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Gwenhywfar waited until Domitia had withdrawn with the Guttersnipe.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..."

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