Jenny: In the Moon

The Guttersnipe got to her feet and fell to arranging Master Lucius' thick rugs. The thin young man settled underneath the blankets, putting aside the empty cup. At least he could sleep well, she considered; poor thing. He was looking somewhat worse this evening, though perhaps it was just the lack of light that made his face look hollower and grey. But despite that, his spirits did not seem to have dampened.

"Things will get better," he told her drowsily. He patted the back of her hand as she tucked the blankets in. "We are planning, Gwenhywfar and I..." His voice trailed off.

The Guttersnipe took up the candle and stood a moment watching him drift asleep. For a second he looked like a child, then she blinked - as one always has to blink - and he looked like Gaius, or maybe Caleb. She smiled fondly and took the candle away, leaving Plutarch where Master Lucius could find him in the morning. The corridors were dark, but the servants were busy passing back and forth from the hall to the kitchen wing, and she moved among them, candle cupped high to light the way. The light refracted once off the green-saucer eyes of Gwenhywfar's hunting cat, which was a bit startling in the dark. The cat rumbled in its throat and flashed away before the Guttersnipe could get down and try to pet it. It had all fangs and claws, and loved no one much except Gwenhywfar, whose perfect skin it never pierced. The girl wondered if the bard had magicked it; she had never known a creature to be so fierce and ornery. "He was a gift the land gave me when I wintered in the Caledones," Gwenhywfar had explained simply. "We get on, he and I."

The Guttersnipe went round by the cool room and sun chambers to reach the garden, skirting the hall entirely where she could hear the sounds of boisterous merriment. All the quiet in the chambers she passed through: the wine would be kept in the peristyle for this evening, and now that the sun had gone down, no one would be in Master Lucius' favourite spot. The sun chamber, she had to admit, was the most lovely room in the house: it boasted remarkably large windows, all sturdy glass, and even the door was glass encased in a wooden frame. It let a great deal of light in, which was good for Master Lucius, who could use the sunshine whenever it came.

Halfway through the room she noticed something on the floor near the little mosaic table. Master Lucius was scrupulously neat, so she swerved aside and knelt, reaching for the object. There was some moonlight coming in, and she tipped the thing to the light: it was a book, one of Paul's epistles. He must have dropped it off the table in his coughing spell. With his bold writing flashing up off the page, very black and neat, she could hardly help settling down to read a line or two.

"How much can you read?" a voice asked from the corner.

She could hardly help jumping, and then getting cross. Folding the scroll up on itself, she said, "I am respectably literate. I've come back to fetch my master's things."

"Mm," said the voice. She wished he would come out of the shadows. She got to her feet resignedly; it was hard scraping to someone one could not even see properly. But suddenly the voice turned hard, like a knife going in and wrenching around. "I'll bet it's heartbreaking, being so far away from home, being torn from the people you love. Now you know what it feels like."

It had been so long, she had not recognized his voice. For almost a minute she stood in paralyzed confusion, then as he made a move to come out of the dark, she remembered. She swore. "Calidus!"

He had grown. He was still thin, his face haggard, eyes harder than ever. But he was Jason's height, and even as a boy he had had a sturdy fist. She feared him that much. Maybe she had forgotten his voice, maybe he had forgotten the colour of the tunic she had been wearing that day in the apple orchard. But the apple orchard, the fight, the enmity, that was something that they would never forget. She swallowed down her shock and gathered herself together.

"Odd how the world takes its turns," said Calidus.

She pursed her lips and nodded.

She was ready for it. This time she did not let the irrational rage pull the red veil between herself and the world. He came at her in two strides, and she was back in the hot dirt circle, dodging and whirling as Artos taught her his trade. He reached, she swung, bringing one elbow into the crook of his own arm and the other up into his face. He jerked aside and she reached back with both hands, grabbing his head and bringing his nose into contact with the back of her head. He hit her in the kidney with his knee and sent her spinning as a retort.

They stood at opposite sides of the room, Paul's epistle small and fragile between them. They were both panting, though the exchange had been quick.

"They did more than teach you how to read," Calidus remarked. He felt the bridge of his nose. "You still fight like a girl, though."

"My Lord Ambrosius' girl. I remember you saying so yourself."

He grunted. Eyes falling on the scroll, he stooped and picked it up. The Guttersnipe's heart fluttered for a moment in her throat as he opened it and scanned a few lines. Then, with distasteful grimace, he let it roll back on itself and chucked it at her. Without another glance he passed on out of the sun chamber.

She let out a long, uneasy breath. For some reason things were more complicated now than they had been in the apple orchard. There one fought things out, won or lost, and that was that. She could not count the squabbles she and the other boys had had, how they had fallen out and had a good honest fight, and things had been fine. Now the air turned sour, and she knew she would be seeing him again.

"Well, at least he isn't Mordred," she murmured, and pushed open the glass door to the garden.

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