sat patiently and obediently, rubbing her ears in hopes of making the ache in them improve.


Cathair returned the Guttersnipe's look, not backing down. He wasn't certain what she was doing, but he bore it with very little trouble. Then, of all things, she gave him an approving nod, surprising him completely. Gone was the little fighting hen of a few days ago. He felt as though he'd been put to some test and had passed, somehow.

When the girl had gone he sat down by Aithne, putting his own cloak around her. Then, hoping to be helpful, he reached over and rubbed her ears for her, gently pushing her own hands out of the way.


Aithne dropped her hands to her lap, then held them to the fire, grateful for a chance to warm them.

Cathair's big fingers were unused to such delicate work, though. She winced as he pressed too hard, but she bore it for his sake. He needed to be doing something.
Then he got a little too overzealous with it...

"Ouch!" she cried, half laughing. "Thank you, Cathair, but I think you're about to pull my ears off."

He looked sheepish and apologetic, and she patted his shoulder. "It was kind of you, though. Thank you..." Just then, her chest tightened again and she coughed hard. Not loud, but deep. She did her best to supress it, but that only made it worse. He was concerned, she could tell.

"I'm okay, Cathair. Don't worry. Just a tickle."

Jenny: A Far Green Country

The game of draughts which Jason had challenged her to partway through the afternoon was interrupted by Domitia's arrival. The Guttersnipe's attention was divided between Ambrosius leaning over and murmured, "No, chit, not that. Like this..." and Domitia's violent sneezing. Jason threw up his hands and said, "I will never beat her if you help!" as she got up quickly, bobbing out.

"I'm going to just check on Domitia. She looks unwell." Again. "I will be back in a moment."

Ambrosius pulled his chair around, displacing hers, eying the board while Jason pursed his lips in the determined frown of a martyr.

In the time it took to cross the room, the Guttersnipe could see that Domitia was truly unwell and that Cathair, though concerned, did not know where to go and or to do to help her. Arawn's Breath the natives called it, the soul-chilling mist of the Eryri hills. It had got in Domitia and was playing havoc with her. The girl's hair smelt faintly of salt when the Guttersnipe approached, holding up her hand in a sign of peace to Cathair. She then took hold of Domitia below and behind the cheekbones and pressed gently, asking if it hurt. Cathair, standing just behind her, was a brooding presence. Unfond of men in general outside her sphere, the Guttersnipe rose to the occasion. "It is just the hill sickness," she assured Domitia, dropping her hands to her sides. "We will give it a single mortal blow, and it will pass quickly. Sit so - and so - and do not stir from the fireside until I come back."

As she turned, she flicked a cool glance into the Irish bull's face. He was muddied and coarse in his appearance - he had that going for him. With the exception of Master Lucius, she disliked with a roiling belly men with dirtless hands. She saw a frankness in his look, a wariness as of one holding a small, dangerous thing in one's hands, still, not knowing if it would strike. She took the opportunity of those two heartbeats to Look at him, and saw through his eyes a rolling green country, fair with the wind on its face, warmer than her own climes, as frank and still more honest. He had the country in his eyes, and as her own eyes cleared, she gave him the smallest nod, passing on.

He had the good green country in his eyes. Yes, he would be a fine man.

Lys: Cold

Aithne sniffed for what was probably the thirtieth time. The rain had settled into a simple cloudiness and wind, which blew the rain down from the trees. Though she had her cloak up over her head, the wind still blew in, and her ears had gone numb. But she doggedly pressed on. The sooner the house was done, the sooner she could get out of the cold, dark cloister room. She coughed into her cloak, trying to mask it.

Cathair turned to her, concerned. "You shouldn't be out here in this cold. What was I thinking?"

She started to protest, but he stopped her. "No. I'm taking you back to the villa right now. It's near suppertime anyway. But you're getting inside by the fire with something warm to drink. I don't want you getting sick."

She could see, behind his eyes, that he was a lot more worried than he let on. "Don't worry, Cathair. My fits do not make me more susceptible to other illnesses." She kissed him on the cheek. "But I'll go back with you."

Truth be told, her ears were beginning to ache. She was not looking forward to what would happen when she warmed up...

They secured everything for the night and walked down to the villa, entering quietly. Cathair gently but firmly steered her towards the fire and had her sit. She did so, grateful for the warmth.

Holding out her hands to the flame, the warmth and light made her sneeze- hard. "A-choo!"

With it came the first wave of ache in her ears. She groaned and put her hands up to cover them. Why had she not put on a kerchief before going out?

Because you wanted to see Cathair.

Jenny: An Historian

Ambrosius quit his chambers with Champion and joined those in the atrium. He was not frequently noticed by the maids or boys as they came and went; occasionally even Artos' Companions did not mark his passing. He was, like a ghost, a fixture of valley life, a figure whose presence was felt universally, worn as comfortably and unthinkingly as a signet ring or a family torc. So when he seated himself at the table catty-cornered to industrious Master Lucius and the daydreaming Guttersnipe, it took them both a moment to realize he was there. It was only when Champion stretched his silvery wings and caught the light that Master Lucius, startled, looked up, brandishing his pen as though he thought it was a knife. A warm colour spread across his face when he realized his mistake.

"You are very quiet, sir. I did not notice you there."

Ambrosius shook his head. "I did not mean to startle you. But you were very absorbed in your work." He took a glance at the vellum sheets that had overrun and conquered much of their end of the table. He reached out one hand, eyes flickering to Master Lucius' face as he did so. "Do you mind," he asked, "if I take a look?"

There was something of the Guttersnipe in the young man's look as he moved at once to accomodate Ambrosius. His countenance bloomed with an eager light, and he began rearranging sheets, producing a neat stack. "I do not mind in the least. I am thinking that you may find this of interest, sir..."

The stack of vellum sheets which he was handed was cut square and even, and the margins around the writing were almost unbelieveably uniform in width. Ambrosius found himself confronted with a most excellent script, firm, self-confident print in Latin, dated and signed by Master Lucius. "This is admirable," he said warmly, leafing through the bundle. "This is truly admirable. Your records are superb." Over the top of the papers he was aware of Master Lucius smiling, pleased, but then he eye fell on a map halfway through the stack. He paused, intrigued, feeling with a little pull in the back of his mind that it was familiar. Champion put up his head and looked down with him. The coastline...the river... Here - his finger moved to topographic circles - he remembered these hills. At once he was seeing a steel grey sky, very clear and clean and full of wind, smelling of heather and broom bursting into fragrant golden glory. He felt the presence of hundreds of people, naked souls under that vast sky, in that vast land. The land below him, patched by fields and pastures, spread out on all sides, fading toward the east at the sea. He took note of an old villa not far from the salted marshes on the river, but then the map and his memory broke apart, and he was following the jagged line of Master Lucius' pen left on the page, into the uplands that he could so clearly recall - Artos had a report on that country somewhere in his records: in the enamelled trunk, he thought - and he said "Mm," very thoughtfully as his eye fell on the printed words VORTIGERN'S RATH. So, that was where the fellow had holed himself up in the north... Ambrosius had never been sure. Looking after that man was like looking into the mouth of a barrow with all the reek of the dead coming back at him.

He looked up. "This very detailed. How did you manage it?"

Strangely enough, Master Lucius looked caught, and blushed. "I...had help. The Guttersnipe," he added, gesturing to the girl - who broke out of her reveries with a bewildered start - "she was often my eyes and ears where my legs could not go."

"I think you could have managed it. You came all that way to my valley - it is the Greek travelling spirit in you, I suspect." He carefully put the map over on its face and observed the following lines of writing.

Vortigern has been in communication with the red-gold people of Erin, specifically with their Dalriad cousins in the western firth country. This evening a dispatch came down the old chariot way from Traprain Law, and the rider was sporting a curious pelt which filled me with dread: ticked black and white and bronze, long-furred: a wildcat's hide. How long has it been since the powerful Caledones whipped up their bands and turned south upon us? By sheer force of numbers, by their uncanny blood-ties to the spirits, their advance is like the weight of mountains falling down on Britain. God forbid they should come again, now that Rome is a forgotten power.

It does not help that _________ tells me there is one among us, and that he lives up to all the legends of the Old Ones.

I was unable to ascertain the letter's import from any words or faces, but news out of the north is news enough. Vortigern is up to something. I must keep my eyes and ears well open in case it means ill for the rest of Britain.

"Your writing is a lot like Tacitus," Ambrosius said, mulling over the words. "This is when it all began?"

"Yes, sir," said Master Lucius in faintly subdued tones. "Well, for myself, at any rate," he added.

Ambrosius smiled wryly at the papers. "Ah yes, Vortigern is plotting. This is not news to me... But I think you are right," he said, tapping several lines, "about the Caledones. I don't think they are much inclined to come down out of their wildcat haunts to expand their territory, but as mercenaries they are very fierce. And southern Britain is still rich enough to offer up an alluring amount of wealth for them - not to mention our proximity to Gaul, which is growing increasingly more uncomfortable by the year." He set the stack of vellum down on the tabletop, fixing Master Lucius with his gaze. "Your writing is excellent, your attention to detail seems superb. Your style is very much like the old historians."

"I studied them a great deal, sir. I appreciate their ability to tie in not only the happenstances, but the emotions that drove the figures of history. Those emotions do not change, and happenstances come round again. There is nothing new under the sun."

"Artos and I appreciate the method in the Army of taking detailed reports, but our attention is so often divided that we have little time for that sort of precision. If you can find the time away from your other interests, I know we would be delighted to have you flesh out our own reports. I think your pre-existing knowledge will prove invaluable."

Master Lucius warmed with a smile that gave to his face all it lacked. "I would be honoured, sir. My records are all at your service."

Ambrosius knew what he would be reading over his last glass of wine that evening, tucked up in his rugs in his bed against the chill. Oh, that evening... The thought cooled the corner of his returning smile. And the Guttersnipe, who had lapsed into a listening silence, shivered violently as if someone had trod upon her grave.

Lys: Helpmeet

Aithne sighed. It seemed she never felt more content than when she was in Cathair's arms. She wished they could stay like this longer, but her practical side was starting to win through, annoyingly.

"I suppose we should get back to work..." she murmured, not moving from her place. Cathair tightened his arms in a last hug before pulling away. "Yes, we should," he said. "I'm determined to get this house finished as soon as possible, and I'm sure you-"

"Feel the same? Is ea. Tell me what to do and I'll help."

Cathair gave her a wry smile. "I was going to say, I'm sure you have some women's work to do- mending or cooking. It seems you're always busy at something."

She lifted her chin. "Sure, and I do, but I'd rather be here, working alongside my anmchara."

His smile softened and he kissed her forehead. "So be it, then. Here. Hold this upright for me..."

Jenny: Lively Childhood

The Guttersnipe shielded her eyes against the beating heat of the fire, watching Domitia lift up her skirts and run out into the rain. She knew how the girl felt. She wondered where Jason was, and what he was up to.

"Oh, Jason...!"

He rolled over, squinting up at her disapprovingly. "Oh what?" he asked, ending in a pained grunt as the ewe gave one more game squeeze, clenching down on his arm.

She hunkered down, gathering her skirts about her knees. "How many is it? Two? three? four? Is it four?"

The ewe squeezed again, and the girl could see the corded veins on the young man's arm bulge rather more than usual as the animal's pelvic bones ground over him. "Just one," he grunted, "and I swear it's trying to run out the other end away from me." He drew his brows in concentration. She held her breath as he fished. The ewe, turning her head around to see what was causing the trouble, gave one despairing bleat with all her yellow teeth showing. "I got it!" Jason gasped at last, and began to pull. At the squelching noises, the Guttersnipe pressed her hands against her ears, but kept her eyes wide open as the lamb's forelegs and sorry, matted head emerged into the upland wind of a chill spring day.

As she turned from the fire, her eyes fell on Master Lucius' work, and she paused, naturally curious, to see what he wrote. She stood behind him, silent as he worked at the wreck of his clotted pen, reading his lines with bated breath. Her cheeks began to burn, and as she picked up a length of her skirt to move away, she fully expected Artos to close his hand over her neck again and give her a swat for eavesdropping on Master Lucius' writing. Epona - Epona! As a child she had been the lovely horse-maiden running about after the boys - when she was not dressed in her mock-scarlet and playing at the Massacre of the Three Legions - the fair maiden who always magicked up the immortal steeds the boys rode to glory on. She hastily retired to the fireside, hoping to cover her blush with the heat.