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

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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."

"Yes..."

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.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Feel free to play in the kitchen. (That doesn't sound right.) Don't wait for me to make things up.

~Jenny

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