Lys: Darkness and God's Vengeance

Aithne was not so sure. The Guttersnipe had had the worse of it, and she was already up and about. Calidus may not have been strong for a boy, but he was strong enough to near-murder the Guttersnipe, which meant he was probably closer to being recovered. His hurts, she reasoned, would not keep him away. Fear of Gwenhwyfar and Wulf might, though.

She wondered idly if Mordred was itchy at the moment. Satire was an odd thing. The word came from the druids, but the concept was in the Scriptures. Ah well. The Lord does as he pleases. It is for him to repay evil, in his own time.

A great yawn escaped her, and she realized her stitching was mere inches from her face. "I think perhaps it is time we set things aside for the night. I can barely see what I'm doing, and that's dangerous, especially when dealing with sharp things."

Jenny: Romps

"He has run off with his tail between his legs," the Guttersnipe replied vaguely. In truth she could not imagine what he was doing at this present moment. Lying up some place, perhaps, nursing his wounds in the dark. She could hardly imagine Mordred being much of a nurse.

Or could she... Her fingers slowed on the fabric as she thought about the boy's face, enigmatic and always half hiding some secret smile, as though he knew more than one did oneself. The boy filled her with as much fear as her Lord Ambrosius filled her with delight. They were like opposites, the sun's realm and the moon's, Ambrosius and Vortigern and their people circling about, vying for the power of the air. But she fell back on her own stories of the Wind and the Sun and took comfort in the fact that the Sun had won the conquest by warm and honest constancy.

"Look at you! You are all brown and - what? Freckles? You have freckles, my dear. Have you been at romps? And are these grass-stains on your dress? What am I to do with you?"

"Oh give me the sun, please. And a pony. I don't mind the freckles."

"Then the sun you will have. And a pony. I can think of no two better things for a child to play with."

"Anyway, I don't think we need to worry about him," she concluded.

Lys: Pasta, Poppies, and a Hard Question

"Pasta is nothing like brick-dust." Aithne said, a little forcefully. "I'll make it for you some time."

She picked up another horse-blanket-to-be and followed the Guttersnipe's example. "Can't you take some poppies with you when you go? Or some seeds? A little pouch of seeds should not be hard to transport. And then you could see them every year." Making a few more stitches, she continued. "Not to revisit an old subject, but poppy seeds are good for cooking, too. Though I've heard they work strange things on some people."

Another little interlude passed. "Guttersnipe... do you know what has happened to Calidus?"
It was a delicate question, but a needful one. If he was gone for good, that would be one less threat to keep watch for. If he was still around, though...

Jenny: On Agriculture

"I've never had pasta." The Guttersnipe frowned. "It sounds like brick-dust." Having finished, she reached for the nearest hound and dragged her hands across its coat to clean them, then picked up the felt from the basket at Domitia's knee and began threading a needle. Having little personal interest in the outlying tales, she wondered how to steer the conversation from MacCool and fish to something a little less barbaric.

"I am going to miss the poppies, when they go," she said presently. "We don't have poppies back home. Gaius will grow any herb under the British sun in his garden, and vegetables and fruits. But no poppies to speak of. He has a great vine of wild rose that blooms as though there were no tomorrow. Our villa has a garden with a willow-tree and a pool, of which we are very fond. We keep some indoor plants in the atrium, but it's been roofed in for as along as I can remember, so we don't grow much indoors."

Lys: Culinary Exchange

It was the wine that made it click. Oh! She shook her head. "I'm so dense sometimes. When you said you could manage mulled wine, but were only passable on other things... I thought you meant that was all you could manage eating, not cooking. I thought that sounded odd..."

She shook her head. "I'm afraid my illness addles my brain at times. Well then, I shall take on the duck and flakes and leave the stews and wine to you. And we'll work on the duck's eggs." she grinned.

"What do you like best to eat?" she asked. "I like bread and butter and fruit best, but I make myself eat meat and such- otherwise I feel sick in the afternoons and lose energy. Oh, and pasta. That is one Roman food I adore."

Jenny: Rhetorics

The Guttersnipe snorted. "I think you give food too much credit," she objected. "You don't mean to, I think. Food itself is an amoral substance. It's the cook, as you said, that makes the food good or bad. If I make a good batch of honey-cakes, or botch a duck, I am the one toying with the meaning of the food. Rather, food itself is meant to do some good, so I suppose in that sense I would have to give it a moral nature, but it's goodness is merely potential. Until you or I make something of it, it might as well be the Void of Nothing."

She pushed away the rabbit-bones, fine and spongy from their bath of vinegar. "I can make honey-cakes and I can botch a duck - I'm especially good at botching duck - I can stuff a ham or dates, or candy apples. Duck eggs I am getting the hang of - they are so abominably easy to burn if you don't keep an eye on the fire. Flakes are my Nemesis and I am the goddess of stews. And I make a good mulled wine."

Lys: The Virtue of Food

"I'm afraid I've not even heard of it. I can read, but it's rare I have the opportunity. I content myself with the songs and stories my father told. My knowledge of them rivals any bard's." She tossed her hair a little- unwittingly allowing her pride to show.

"I take it you do not know the legend of Finn Mac Cumhail and the Salmon of Knowledge?" She took a sip of her watered-down wine. She never could abide it in its full strength. "It is my belief that food does have virtue. It has the power to give life or death, sickness or health, and is always the tool of she who makes it. Much of the virtue is imbued by the maker. For instance, I made this rabbit as a gift of thankfulness to the man who rescued us. I gave it to you in thanks for all you've done to help me. It carries a blessing in it. Had I made it grudgingly and with little care, it would be dull, tasteless, and possibly even sickening (which would have been my intent), whether it was poisoned or not."

She arched her back to stretch it. "Food is more than its ingredients. That is why it is important to choose a cook who enjoys her work." She snorts a laugh. "No wonder Vortigern is so contrary. Monica is feeding him."

Jenny: Georgics

The Guttersnipe turned a leaf of boiled cabbage over on a knife and joined it to the side of meat. "The only virtue in food is whether it is edible or not. Food is virtually amoral, unless it has been poisoned."

She put the food in her mouth, chewed thoughtfully, and swallowed, watching Domitia peck at the food daintily as though she expected to be taken away and scolded at any moment. Poor timid soul. What she has and hasn't seen! She could remember with the vagueness of adulthood her child years, tussle under the trestle-tables with the others in an attempt to steal a bit of meat from a dog. Not for the sake of filling one's belly, but for the sake of triumph they had done it. And then nights when the sparks went up like her Lord Ambrosius' laughter into the dark night sky and the scent of boar roasting, boar which the men had brought in themselves...

The rabbit tasted suddenly bland for those memories.

"Domitia," she said presently, "have you ever read Virgil's Georgics? I had been meaning to, but I haven't had a chance yet. Have you?"

Lys: Fellowship and Feasting

"It is a cook's greatest pleasure to see her work enjoyed." Aithne sat down. "Tell me what you can manage- even what you like- and I'll see what I can do. If no one objects, I'd be pleased to take over the cooking duties from you and Wulf."

She tried a bit herself. It wasn't bad. She thought it could've been better, but it wasn't bad, and the Guttersnipe enjoyed it. "I've been smelling this for too long. My stomach was about to take up sword against me for denying it a taste. But the tale of Finn Mac Cumhail was too close in my mind. I did not wish to take the virtue of the meal myself." She grinned. "Now you have it, whatever it may be."

Jenny: My Friend Stopped Running Today

"Ravenous," the Guttersnipe admitted, and she joined Domitia by the fireside. Stretching her legs out under the table, she began to tear the meat off the bones. It was running with a thin film of amber grease, just enough to keep the meat tender and juicy, and sprinkled delicately with pepper and mint. "This is pretty good," she remarked around a mouthful. She swallowed. "I can manage mulled wine, but I'm only passable on everything else."

Lys- No Wulf

Editorial remark: Wulf has decided he does not want to enter the kitchen, as it means having to talk. Neither Jenny nor I anticipated just how much he'd hate the idea, so this is my attempt at resolving it. I hope Jenny forgives me for power-playing the Guttersnipe instead of Wulf...

Aithne waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. Most of the other slaves had already gone, the fire was banked for the night, and still Wulf's food sat on the hearth, staying warm. She'd sat down by it, resting her back against the wall and keeping herself warm. When he said after the sun goes down, he meant it!

She was half-dozing when she heard a noise in the hall. Quickly, she jumped up, filled a cup with wine, and stood ready.


Her heart sank. It was not Wulf's voice. Had she been paying more attention, she would've realized the step was too light, too. "Guttersnipe? Where is Wulf?"

The Guttersnipe put Master Lucius's plate down on the table. Aithne noted with a smile that it was cleaned of food. But it was fleeting. She looked at the other girl, awaiting an answer.

"I tried, Domitia. He wouldn't go. I don't know why. He's like that sometimes. He'll disappear and can't be found unless he wants to be found. But he's always back when he's needed. Somehow he knows." Memories of this morning's rescue came to mind. "I tried."

Aithne sighed. She couldn't hide her disappointment, but at the same time, she wasn't overly upset about it. She picked the food up off the hearth- it had not dried out, she noticed- and set it on the table.

"Well then." she said. "Hungry?"

Lys: Sneaky

Fairly nearly? Aithne felt the strength go out of her. She was not sure she could take such excitement every single day. But she helped the Guttersnipe back up the bank and to the solarium- one of the few places she knew exactly how to find.

She didn't realize until she arrived just how tired she was. That is, she knew she was tired, but it didn't fully register until now- in the peace of the room, in her master's presence and under his protection.

But before she'd finished the realization, the Guttersnipe nearly fainted. Had it not been for the chair and the quick thinking of Master Lucius and Lady Gwenhwyfar, she would have.

Master Lucius ordered her to fetch wine for the Guttersnipe, and she did. She fairly leapt to the task, berating herself, in the back of her mind, for not noticing the scratches before now.

The three then fell to speaking of things she did not understand. She probably had more knowledge of white creatures than Gwenhwyfar, but she doubted there was anything she could share regarding this one. She hadn't even been able to tell its intent.

So she stood quietly until needed, wishing dreadfully for a chair or a corner and chiding herself for feeling ill-used. You aren't the one who was beaten to within an inch of her life. You are Scotti. Act like it. Stop being such a Roman weakling.

It was all very well to tell herself that. It didn't change the fact that she felt as though she was at her end.

"I suppose Domitia and I had better finish up those horse-blankets..."

The horse blankets! She'd nearly forgotten about them. She had barely begun when the world fell apart around her ears.
She very much doubted the Guttersnipe would be doing much of anything for awhile. It would be mostly up to her. And she could do it, if the villa could manage to stay at peace for a few days and allow her to work without interruption...


She never did get back to the horse blankets. Not that day, at least. The Guttersnipe was ordered to rest, and she was ordered to attend. And so she did, and was relieved when the girl told her to get some rest of her own. She hadn't intended to sleep, just to close her eyes a moment...

...the next thing she knew, the Guttersnipe was calling her name. She woke, groggily, and blinked like a newborn fawn- which gave the Guttersnipe no end of amusement.

All of which led her here, to the kitchen, where she was putting her nefarious plan in motion. She'd convinced the Guttersnipe to let her cook the Master's meal, and it was just done and carried in by the girl herself. She'd prepared it in a traditional Roman way- the way most food was cooked in Roman areas of Britain.
But now it was time to make Wulf's, and that would need a different touch. She wasn't sure if the giant was Nordic or Germanic, but she guessed her mother's recipe would be more to his liking.
She gathered up all her ingredients- she had to make a few substitutions- and started cooking. Monica and her group were cleaning up or eating their own suppers, so she had the fire to herself. She didn't care that some of the others were watching her. Let them learn how to cook the German way. Might liven up their ideas a bit.

Keeping an eye on the sun's progress, she soon had a meal fit for the mead hall of a king himself.

Now to wait for Wulf's arrival.

Jenny: For All That Is Worth Keeping

"Fairly nearly," the Guttersnipe replied. "There is always something happening about us. It's the nature of things - for us." She was quiet for a moment, then she added, "Let's go and find Gwenhywfar and Master Lucius."

They went up the slope from the river, through the little village, and came to the solarium by the garden. It was noon now, and the sun so high in his circuit the Guttersnipe could hardly look at him; the shadows gathered small and plum-dark around the feet of the bushes.

Whenever she came into the solarium the Guttersnipe had the feeling of coming to roost, of getting into a safe burrow, of pulling the covers up and getting into bed. There was a sanctified peace about the room and it washed out at her as she entered.

"Child!" Gwenhywfar murmured when the other looked round. She got up and once and crossed to the Guttersnipe. "What has happened to your arms?"

It was then that she was aware of the gashes Champion had left. She looked at the dark, half-dried blood spiraling around her forearms and, for no reason she could discern, she felt a sudden wave of dizziness take her.

"Put your head between your knees, Snippet. It will pass. Close your eyes if you have to."

"May I have a chair?" she murmured.

She was led to the chair and put in it and, a moment later with his usual frankness Master Lucius asked her what the matter was. "Domitia," he added, "would you fetch a glass of wine for the Guttersnipe? In that chest over there... Now."

He and Gwenhywfar gave her their attention, and after a moment of confusion she told them what had happened at the river. It felt odd in the telling. After all, what was there to tell? Champion had come and Champion had gone, and he had left nothing behind but desolation and a feeling of confused hope.

"What I find fascinating," Master Lucius mused half to himself, "is that the bird should mentions pawns. I don't have any experience with White Animals - perhaps Gwenhywfar does."

But Gwenhywfar shook her head. "I have never met a White Animal. That is beyond me."

Pulling herself together, the Guttersnipe added, "He wouldn't tell me something if it weren't pertinent. It's just that I so rarely understand what he is saying. My Lord Ambrosius would know. He knows those sorts of things."

" 'Wait for the others...' What do you suppose he meant by that?"

Gwenhywfar gave a little foxy bark of laughter. "I may not know much about White Animals, but I would not but it past Champion to know about it. All that remains is whether or not he knows, and what that means for us."

Which means he is not coming for me after all. What could keep him away?

There are others suffering as well.

Which meant, among other things, that her Lord Ambrosius would be embroiled in other troubles. She had Vortigern to deal with, she and Gwenhywfar and Master Lucius. And suddenly she felt that there was very little time left and she began to quietly panic in her chair.

Master Lucius had his head back in his hands. "Well, Gwenhywfar, what of the weather? How long do you think it will be?"

The woman stopped her pacing and her amber beads jingled as she counted on her fingers. "A little more than a week," she said in a hushed tone.

"A little more than a week..." Master Lucius pulled his head up and took in a deep breath. For a moment the Guttersnipe could see he was an anxious as she was. So much to do in so little time! And Vortigern could throw his own hurling-stick into the match at any moment and shatter the whole fragile plan.

"I suppose Domitia and I had better finish up those horse-blankets..." she murmured.

Lys: Fretful

Aithne sniffed an odd sort of half-laugh. "Well, in case you hadn't noticed, I am a girl. And Latin isn't my native language. It may be a logical one, but it's not a comfortable one." Pushing errant hair out of her face, she added, "It's all angles and points. That anyone can make songs from it is nothing less than miraculous."

She rubbed her forehead. "I'm sorry. I just- it was such a good morning, and then Mordred appeared, and Calidus arrived, and I've nearly had a fit twice today, and I don't even know how to find my way around or what, exactly, is expected of me, and-" She looked at the Guttersnipe with an expression of desperate confusion. "Is it always like this around here?"

Jenny: Cry Me A River

The Guttersnipe drew off. Now Domitia was crying, and for a moment she understood why Artos would give her a hard jab when she cried for no good reason. Watching someone cry was embarrassing. "Oh, stop it," she snapped. "You cry like a girl. And you always talk as though you were reciting poetry."

She stopped, cross, and then burst into hysterical laughter.

Lys: Home

Aithne felt very stupid. She probably was. Because what she heard didn't seem possible, and yet it was being offered.

"I don't know, I don't know! All I know is that I want home, and the way to Eire has been shut to me. I think perhaps I might find home in your Lord's house, if he would have me. And I think, perhaps, even if he did not I would be content to simply serve there."

The tears would not stop coming, no matter how hard she tried to keep them back. She rubbed her face fiercely. She was supposed to be the strong one right now! She wasn't allowed to fall apart like this. "I will come with you however I can." she said, quietly. "Either to Home or to a new household."

Jenny: Temper

"Not like that!" Her temper was anything but sure. She pressed her hand to her forehead and fought a dizzy spell. "Don't you get it? Master Lucius us one of us. One of us! He's not just some horse-dealer scholar with a bad pair of lungs. You can't fathom how vast his mind is. I meant will you come home with us. Of course you're coming with us." She grabbed the girl's shoulder and shook it, unconsciously the way Artos had so often shook her when she was being stupid. "I meant home."

Lys: Two Homes

The question stunned her.
She wanted to be home. She longed to be home. But she knew, in that place in her mind she shunned over and over, she knew it would not be home if she ever returned. She had seen too much for it to ever be home again.

And now the Guttersnipe offered her the next greatest longing in her heart. A longing that had sprung up only yesterday, but had not yet had cold water tossed on it.

She was silent a moment, trying to think. Trying not to cry.

"It is a cruel joke you play, Guttersnipe, to offer me such freedoms when I belong to someone else. I think I would love it above all things, but it cannot happen. I am a slave, and that is not easily changed, even by one such as you." She bit back the tears springing up.

Jenny: A Question

The Guttersnipe shook her head. "I...I don't know, Domitia. I'm sorry. It is just so hard... My home," she clenched her hands, "is the best place in the world. I want to go home. I will do anything to get back home. But then he says to wait. Wait for what? Why? What is happening? Something." She shivered like a horse that smells fire. There was something hanging over them, something oppressive, like thunder.

"Domitia," she asked suddenly, "would you care if you came home with me, and didn't go back to Attacotti-land?"

Lys: Frustration

Aithne turned at the splashing and flew down the little path to the Guttersnipe's side, steadying her even though the moment for steadying was past.

"Do you want to go back, or would you rather stay here a while longer?"

She wanted badly to ask what the falcon had told her- for it was obvious that the thing could communicate in some way- but she still felt as though the information was not for her.

There seems to be a lot of information going around and passing me by! She clenched her jaw. The Guttersnipe was in no condition to bear Aithne's problems as well as her own. But she felt suddenly that she would like nothing better than to haul off and hit something. Or scream. Demand to know everything she'd been wanting to know since she arrived.

But instead she clenched her jaw and waited for the Guttersnipe to answer.

Jenny: Ambition

There is more afoot than you suppose, child, Champion went on after a while. You simply must be patient. There are others suffering as well.

"Can't you tell me?" she begged. "Can't you tell me what is going on? What am I to do?"

The eye brightened to yellow fire, like Gwenhywfar's beads when they caught the light. You know what to do, child. As for the rest, no one knows what is coming. No one ever does. You know that.

"You're going now," she murmured.

Yes, I am. But take heart. You may only be the Guttersnipe, but even a pawn can corner a king. Until next time, child.

He launched out of her arms and caught the air, aloft in a few moments. She watched him go with a throbbing behind her eyes, wanting to cry with no more tears left. She wanted at first to crawl into her Lord Ambrosius' arms again, to smell the horsey smell of his clothing, to feel a box from one of Artos' fists, to feel Jason's hands clasped over hers as he gave her the ring...and then she wanted to tear the world apart for keeping her from them.

"I will do whatever it takes," she hissed into the wind after Champion. "I swear I will. I will bring down Vortigern with my bare hands if I have to."

Then she shifted and nearly collapsed from her bruising.

Lys: Heartbreak

Aithne's heart broke, and she did not know why. The Guttersnipe knew the bird, and, she gathered, it was something of Lord Ambrosius's. But beyond that, the interchange was a mystery.

And she was certainly an outsider to the moment.

Feeling somewhat out in the cold, she turned away and walked up the bank. She would not desert the Guttersnipe, not for anything. But the meeting was private and she felt intrusive by staying. So she came up, set her back to a tree and hugged herself in the sudden chill, standing guard for the girl and her friend.

A tear tracked down her face.

Jenny: White Words

His uncle yanked back the horse-blanket and stared at the wound. For a moment he watched the other's eyes flicker back and forth; then his uncle mused, "Jealous of me, were you?"

"Well, I couldn't let you have all the fame, sir," Artos replied stiffly. He glanced at his hand and saw that it was shaking rather badly, and he but it hastily back under the covers. To stave off the fear, he attempted flippancy. "Aren't girls fond of scars?"

"I cannot say as I ever asked." His uncle drew back to leave room for the surgeon, and a moment later the pain was redoubled as the man dug about in the wound. His head began to throb from holding in the pain. Through his dark vision he could see his uncle's face drawn and grey with concern. He did not need to look at his uncle's face to know it was bad, but his uncle's face only made it worse. And suddenly he was wanting the Guttersnipe very badly, to at least hear her rage against the archer, which would somehow take the edge off the terror.

His uncle gripped his shoulder tightly and held on. Through the roaring in his ears he heard, "We are going to take you home, Artos. We're going home..."


The Guttersnipe got to her feet, hardly aware of the stiffness in her body. "Oh, Champion..." she said, and burst into tears. She held out her arms to him, blindly, stumbling in the shallows. "Champion! Champion!"

He came with a great thunder of wings and, while he could not help it, his talons dug into her arms. But in her desperate hurry she hardly noticed; she held him close to her damp chest, kissing the crest of his head, ruffling his feathers. He jerked his head about under her chin and spread out his wings as through to embrace her.

"My Lord Ambrosius," she gasped when she had finished crying with desolate relief. "My Lord Ambrosius - he is here? Where is he? Take me too him, Champion!"

But the bird drew off a little and looked at her out of one of those dark golden eyes, and she felt her heart sink into the stream. No, child. Not yet. You must wait for the others.

She did not know, nor did she wish at that moment to know, what he meant. She could never really understand what he meant. "But my Lord..." she said, and the tears came afresh. ...and Artos and Jason and Gaius. Champion, I want to go home!

Champion said nothing more. He put his head on her chest and stroked her with his pinions as a parent would comfort a child.

Lys: A Portent

"What-?" Aithne turned and followed the Guttersnipe's line of sight. "Oh!"
It was a beautiful bird. Snow white- as white as her tunic had been this morning. And the look in its eye... it seemed to know more than it ought. She was not sure she liked it.

Such things belonged in her world, not in this one. In this one, it seemed to be a harbinger of danger, of evil, and Aithne was not sure she could take any more of that.

Dragging her gaze away from the bird, she looked back at the Guttersnipe, and was surprised to see a flicker of recognition on the girl's face. Whether good or bad, she could not discern. She returned her gaze back to the bird. "Do you want me to scare it away?" she asked without turning back.

She was not sure she could, but she was not going to allow the girl to be attacked again.

Jenny: A Change of Things

The words were foreign to her. The Guttersnipe woke to Domitia singing, and it was not unlovely... She knew Domitia meant for it to be soothing, and that the girl could not know how it took her back home where she and Caleb would sing together over the notes of his harp, and how things were quiet and homely and safe.

Shoving the notion savagely aside, she put her hands into the water and thrust upward into a sitting position, feeling every muscle groan in protest. She wondered what she looked like. It felt as though her spleen had become a rock that she had to drag up with her.

"That was nice, Domitia," she said groggily. "I didn't understand a word of it, but I like listening to new lang - "

She broke off midsentence and crushed a scream back down her throat.

Across the stream, on one of the rocks, sat an enormous White Falcon.

Lys: A Song Of Light

Yes, I know she will be fine. But how is she now? Aithne sighed heavily as she watched the Lady go.

She sat on the flat rock Gwenhwyfar had just vacated and watched the girl in the water. Like a daughter of Llyr... That was a disturbing thought. And one, upon reflection, which was not too far off. Circumstances were similar, but not as connected.
Calidus hated the Guttersnipe, and nearly killed her, but was not allowed to do so. Instead, she remains captive to Master Lucius, like a little fluttering bird, reading to her Master- very like the saint who rescued the swan-children.
I only hope she is returned to Lord Ambrosius before she grows old.

She shuddered and pulled herself out of such contemplations. They were dark, and she felt as though they attracted some nearby darkness. Or were, perhaps, made by it. Either way, it wasn't healthy to continue thus.

She would sing. She would sing of good things and drive the darkness away. But what would she sing? Only one song would come to mind. A little melody about the birth of Christ.
And isn't that exactly what I'm needing? A song of the Light to drive back the darkness.

She settled herself properly and began, the clear notes ascending and descending in the full range of her voice, growing stronger as she went.

"Don oíche úd i mBeithil,
beidh tagairt ar ghrian go brách
Don oíche úd i mBeithil,
go dtáinig an Briathar slán
Tá gríosghrua ar spéartha,
's an talamh 'na chlúdach bán
Féach íosagán sa chléibhín,
's an Mhaighdean in aoibhneas grá

Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe,
go nglacann na haoirí scáth
Nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire,
tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil

Céad glóir anois don Athair,
i bhFlaitheasa thuas go hard
Is feasta fós ar talamh,
d'fheara, dea-mhéin síocháin."

"And peace to all here, as well." she whispered.

Jenny: Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things

"The Guttersnipe," Gwenhywfar answered, drawing her legs beneath her to rise, "will be fine. She has too much to live for to be too badly beaten. Watch her now; I am going to Master Lucius."

Picking up her skirts she went back up through the cowslip turf, entering by the south garden and the poppy-beds. She came upon Master Lucius just as she knew she would: wrapped in his scarlet mantle, hunched like a bird against the wind over his books. His books! She smiled at them fondly. They were like family to him, a haven that he retreated to where he could hammer at problems all his own apart from the turmoil of life. Master Lucius and his books.

He looked up as she entered. "Ah," he murmured. His figures rolled up on themselves as he released them. "You are quick in coming."

"The Guttersnipe is quick in healing," she replied, and stationed herself in the other tessellated chair across the table from him. For a moment they looked at each other in silence. Then she said, "Well!" and Master Lucius nodded.

"Well indeed. I have been pondering it over since earlier this morning. Did the Guttersnipe tell you she met Calidus last night, here, on her way to fetch the new slave-girl?"

Gwenhywfar shook her head. "She told me nothing of the sort. She asked after my playing, nothing more. Nothing out of the ordinary. What did she tell you?"

"She told me that she and Calidus go back to their childhood days. It is my understanding that Calidus so incensed the Guttersnipe that the two had a falling out. That was the last, I understand, that the two saw each other until last night. The Guttersnipe told me that they went at each other at once, by they parted again. What of this morning? Domitia made it sound rather grave."

Gwenhywfar flung up her head, eyes wide. "Surely! They were moments from killing each other. Rather, he was moments from killing her; the Guttersnipe was trying to defend herself. She fought none too badly, but he was beside himself with rage."

"Truly?" Master Lucius frowned and looked away out the window, a little darkness between his brows as he thought. "That was not the atmosphere of last night's visitation. Concerning what was he so outraged?"

"A death." Gwenhywfar spread one hand. "He accused the Guttersnipe of murder."

Master Lucius gave a wry laugh. "I can at once see and not see her as a killer. Who did she kill?"

That was the trouble. Faint and faded at the edges she saw the body on the cobbles again, blood trickling in the grooves of the stones. A body with no head, no face. She could place no name to him nor recognize the courtyard. But instead she asked, "What would make a man like Calidus outraged?"

The other flinched visibly.

"I am sorry. What would make someone like Calidus outraged?"

"I see your point," Master Lucius conceded. He put his head down between his hands and kept it there for a while.

Gwenhywfar moved forward on the chair. "She would not tell me - the Guttersnipe would not," she went on, gesturing with an open hand. "She made it out to be some private matter between herself and Calidus."

Muffled through his hands, Master Lucius said, "It is in my mind that it would be a thing too delicate for her to mention, so she would make it out to be a matter of pride. There is great show of dignity where there is none at all."

Pawns, she thought suddenly. "Pawns. Pawns..."

"I beg your pardon?"

She looked round. "I was thinking to myself that the Guttersnipe is little more than a pawn on our field - what if Calidus were too? Who is the - person - that died... And what does this mean for Calidus? What does this mean for us?"

"It is another snarl in the works. Are you sure of it?"

Grave-faced, Gwenhywfar nodded. "I may mock, but at the end of the day I am just a woman, Lucius. I have no connections, no freedoms to speak of. Why would he hide things from my hearing?"

Master Lucius gave that harsh bark of laughter again. "Because when you sing your songs your eyes light up like a love-sick girl, perhaps. No, I can't think of a reason why..."

"Do you doubt me?" Gwenhywfar challenged.

He raised one hand. "Of course I don't doubt you. I have rare opportunity to test my wit so don't blame me if it stabs you. You open yourself up to that one."

She turned from his frail red image. "You are vexing. We were talking of Calidus and his - I have yet to think of a term. The one died - I know for a fact that Ambrosius and not the Guttersnipe killed him. The Guttersnipe and Calidus fell out and almost killed each other. There is something dark moving, Lucius, and I cannot see it clearly."

He pulled his face out of his hands and looked at her intently. "Can't you?" he asked in a suddenly gentle tone. "Can't you, Gwenhywfar Farsight? I hope to God you see before it is too late."

"I do too, Lucius." It was her turn to clasp her hands over her eyes. A sudden sickness was brewing in her chest. "Oh, I do too."

Lys: A Troubled Heart

"I-" she thought about the question. "I don't know for sure. I do not yet know Master Lucius well enough to say what is good and what is bad. He was coughing badly when I arrived, but a little water seemed to set him aright. And-" she hesitated a moment on how to say what she wished to say. "He seemed troubled... in his heart." She wanted to, wished she could, ease that trouble. But it seemed a task better suited to Gwenhwyfar. And she had no doubt the bard could do it, if anyone could.

She ventured to be a little bolder and ask a question of her own. "How is the Guttersnipe, my Lady?"

Jenny: Catch Your Breath

"Meg!" Coming to himself just in time, Artos reached out and snagged the mare's flying reins. He hit the ground, vision blurring with the spinning dark, but he had the mare. She squealed and shuddered, standing over him with the arrows hissing round her head. Then instinct jolted her, and she stepped astride him, shielding his body with her bulk.

Gaius, where are you? He pinched his eyes shut and looked through the scrub. No Gaius. No, of course not. Gaius is at home. Breathe, Artos! Breathe! What is the damage done...?

He struggled upward to a sitting position, arm looped through Nutmeg's stirrup to hold himself steady. His leg showed up a bloody mess: the arrow had torn across the pommel, taking some leather with it, and had gouged through the inner of his thigh. Something was not moving, something had come undone. He tried to bring his leg around as he would to sit a horse's barrel and the muscles screamed in protest.

Something has been cut. But how badly?

Arm still through the stirrup, the mare glancing round and round anxiously for help, he thrust his first two fingers into the gash and probed, teeth on edge, to assess the damage. The blood was coming evenly and freely. Soon he was coated across his lap and up to his elbows in his own blood.


A shout went up from above him and someone crashed to his side. Through the sweat and blood he saw Caleb's face.

"Can't move it," Artos ground out. "They've cut something. Get me up! Meg! Meg! My sword - !" As Caleb hooked his arms under his own, the mare shuffled into the leaves and hauled up his heavy soiled sword by her teeth. It was wretched work getting him back astride her; he left her flank a red mess, but at last he was on, gripping with one leg, the other uselessly dangling. "Put my foot in the stirrup, Caleb," Artos ordered. The other made no protest, but even he flinched as he slid the throbbing foot into the stirrup.

"This is not going to be beautiful," he murmured.

"No, sir. What now, sir?"

Now he wanted Gaius, but he could not have him. Leg gone out or not, he could not leave a job unfinished. "Burn them out," he told Caleb. "I'll be right beside you. But burn them, Caleb. Burn the vermin out."

"Yes, sir!"


The air had gone sticky from the sun, but in the shadow of the burnside willows it was pleasant. The Guttersnipe lay in the shallows, half-dozing in the warmth. Gwenhywfar watched her face intently and sometimes caught a little flicker of something passing over her brow, as though she dreamed and was not fond of the dreaming.

What do you see in there, child? she wondered. You are so small, a mere pawn. Can you see the movements the Great Ones are making all around you? Can you see how the world is turning, and how we turn the world? And what do you think - she looked round at the sylvan quiet - of the world that we are making? Well, perhaps it is not so finished as to be seen just yet.

She broke off her thoughts as Domitia approached. She heard the girl out, and nodded, but asked instead, "How did he seem? Is he well this morning?"

Lys: To Be Loved

Aithne waited quietly, watching his face as he considered her words. He was upset- as close to angry as such a quiet soul could be, she thought. And there was a frustration mixed in. She understood it immediately, for hadn't she felt the same a million times over? Wanting to do something, and not having the strength to do it. She felt it just today- watching the Guttersnipe draw closer to death and being unable to do anything that made a difference.

Wanting to run and knowing she'd be caught.
Wanting to care for children and knowing at the first fit the parents would toss her away.
Wanting to be loved.

Where that had come from, she did not know. But it was true. She wanted that above all else. That was the underlying ache in it all- in the might-have-beens, in the feeling helpless, even in the wish to serve Master Lucius well despite her hatred of slavery.

His clothing rustled, breaking her from her reverie. She chastised herself. Slaves didn't have the luxury of such things. Not while waiting for their master's orders.

He dismissed her with a thank you and an order to send Lady Gwenhwyfar along later. She rose and bowed in respect, then paused a moment- It was on her toungue, a question she wasn't sure she could ask him. He had said she could ask him questions, but...

She bobbed another bow and turned to the door.


She made her way out of the villa- with a few wrong turns- and down to the stream, following the more worn tracks and trails. The morning's events weighed heavily on her mind. She should've realized, back when the Guttersnipe told her who she was, that great things were swirling about her. She had, actually. She just hadn't realized how many.

Finally, she chanced upon them. "Hello!" she waved an arm in greeting.

She carefully picked her way down to the bank proper, having no wish to soil her dress any more than she already had, and came to rest near them. She curtseyed to Lady Gwenhwyfar. "Master Lucius asks that you join him when the Guttersnipe has been seen to. He's in the solarium."

Jenny: A Simple Matter of Mathematics

"Thank you." Master Lucius finished the water as Domitia gave her report, and he took his time thinking about it. Calidus... The man's face came easily to mind - all men's faces did once he had seen them. Pale, haunted, not unlike Vortigern's but lacking the sense of self-sufficiency that the former king had. Like Gwenhywfar, who had been there when he had first seen Calidus, he had judged his character in a moment and, unlike Gwenhywfar, had always felt a sensation of shame and disgrace concerning the man. He had wrestled long and hard with the notion, considering, Even such as these can come to You. And yet he continued to return to the lift of his hackles when their shadows chanced to cross.

And that the Guttersnipe should cross paths with him... He could imagine her when she was angry - he had seen Gwenhywfar go up against her father, and he suspected the women were not unlike. She had stared down Vortigern on that first day, and being the ward of Ambrosius, he considered, she would have held her own.

No, the problem lay with Calidus. He stared into the shiny green interior of his cup, watching the play of light and shadows. Vortigern...Mordred...Calidus... He tilted the glass: a bead of water ran around the inside and lit on fire with the light like a diamond. There were times when inadequacy clawed hard at his throat, and now was one of those times. He could scheme, he could plan, but what of his legs? How could he possibly run before the storm?

Tush, Balbus. That isn't the point. The point is that Calidus is a factor and you need to figure out what part of the equation he fits in to.

He turned to Domitia. "Thank you, Domitia. When the Guttersnipe is tended to, send word to Gwenhywfar. I will be here in the solarium."

Lys: Tidings

Aithne entered and was at his side, kneeling in concern, before she realized the breach of protocol. "I-" Hearing the faint wheeze still in his breathing, she fetched him a cup of water before continuing. He was in no shape to hear this sort of tiding, but she had to deliver it. She waited for him to drink it, assured herself he was recovered, and then continued. "There was... there was a fight, sir. A man named Calidus attacked the Guttersnipe. She is out of danger, but badly beaten. Lady Gwenhwyfar and Wulf were able to separate them. I do not know what happened to Calidus, but I feel certain he would've killed the Guttersnipe if Wulf and the Lady had not arrived. I tried to stop it, but..." she lowered her eyes. "I was not strong enough."

A moment later, her chin lifted again. "Lady Gwenhwyfar is taking the Guttersnipe to the stream to tend to her wounds. She bade me come to tell you what had happened." And I hope you do everything in your power to see that Calidus never again sees so much as the Guttersnipe's shadow!

Jenny: Premonition

Gaius dropped his spade in the dirt and looked up the moment Jason did, head craned round for the west. "Did you hear that?" asked Jason, and the other nodded: out of a clear soft blue sky had come a thunder, a thunder that minded them almost of hooves. And yet as one would know a thing in a dream, they knew it was not horses - not exactly. There was no one out there, neither storm nor war-band. There was just that thunder that they could feel - it was more feeling than a sound - and it left an ill feeling in Jason's stomach.

He shivered again.


Ambrosius had been right: beyond the river-valley among the northern hills they had found a hardened band of natives holed up like Spartans to halt their passage. "Smoke them out," the Fox had said, eyes wickedly alight. Artos had nodded, and as his uncle secured the river-valley he and the Fox, with Caleb besides - Kay and Bedwyr had stayed in the valley - had gone up into the ragged, inhospitable hills to rout out the little war-band. There could only be a hundred of them, probably less, but the rocky terrain and thickly-growing scrub made hard going for the horses, and the enemy missiles came flying in fast and thick.

Artos wheeled in the saddle, pointing back down the line. "Light your birds!" he shouted, and a moment later dim flickers of light sprang up from the points of a hundred arrows. "Loose!"

The arrows hissed back into the wood above them, catching loose pine-boughs on fire. With a crackling boom a whole thicket went up. Smoke them out, the Fox had said. An enemy volley replied, and for a few moments they fought ground giving and taking arrows. But Nutmeg was moving up the slope, little by little, and the rest were coming with him. The Fox's cubs were diving in and out of the scrub, using their weapons and fists and even their teeth to gain ground against the half-hidden war-band.

It was when he stood up in the stirrups to get a look ahead that it happened. The man must have been a phenomenal shot - he had only a splinter of time to see the arrow coming, a moment to jerk his leg. Looking back, he knew it would have cost him everything if he had been any slower: out of the thick of the pine-tops came an arrow; it cut down across his double pommel and ripped out a goodly chunk of his left thigh. He felt the strength go out of his leg, felt Meg foundering for his strong hand at the rein. With a savage cry for Gaius he went down, Meg nearly on top of him - crying for Gaius, who was not there, whom he knew was not there.

Gaius, I need you now...


Another coughing fit had come upon him, very violent and sudden, and by the time it stopped Master Lucius was so dizzy and dim-headed that he felt the need to sit down, until he recalled that he was already seated, and he feared slipping off onto the floor. Guttersnipe, where are you? He clutched his head in his hands for a moment, bending over to get the blood flowing again. His extremities tingled with lack of air.

Breathing easily again, Master Lucius surfaced; his vision swam a moment, then he found himself looking back at his notes, his writing starkly black shifting around to form actual words, words he could vaguely remember writing himself. There was a buzzing in his ears for a few moments, and then he realized with a muted sense of surprise that someone was talking to him, and glancing round he found it was Domitia, the pale slave-girl, leaning in the doorway telling him something with an urgent note about the Guttersnipe.

"I am sorry, Domitia." He clenched his temples with thumb and forefinger. "Would you repeat yourself, please?"

Lys: Something Missing

Aithne meekly retreated, allowing Gwenhwyfar's more skilled hands to take over. She found a small half-pleasure at Gwenhwyfar's mention of bruising. Not that she was happy about the event, just to hear that her diagnosis was at least partially correct. She was glad that the bard had thought to check for broken bones, though.

She stood by quietly, waiting to be needed, listening and learning. Jason? She had not known that they shared that experience. The Guttersnipe had never said... But she knows him better than I knew Cathair. The tie is stronger between them. She probably thinks I would not understand. she thinks. And I probably wouldn't.

The look on Gwenhwyfar's face, though, that she understands. The might-have-been, or hope-to-be. The want of something or someone that cannot be had now, but whose absence is felt daily.

Movement broke her reverie. The Lady was taking the Guttersnipe to the stream. Good. And wanted Aithne to take word to Master Lucius. She froze a moment. She had never gone to him alone. Why that should startle her, she has no idea. But somehow she'd had the impression that she was to be neither seen nor heard, but simply work at what tasks she was given through others. Still, someone had to do it, and the others were looking after their own duties. She nodded, bowed her head, and with a small smile at the Guttersnipe, turned to find her way to the solarium.

It wasn't until she had nearly reached the door that she noticed her appearance. The tunic that, only just this morning, was snow-white clean, was now dusty and bloodstained. Strands of hair looped out of her braid, and her hands were not yet quite clean. She paused a moment, then turned back to wash her hands and tuck the loops under her braid. Immediacy kept her from hunting down a tunic, but she did not wish to appear before her master looking untidy, not after his speech this morning.

With a deep breath, she opened the door, bowed, and said quietly, "Master, I have been sent by Lady Gwenhwyfar with news concerning the Guttersnipe."
She rued how alarming that sounded, but it was the proper way to approach. She had to wait to be allowed to come in and to speak.

Jenny: Dark and Fair

Gwenhywfar waited until Domitia had withdrawn with the Guttersnipe. Calidus' hot eyes followed the girl and his muscles, with the thin blue veins standing out in the pale skin, twitched and fidgeted as he longed to get free. A sense of disgust turned her stomach at she watched him: his face was contorted with grief, an unnatural and repulsive obsession, he was unhealthy, thin, sweating, and all over blood. It took her a moment to summon her countenance to address him.

"Wulf," she said quietly, "take Maidenhead and see to her. We have had a long ride."

Reluctantly Wulf released Calidus, but by now the young man had turned to look at Gwenhywfar, and she held him locked in her gaze. On the fringes of her vision she was aware of the big Saxon taking hold of her mare, leading the creature off with jumps and skitters; but she kept her eye on Calidus.

The amber beads on her bracelet tinkled softly as she folded her hands together. "Well, now. No one is going to tell me, but I can take a guess. What was it? Did the splendour of Lord Ambrosius' fame turn your eye, Calidus? Oh no, the Guttersnipe is a murderer. Who did she murder? That tiny little thing... I think that you are not quite foolish enough to fall for the Lord Ambrosius who, having got word, would have hurled you from his nest in a moment."

"What do you know?" Calidus asked, nostrils flaring angrily - and in an attempt to get free of her gaze.

But she held him tight. "I look and I listen and I learn - which is what you failed to do. You and the Guttersnipe go back, and anyone of worth who comes into the Warlord's sphere is not easily cast out. But you were: I can read it in your face. You hate the mention of the man. Is that why you washed up here, where hate of the Lord Ambrosius is so freely fostered? What did he do to you, Calidus? Was it he, and not the little pigeon - who could hardly hurt a frog - who is the murderer?"

She felt about and found the image she was looking for:

There were pebbles and puppies on the floor: shiny pebbles that children play with, an shaggy, fat puppies that would grow up into the Island's famous war-hounds. She was looking at a pair of knees, very stained and rough; the skirt was tucked up. She looked at the hand: they were small, calloused: a girl's hands who was used to hard work.

There was a sudden scuffle on the flags outside of the room - a roofed atrium, it appeared to be - and in a moment someone loomed in the doorway. She was on her feet at once. She recognized the man with a sudden fluttering of heart.

"Uncle," the young man said, face very white as though he was about to be ill. "You had best come - "

It broke off. She was looking at a glare of sunlight on pale cobbles and there was a tree beside her, and there was a great broad-shouldered man with his sword limp at his side, dripping...and there was a sprawled body on the cobbles at his feet. The stomach that was not hers clenched, and she found herself searching for the young man's face somewhere in the little crowd. She almost caught a glimpse before -

"I see." She came back, looking out of her own eyes again. "It was the Lord Ambrosius. And because it was the Lord Ambrosius and not the Guttersnipe, I swear if you lay a hand on her again I will break you into a hundred tiny pieces. Don't test me, Calidus: you have no idea what I can do."

She released him then, and from his face she saw she had scared him rather badly, which had sobered him a little. Pulling himself together, lips pursed to hold back the tide of emotion, he made a sullen, stiff salute and, turning on his heel, left for the outlying village.

Gwenhywfar looked after him for a few moments, but in her mind's eye she was seeing that pale face again, the figure looming in the doorway as she had knelt among the pebbles and puppies: it had been a strong face, though pale with shock, and if one took away the paleness and the wideness of the eyes just then, it would have been a very beautiful face in the masculine way, with a line of ragged silver under one eye where a knife had come to close in the dark, with a little cleft of pensive dark between the black brows...

Hiding a small, secret smile, she went into the house to see to the Guttersnipe's wounds. Opening the door to her chamber, she found the girl half-asleep on the couch with Domitia crouched at her head. She crossed to the Guttersnipe's side, moved Domitia's arm out of the way, and began to examine the girl. The other roused as her cool hands touched the hot skin. There would be significant bruising, and she told the Guttersnipe so.

"How is your throat?"

The girl, reached up to brush her neck. "It's sore. It's still a little difficult to breathe."

Gwenhywfar nodded, rolling up the hem of the fawn-brown dress to see the other's back. She pinched her lip at the sight of the massive black circle she found there. "Does this hurt?" she asked, and began pressing the ribs one by one.

"No more than it usually would," the Guttersnipe replied, skittering away from the pressure. Then, as Gwenhywfar went back to the bruise, she added, "Jason is a horse-doctor."

"Jason... Is it his ring around you neck?"

The Guttersnipe nodded.

Finding a means of distracting the girl from her ministrations, she prompted, "Tell me about Jason."

The Guttersnipe was quiet for a moment, frowning up at the ceiling. "He's nice," she began awkwardly. "He's always been around - he's only almost a year my senior. We would play together, he and I and the other boys. We're all horse-folk in my Lord Ambrosius' valley, but he knows horses inside and out. He's a sturdy fellow, almost Artos' size, but he's got a pair of doctor's hands. He...gave me the ring the day I left."

The reason why, she left unsaid, but Gwenhywfar understood. "What does he look like? Is he dark?"

"Oh no," the Guttersnipe said. "He's fair, like Wulf. He's as native as you or me, but he's like Artos, or my Lord Ambrosius, in Roman matters."

You must miss him, Gwenhywfar thought with a sudden tug in her chest. At least the Guttersnipe had seen the person she missed; was only a pale vision, a glimpse, little more than a voice that she hung on to. But one day - one day, maybe...

She straightened and put the dress back down. "We had better get you to the stream for a soak. You will be stiff as a board, else."

The Guttersnipe lurched awkwardly into a sitting position. "What of Master Lucius?" she asked. "Someone has to tell him!"

"I will send Domitia to tell him," Gwenhywfar assured her. "Wulf will be back in a moment and he will carry you to the stream. Domitia, if you please..."

Lys: A Prayer

The hand that held Aithne's tightened ever so slightly, as though the girl was trying not to tighten it. She looked up to see the Guttersnipe's jaw clenched, a look of determination on her face. She lowered her gaze quickly. Whatever the girl was grappling with, it was somthing she did not want to share- did not even want known.

So Aithne kept her head down, resting it against the side of the couch and leaving the girl to her privacy. Christos, I have no idea what is going on here. I seem to have stepped into the midst of a raging storm and I have few bearings. Protect us, oh Lord. Master Lucius, Lady Gwenhwyfar, Wulf, and especially the Guttersnipe here. She is unused to this life. Don't let her be hurt again.

Footsteps outside interrupted her prayer. Gwenhwyfar.

She gave the Guttersnipe's hand a little squeeze.

Jenny: Scarlet on the Vine

"Go get washed up before my uncle sees you like this. Mad little vixen, you will bruise and it will spoil what good looks you were getting."

He was always giving her blows like that, off-hand and off the back; and by some unspoken recognition of companionship they both enjoyed it. Her hand gripped the rugs out of sight as the homesickness came clawing back up her throat, tearing behind her eyes. She could not let Domitia see. A confused and furiously proud part of her refused to let Domitia see. The day in the apple orchard suddenly flamed with clear beauty, beautiful in the way a great wild rose is beautiful, scarlet on the vine in the sun. For a moment she thought if she opened her eyes, she would be lying on those slopes looking up through the trees with Jason and Druce and Jason's big black dog Frip... But then there was the jangling pain and she knew she had just been fighting for her life against a grief-stricken madman, and she was seeing the whiteness of Artos' face as he had stood before her Lord Ambrosius, telling him of Rufrius, and how she had not quite understood at the time...

She turned her head. "I hear Gwenhywfar's step in the hall."

Lys: A Nurse, After All

Aithne looked up. She had escaped another fit only by a very thin margin, but there was no need to tell the Guttersnipe that. Still, she imagined she didn't look much better than the girl at the moment.

"Not as badly as you seemed at first. But I'm going to recommend Wulf take you down to the spring and make you stay there for awhile. Otherwise you'll be looking like a Nubian for the next few days. Lie back down. You can take stock later. Right now you need to claim your rest while you can get it."

She gently pressed the girl back to the pillows, and, for the first time, took a good look at the chamber.

What she saw took her breath away. It was a beautiful room, spacious and well decorated. She would have enjoyed being Gwenhwyfar's maid, but it seemed the Guttersnipe was better qualified, in that she knew something of horses as well.

"We really do need to get you down to the spring. You won't be able to move soon, if we don't."
She'd been where the Guttersnipe was at the moment. Only once, but she'd been there. Thankfully she'd been at a house where the cook knew something about such things, and bathing in fresh-cold spring water did wonders. She was actually able to go back to work the next day.

"I wonder when someone will come?"

Jenny: Winding Down

Domitia was a good maid, for all her wane looks. She fluttered about like an anxious feather on the wind; the wet cloth was especially refreshing. The soft sides of her back were beginning to harden with cramps and she was sure her of what her lip looked like. But the coolness of the room and the quiet and Domitia's ministrations helped steady the world. In a few moments she was finding it hard to remember what had just happened, and it came to her in faint, blurred images, like trying to recall a dream. Until Domitia laid her on her back, and the movement dragged angry red pain down her shoulder. She put her teeth on edge and lay still as the throbbing slowly ebbed.

"I'm sorry," Domitia said presently from beyond the damp cloth.

"Don't be," the Guttersnipe managed. "Calidus and I - we go back..." She paused, then groped for Domitia's hand, holding it in a tight, companionable grip that took her back to her Lord Ambrosius' bedridden days, which made for bad memories. "Thank you for that blow. I might be a dead pigeon now if you hadn't jumped in." She dragged the cloth off her face and propped her head up to look at herself. "Am I very bloody...?"

Lys: After-Sickness

Before Aithne could come in for another hit, the pair rolled in her direction, and she was knocked to the ground, her weapon spinning out of her hands. She scrambled back, onto her hands and knees. "STOP IT!" she screamed. "STOP! Leave her ALONE!"

Then into the nightmare came an angel, who thrust something into her hands and then pulled the Guttersnipe out of it all, while another pulled back Calidus, screaming louder than she had. The two resolved themselves into Gwenhwyfar and Wulf, and the thing in her hands turned out to be Maidenhead's reins. Realizing that fact, she scrambled to her feet and did her best to keep the horse well away from the action.

One moment Calidus was screaming bloody murder, and the next he was sobbing horribly. Unstable. she thought. Raving mad, and living in the midst of us. Would this place EVER stop surprising her? The Guttersnipe had warned her to be at the ready, but the morning's peace had lulled Aithne into security. And now the Guttersnipe herself was paying for it.

Just when things seemed to be winding down, Calidus rounded on Gwenhwyfar. He spat out his words as though they were poison, and Wulf laid him low for it. Be grateful the bard does not satirize you for that! Gwenhwyfar, as a Christian and a Bard, had a whole lot more power in her voice than even Wulf could have in his fist.
Calidus rolled as he hit the ground, and she leapt back to avoid being dragged down with him. Unfortunately, the combination of movements spooked Maidenhead, and she hurried to calm the horse- without a clue as to how to do it properly.

She sighed in relief when Gwenhwyfar took the reins from her, and more than gladly put an arm under the Guttersnipe's shoulders and helped her away.

She had to get directions from the poor girl, having never been there before, but they made it alright. Aithne thanked God that Mordred hadn't shown his face again.

But she sat the Guttersnipe down, fetched a pail of water, a bowl, and some cloths, and started to wipe her down, cleaning off the blood and sweat, taking extra care around the bites. Unbidden, tears came to her eyes. The danger was past, and the rush of it was taking its toll by amplifying her emotions. It's so WRONG! How could he... how could they let this... She swallowed them back as long as she could. The Guttersnipe needed strength right now. She needed help. But the tears came, anyway, until she could no longer see what she was doing. She wiped her eyes with the back of her arm, sniffed, and made the girl lie down on a small couch, a light blanket over her and a cool rag over her eyes- the best she could do to keep the swelling down.

Then, with a reassuring brush of the Guttersnipe's hair, Aithne went outside for a moment-

And left her breakfast under a bush. Shuddering, she heaved more than once, her eyelids fluttering and her brain unfocusing. When she was fairly certain she was finished, she managed to drag herself back in and then curled up at the foot of the couch, ready should the Guttersnipe need her.

"I'm sorry."

She did not know what else to say.

Jenny: A Thorn With No Rose

The beam spun by in a whir over the Guttersnipe's head. Calidus buckled from the blow, thin as he was, but he had head enough to propel himself into her body, sending her up and over in a sprawl. The drumming rolled like thunder in the ground beneath him. Panting, bloodied, slashed from her claw-strokes, she saw his face above her.

"You were in earnest!"

"So will be anyone who tries to kill you."

He grabbed her throat. For a moment the anger kept her going, and Arto's voice in her head. She reached up and grabbed his ear, tearing his head to one side: and old mule trick. With her fist, feeling the muffed darkness come creeping at her brain, lungs beginning to burn, she pummeled the hollow behind his eye.

Just as her blows began to flag and her vision was going blurry from the blood dropping off his face, arms locked around him and hauled him off. Arms went round her, dragging her to a sitting position. There was a moment in which time hung in the balance: there was a rushing in her ears, a dizzy spiral and lights and darkness and colourful images. Then she could see again clearly. Someone was holding Maidenhead - it must have been Domitia - and Gwenhywfar with a face like an angry vixen was holding her, body turned as though to shield her. It was Wulf who had the writhing Calidus - where he had come out of, she did not know. The young man was almost half the Saxon's size, but he was almost all Wulf could handle.

Calidus threw himself to the ends of Wulf's arms. "Murderer!" he screamed. "Murdering little swine! Tell me you're lying!"

Her head hurt too much to retort. Later on she would wonder why she told Mordred at all. She just shook her head and tried to stand tall.

With savage cry Calidus pulled Wulf several steps forward. "Hold him back!" Gwenhywfar cried. Grief-stricken, beside himself with rage, it was suddenly terrifying to look at him. The Guttersnipe recoiled, hand reaching for her knife. But Wulf managed at last to get Calidus under control save that he shuddered through continually with desolate sobs. She had never seen a grown man cry, and never over someone like Rufrius. She began to feel ill.

"Now, what happened?" Gwenhywfar demanded of her.

"Here?" she asked. She wanted to sit down. She wanted to put her head between her knees for a spell. She wanted, above all, to blot out Calidus' face forever.

Gwenhywfar shook her shoulder. "Yes, here!"

There was a windy quiet afterward. Maidenhead jerked at her rein and stomped fitfully. Across the distance she saw Calidus, broken, angry, willing her dead with every ounce of his mind...and the fight went out of her. Poor, stupid boy. Poor lost soul. She shook out of Gwenhywfar's grasp. "It was a personal matter. It's over now. The matter is between Calidus and myself and no one else - no one else."

Gwenhywfar looked at Calidus and Wulf. "I hardly feel comfortable letting him go on that," she said tersely. "He was a moment from killing you. And why - "

"Why!" Calidus burst out. He suddenly swung his attention to Gwenhywfar. "I've seen you, watching me, scrutinizing me! I see your mind working over what I am and what I've done, avoiding, judging. You poisonous little snake. You would sooner touch a leper than hand me the welcome cup."

Wulf gave Calidus a reproving blow that sent him sprawling. Maidenhead reared in confusion as the young man tumbled near her hooves. Cursing, Gwenhywfar left the Guttersnipe and fetched her mare's reins. "Guttersnipe," she snapped; "get into the house. Go wash and find Master Lucius. Domitia, take her to my chamber and help her. Leave the cloth. Wulf - Guttersnipe, I said go."

She felt she ought to stay and see things to the end, however they might end, but looking back on it she knew Gwenhywfar was right: it would only make matters worse. Feeling ill, still getting a grip on being alive, she let Domitia lead her away.

Lys: Fight!

Aithne sat quietly, continuing her stitching. Suddenly her lap was full of peas and the Guttersnipe was nothing but a flying blur.
She looked up and saw her already locked in a battle with the man from the solarium last night. And it wasn't going to end well. She knew that. She jumped off the door and stood crouched, trying to determine her best course of action. There was no time to fetch Wulf, even if she knew where he was.

A rather hefty-looking length of wood sat propped against the door. She had no idea why. Didn't care. Before she could think much on it it was in her hand and she was running towards the pair, praying the whole way for Christos to help them, and screaming like a bean sidhe.

It was hard to land a blow in the proper place. But Calidus got the upper hand for a moment, and Aithne took the opening. She aimed for his head, and brought the stick down squarely on his left shoulder. The rebound was bad enough, she thought, that there was no way he could use that arm for awhile. She leapt back and looked for another opening.

Jenny: Blood

"It's in our blood."

It was quiet for a moment between them, this time without the awkwardness. There was a little fiercely burning fire inside the Guttersnipe's chest where Domitia's words had hit, like one of Artos' fire-birds.

And perhaps it was that that made her see it, the movement out of the corner of her eye that otherwise would have been only the background movement of the barnyard. She jerked her head around and saw Calidus, pale in the broad daylight like a thing used to the dark, and she knew at once this was it. This was what Artos had said all those six years ago.

This would be to the death.

She launched off the barn door, shoving the basket skittering along the top into Domitia's lap. Calidus came at her, lithe and quick, ready for her moves. Fury was on Calidus' side this time. Mordred had told. She had not reckoned on the anger being so great as she locked into the fight with him. His arm dug around hers, wrenching the shoulder nearly to the breaking point. She locked her leg around his, struggling to bring him to the ground. The whirling, shouting world around them was closed out. It was just the two of them, grappling in the dust.

"That was a mistake," Calidus panted in her ear. "I might have let you - live!" He jerked upward. Pain flashed into her brain. Her left arm all but immobilized, she wrenched backward, giving him a blow under the ear. She could not quite remember what Artos had taught her. When he came in teeth bared like a native, closing his jaw over her arm and digging his hand into the soft of her side, she abandoned Artos' teaching, unable to remember as the old red wave came back and she did not know how she fought after that. Teeth, nails, fists, elbows and knees, they grew slippery with blood.

Somewhere behind the roaring in her ears, she heard the familiar rhythm of a horse in full gallop.

Lys: Tides and Bards

"I have been to the shore." The last time she saw the shore- the real shore, the only shore that mattered- she was saying goodbye to her homeland from the deck of an unfamiliar ship.

"I once lived by the shore. When I go far inland I feel caged. The sea is in my blood the same way that horses are in yours. I've felt the pull of the rip tide before, Guttersnipe, and I've loved it. It was never frightening. It demanded my respect and honor, but it was never frightening. Not to me." Her chin lifted. "If that is your Lord Ambrosius, then I would dearly wish to meet him."

The girl could not have hit upon a better understood word picture if she tried. To be caught in that pull again... she would dearly wish to meet him.

"Are you certain, Guttersnipe, that you are not a bard?"

Jenny: The Shining Spear

The Guttersnipe twisted her mouth to one side, thinking about that. It began to feel a little awkward sitting with Domitia. They came from such widely differing backgrounds. She could barely remember her life before her Lord Ambrosius and the friendly boxings from Artos' fists: hers was a history of security, of happiness, a world of good, bright things, things that mattered, things to fight for. Domitia's world had been torn from her and replaced with an endless cycle of fear, subjugation, and sickness. Like the sun and the moon.

"Well," she said gustily. "It's my Lord Ambrosius, you know. He's the one who does it. You can meet us, people like Gwenhywfar and Master Lucius - Artos, Jason, myself - but if you meet my Lord Ambrosius... You've been to the shore? You've felt the waves pull you when you're in the surf? They're strong, and sometimes frightening. But that one wave, that one yank of riptide in a storm - that's my Lord Ambrosius. That's why Vortigern fears him. He's powerful, and good, and like a spear out of Lugh's fist." And she left off to let Domitia think for a moment about whose hands and what kind of people into whose hands she had fallen.

Lys: Grace

"Oh no, not at all. Frankly, I'm just... surprised, I suppose, to be welcomed so warmly. You have no idea- you have been a slave for so short a time, and to such a wonderful master- you have no idea how things can go. Especially when-" She looked out to the trees. "Especially when you are bought simply because there are no others to be had."

She blinked, swallowed, and returned to her work. "It is not much better the other way, though. One comes into a household as a sort of new favorite belonging, and the other slaves start worrying one will usurp their place." She looks at the girl. "You could've done things widely different from the way you have. I know girls who would've walked away when Mordred arrived, and wouldn't have cared if I was never seen again."

Jenny: A Chap of One Idea

The Guttersnipe blew through her nose like a horse. "No, that wasn't what I meant. Go ahead and start; I mean that I'm not sure anyone has seen anything quite like Gwenhywfar ride in, and I thought you might like to see. And I will tend Maidenhead afterward, and she likes me to be around when she gets back. Maidenhead is very high-strung; she doesn't like just anyone handling her."

It sounded proud in her ears, but the Guttersnipe could think of no reason why, having been about horses since a young age, she should not be fit to see to Maidenhead's needs. She had seen to Cyrus, after all, who had the temper of a Fury, and countless foals, who could be just as bad.

The little green balls rolled off down her palm to tumble in with the others in the basket. "You may find me a little dull," she told Domitia. "I fear there are only a few things in the world I talk about for any length of time."

Lys: Details

"Details. I like that. I'm glad to hear it. I've been in trouble before for too much attention to detail- some people would rather have a job done quickly than well. I'm glad to know Master Lucius is not that kind."

She folded the felt up again, keeping it from dragging in the dust. It was inevitable that it would eventually do so, but the less the better, if smartness was the objective. Turning on the door, she put her back to the doorpost and stretched her legs out in front, balancing them on the thick wood. The door was wide enough that she did not cramp the Guttersnipe in any way. Having found her center of balance, she laid her head back. "Why do we wait for Lady Gwenhwyfar? Should I not start my work immediately?"

The daylight was passing and she was impatient to begin. If she was to speak to Wulf in time to put her plan in motion, and if she was to have time to even cook tonight, she needed to get a good bit under her before dark.

Jenny: Peas and Horses

The Guttersnipe tucked up on the edge of the door, back to the frame, the basket cradled between her knees. Across from her Domitia sat like a pretty hand-bird perched on a branch too high, very daintily and a little uncertainly, plucking up the green felt as though preening.

"Master Lucius has his own herd," she explained while throwing pea-shells away. "That's another reason why it's not easy for him to leave: you don't simply pack up a whole herd of stallions and mares and foals and one-year-olds who haven't been broken in and two-year-olds who still don't like halters and head off down the road with nowhere in mind to wash up.

"Now, horses and I," she grinned to herself; "we go back a long way together. Oh, I've told you that. My whole family and horses go back. Take Maidenhead. She's Gwenhywfar's mare, not belonging to Lucius, but I should love to see my stallion cover her. They are both great horses, and just think of the stock you could get from them!" She sighed, feeling a twinge of homesickness come nagging at the back of her throat. But she rushed on from that and considered to herself what it was that Master Lucius and Gwenhywfar were planning. The secretive looks and gestures were not meant for a simple departure: they wanted to go where Vortigern would not let them, and that made her heart race.

Coming back, she jerked a finger at Domitia's work. "Those are for the two-year-olds bound for Votadinii territory. Felt comes cheap and it makes warm coverings, and it makes the horses look smart. Master Lucius has a reputation for seeing to details."

Lys: A Shade of Green

Aithne nodded at the Guttersnipe's words on cooking. From what Master Lucius had said earlier, she imagined he did a lot of things autonimously. And yet the Guttersnipe seemed to not hold Vortigern responsible for such precautions. There were politics and posturings here that she did not know- and might not know for some time. Such things were not considered necessary for the slave of a tennant to know.

She followed the girl out to the stables. The familiar scent of horses came on the breeze, and she sighed. She'd known others to say they stank, but in her opinion, cows were worse many times over. And horses were prettier, as well. Besides, the smell reminded her of home.

The Guttersnipe was right. The felt was pretty. "Indeed. It's lovely." She smiled. "It reminds me of the groves in Ibernia. And nicely thick, too. Your horses will be kept very warm this winter. I mean- well, are they Lord Vortigern's horses or Master Lucius's?"
The fabric's thick. she thought. It won't be easy getting a needle through it.

Jenny: Green Felt

"I do, sometimes," the Guttersnipe admitted. "Wulf can cook. He won't say so, but he can, and none too badly. He did most of the cooking before I came because Master Lucius needs someone personal to look after such things."

Seeing Domitia had finished, the Guttersnipe got to her feet, basket of peas in one arm, and gestured. "This way - just round the corner." So barefoot, wind in her face, she left the kitchen for the out of doors, crossing the open barnyard toward the horses' building. The doors were quartered: two on top, two on the bottom, so that the top ones would swing away and give a view to the interior while the mares could not get out. Turning at the doors, the Guttersnipe hoisted herself up and bade Domitia do the same. "We can wait here," she said, wiggling into a comfortable position and taking out the cloth, "until Gwenhywfar gets back. She's gone off on a ride. Now, like so. Nothing fancy, but good sturdy stitches... It is a pretty green, don't you think?" She held the felt up to the light.

Lys: Reports

"That sounds wonderful." She munched her last few berries. Asking Wulf would be a bit of a kink in things, but she wasn't about to ask Mordred. She shuddered.

"I suppose the reports I've heard of Vortigern are skewed. Most are, when they have far to come. Fair enough. I just don't want to be too close to him when your Lord Ambrosius arrives."

The Guttersnipe continues to ignore the others in the room, so Aithne tries to do the same, though if she was here alone she would not dare be so bold.

"I'm sorry I have so many questions- you can blame my father for that- but who cooks for Master Lucius?"

Jenny: On the Matter of Rabbits

That would be like Wulf. "No," she said absentmindedly. "No one will care if you cook a rabbit. As for getting one, you would have to ask Wulf. He knows those sorts of things. Or Mordred."

She dropped another handful of empty pea-shells into the pile. "As for Master Lucius, it's because he's ill. He can't travel much, not yet. And don't confuse Vortigern with Mordred. As much as I dislike him...I think perhaps he does not deserve that. And anyway, it's not our fight." She threw a shell away.

Ignoring Monica's presence, whom she considered little more than a harsh-voiced, overriding hen, the Guttersnipe said, "We'll go out to the barn after breakfast and get you started on your work. It's pleasant out there."

Lys: Understanding

"Oh, I see." Aithne nodded. "Wulf said pretty much the same, but he phrased it a little differently. He said I'm scrawny and my fits make me look like a kicking rabbit." She supressed a smile. "What I find odd is that a man of Master Lucius's seeming uprightness should live under the shadow of Vortigern. Also..." She leaned in conspiratorially. "Is there any way I can get my hands on some rabbit to cook for supper? I've an idea, and even if it fails, it will do no one harm." Noting the look on the other girl's face, she leaned back. "I hope I'm not overstepping."

Suddenly she noticed another girl staring at her- by the expression she guessed it was Monica...

Jenny: Answers

The Guttersnipe concentrated on her bread and peas for a few moments, knowing that she was frowning and looking thoughtful and unable to wash the face away. "Well, he probably meant," she began after a while, "that you're not well enough to be on your own. The only woman I would trust to go any distance alone would be Gwenhywfar, and even she won't go far. It's not safe."

She rolled the peas back into the basket and tossed the shell into a small pile on the floor.

Lys: A Change of Company

Aithne watched him walk out, his back quickly receeding out of sight.
"Well. I'll just sit here and eat mine then. By myself. Nice talking to you!"
With a soft laugh, she sat down to her food.

She had not gotten far when the Guttersnipe returned, grabbing her own breakfast as she came. "Oh." Aithne responded. "Bread and water, and some berries that seemed to be unimportant to whatever is being cooked at the moment." She took a sip, and was glad to find it not very cold. Why people enjoyed icy, straight-from-the-spring water was beyond her. All it did was cramp the stomach.

"Guttersnipe... I asked Wulf a question on the way here, and I'm not sure whether he told me the whole truth or something to get me to leave him alone. Not that I think he lied, I'm just..." She paused a moment. "Perhaps it's a silly question, but what did Master Lucius mean when he said it would be unsafe for me to be anything other than a slave? The whole thing puzzles me from one end to the other."

Jenny: Peas

Wulf stopped in the act of leaving the room, having finished his task. "I ate before the sun came up," he said; "and I'll eat after it goes down." Then he nodded and passed on back into the hallway through the pale patches the skylights made on the floor.


Having paused to wash a chalk drawing off the wall where someone had decided to give the painting of Charun what appeared to be a pet lobster, the Guttersnipe wound her way through the back passages to the kitchen. Wulf passed her with a wave of his hand.

She dodged two of the workers, grabbed a basket of peas and a heel of bread, and slid onto a bench across from Domitia. Tearing off a piece of bread with her teeth, she fell to shelling the peas. "What have you got?" she asked, jerking her head at the other's breakfast.

Lys: Breakfast

Aithne followed Wulf into the kitchen. The bustle was amazing to behold. Until now she had not realized how big a villa could be. There seem to be enough people in this household alone to build a clan!

Wulf was once again silent, and she hoped she hadn't stepped wrong. She couldn't tell for sure, but she thought that either way, opening her mouth again- even to apologize- would not be looked on kindly. All the same, he piqued her interest, and she was having a hard time keeping herself to herself.

She looked at the myriad of women in the kitchen and kitchen garden beyond and wondered which was the aforementioned Monica. And while we're on that subject, how will she react to seeing what is assumedly her ribbon around my waist?

Not exactly knowing protocol, she took her cue from the Guttersnipe's behavior last night and found herself some bread, water, and some berries. She did not see apples about. She supposed it was still a little too early in the year for good ones. But Autumn was coming, and with it, apple season.

Finding a quiet corner, she sat her food down, then turned to Wulf, a sudden idea having come to her. "Have you eaten, Wulf? Can I fix you something?"

Jenny: The Apple-Tree, the Singing, and the Gold

Between the gooseberry and the apple, on a little bench hidden out of the way in the mossy green shadows, Jason sat with a twitching, fluttering fledgling in his hands. Its head with the soft, juvenile plumage was twisted round to look up at him reproachfully; his hands, one firmly grasping the body of the thing, the other working at the bandage on the wing, it did not bite, but neither did it appreciate. It continued to fidget as he worked patiently.

"It seems tamer than last."

Jason glanced up as Gaius walked by, a bucket full of mint in one hand and a shovel across the other shoulder, then back down at the bird. "It is somewhat improved," he admitted. The other dropped the bucket and plunged the shovel down into the soft earth under the gooseberry. He gently squeezed the merlin's digits. It squirmed but did not cry out. "It's not unlike a horse's foreleg, or the leg of a man. A trifle more complex, but not unlike..."

Gaius continued to turn over the earth, and presently dropped to his knees to put the plants into their holes. There was a scent of earthy comfort all around, a sort of coolness so that it seemed to Jason as though the garden breathed around him. It was a pleasant, peaceful place, and it was pleasant to him to think that the Guttersnipe sat on this bench time out of mind, wearing it down. He thought of her as he put the bird down on the stones and let it potter about; his hand closed over his bare ring-finger, touching the pale gall. He watched the bird for a minute, then took to staring up at the top of the wall and the northern sky, chin on his palm: he could just see the top of a nearby hill and the blue-grey sky; there was a hint of rain in the wind.

"Missing her?" Gaius asked.

Jason turned around. "Did I sigh?"

"Rather largely." The older of the two rocked back on his heels, stamping the earth down about the plants with the flats of his hands. "I didn't ask before. Forgive me for doing so now." He laid his grubby arms across his knees. "Do you mind her going off while you have to stay here?"

Somehow he had known that was what Gaius was going to ask. He had never asked himself, but the answer came readily enough. "Going, staying, it makes no difference to me. I only mind her being away. But it will be autumn soon."


They both looked up together at the top of the wall and the northern sky. Gaius, Jason knew, was remembering past marches and lands beyond the valley. People with and without homes, fierce or friendly; roads hot under the summer sun or shedding great blankets of steam in an early spring morning; quarrels, fights to take and save lives, peaceful evenings under the stars... If one looked, Jason thought, very carefully and at the right moment, one could see Gaius wishing for those times again as the merlin at his feet fluttered in an attempt to fly. But there was Lucretia and the garden, and he knew that Gaius would never fly, even if he had the chance.

A wind blew through the garden, bringing with it the scent of rain and of the apple orchard, and something faintly foreboding.

He shivered.

Lys: Horse Blankets

Aithne was impressed. In a span of minutes, Wulf had just uttered more words than she'd heard the whole day before.

"I suppose that's true. But it is not so much the servitude as the lack of freedom to choose whether to serve, I think." She stood by as he worked the latch, thinking quietly for a moment. "As a woman I am used to serving the needs of others. But as Scotti it grates to have the duty forced on me. Better I do it out of my own wish to please and help. ...It seems to cheapen it, somehow."

And that was why she would enjoy serving Master Lucius. He made her feel as though she was free to obey or disobey, even if it wasn't true. She hoped someday, if she was not freed, that he would allow her to serve him more directly. She doubted Wulf or even the Guttersnipe did much in the way of cooking, and it seemed to her it would be dangerous for him to accept food from Vortigern's tables.

First things first, Aithne. It's horse blankets for you.

...And they'll be the best horse blankets in the Empire.

Jenny: ...

Wulf ducked under a low lintel, muttering to himself about the short Middle Sea people. "Everyone's so very quick to be his own man," he said presently, "and the large portion of people, when they have themselves to themselves, don't know what to do. Better have a good master and good food than be one's own sorry man with hardly a scrap of clothing and your ribs showing, I say." He reached over the half-door to the kitchen and worked with the latch. "And if servants fussed less and worked more willingly, there would be a sight more kindly masters in the world."


The Guttersnipe reached over and touched the back of Master Lucius' translucent hand. He had not told her what he was planning, nor what part she might have to play in it, if she had a part at all; but he was like her Lord Ambrosius, and he thought for Britain, so she said, "We will be ready."

He nodded. Presently he turned to her, hand on the window-frame for support. "Go join your friend. I will need you later."

"Yes, sir."

Lys: Pestering.

Aithne laughed aloud. "Well, for a scrawny rabbit I think I did a fairly good job at scrubbing down the fountain last night before supper."
She did not know why, but she felt poised to be the bane of Wulf's existance, pestering him into talking more often than he was wont. And she did not think that was fair to him.
"Just so you know, my fits don't happen often. Usually only when I'm very stressed or have not been allowed to sleep or eat." That fact had made things horrible for her in the past, as she'd sometimes be punished for them by having to do extra chores or have her food taken from her- which only continued the cycle.

"And as our Master Lucius has been so kind to me even so far, I think I will not have another for awhile yet." She hop-skipped up a step in the path. "I do not like being a slave, Wulf. But I think I will enjoy serving Master Lucius."

It was not forgotten- her place, but... it was closer to family than she'd been in a long time. She hoped she would not forget her place in it all.

Jenny: Movements

"Because you're a scrawny little thing and kick like a rabbit when you go into fits," Wulf replied bluntly.


Master Lucius did not look up from his work. The Guttersnipe waited until Wulf and Domitia had left and were long out of earshot before beginning to pace about the table. She passed by the window and stopped, looking out across the garden. The thrush had come back. It jumped among the flowers like a small brown shadow.

"So what was it," Master Lucius' voice came from behind her, "that happened at the stream this morning?"

"Not a fit." She tipped up her chin to watch the way the light played on the edges of the eaves. "It was Mordred this morning, acquaintance of mine last night."

She heard him turn in his place. At her elbow in the glass pane she could see his reflection watching her.

"The acquaintance first. We were only children then, six years ago back home. Six years. I haven't thought of him since then. We fought, that last day. It was in autumn, and my Lord Ambrosius was coming home after the year's campaign, and we quarreled. He insulted my Lord Ambrosius, and I fought him for it. We fought last night, too." She touched her back where it was still tender. "Calidus. It was Calidus."

"I might have guessed," said Master Lucius. There was a peculiar note of gentleness in his tone. "It is a small world."

She nodded. The thrush had moved to the fountain and was bathing; the droplets were spraying all around its head as it fluttered its wings. "It seems that the two are friends now, of sorts, and whatever that may mean it does not sit well with me."

"No..." Master Lucius got up from his chair, bound up in the red mantle, and came to stand by her; the pane turned a muted shade of red from his reflection. "Vortigern waits to move, and we wait to move, but I fear there are others, older and darker, that wait to move as well."

She looked round at him as the shadow of the flying thrust darted across his face.

"Not long now, I think."

Lys: Master Lucius

Aithne's eyes twinkled with suppressed laughter at the Guttersnipe's remark. Brilliant? I suppose he must be. For from all accounts Vortigern would not want someone like him if he was not so.

She wasn't certain about the meaning of the look between the girl and her new Master, but she guessed, between what had happened and what Master Lucius had already said, that it had to do with Mordred.

Dismissed, she curtseyed again and followed Wulf. Once outside, she realized that they were, on some level, equals. Her encounter with Master Lucius had made her a little more bold. She thought she would attempt conversation.

"Wulf, what did Master Lucius mean- it's not safe for me to be other than a slave?" She had to crane her neck up to see him, but she felt relatively certain the question was permissable.

Jenny: Master Lucius

It was the pigeon who answered, gesturing almost theatrically toward him. "This is Master Lucius, and he is brilliant."

"I am Master Lucius," he added with one hand raised to ward off any other pigeon comments, "and your fate is in my hands. But I have never been one to be cruel or unjust with those in my hands; you may be assured of that."

He twisted in his chair to address the Guttersnipe. "Have you eaten yet?" he inquired.

"Not yet." She stooped and tucked the scarlet mantle tighter around him. She straightened to survey her work. "We have only just come up from the stream." Then he caught her giving him a pointed look, and he turned back to Wulf.

"That will do for now. After breakfast the Guttersnipe will show Domitia her work. Take her to the kitchens, Wulf; the Guttersnipe will be along in a moment." Waving one hand, signet ring flashing dull fire in the sunlight, he took up another of his tablets and began running down the lists.

Lys: New Duties

Horse blankets? Well, it was certainly novel. She'd never done it before. But if she could have an old one for a model, she thought she could do it.

"I can sew, sir." she said as he took a drink of water. He went on before she could say else, and there wasn't really anything for her to say, anyway.

He professed no love for Vortigern, and she was glad of it. She found it curious that he would stay under the man's roof, but did not think it was her place to ask.
She was not sure what she thought of being the second half of a group that included Wulf the Silent Giant. The Guttersnipe was, according to the master, not a slave- a confusing statement, considering she called him Master and in all things acted the part of a slave. Though, upon reflection, Aithne observes it is as much as a daughter would do for an ailing father...

"...At the moment I am inclined to think that it would be entirely unsafe for you to be anything but a slave. Now, if you have any questions about your place, you may ask me. I am sure the Guttersnipe can educate you in particular matters."

Aithne did have a few questions. How to word them properly?
"Sir, I do have questions, please. Why would I be anything but my master's slave? And, might I know my master's name?"

She had no idea what he meant by her being something other than a slave. At least, her ideas were either too wonderful or too frightening to consider. Beyond that, she did not know how such a change would put her in danger. She didn't wish to seem rude or stupid about that, though. She would ask the Guttersnipe later.

It was odd, refering to this young man as "Master". She'd never had a master- nor mistress- that was so close to her age. It would take some getting used to.