Jenny: Morning Duties

The Guttersnipe woke to the sounds of dogs barking and people working in the kitchens. Even at opposite ends of the house, Monica's voice could be heard. She rolled over and thrust her feet out of the warm striped blankets. The room was dark; the curtains were still pulled over the glass windows. She padded across and drew back the hanging folds, tumbling great shafts of light flooding in around her. Blinking against the glare, she could see the curve of the garden and the cluster of village houses, the upland pastures across the valley, and the river in between with its mantle of trees. It was one of those rare, clear days, and she knew it was going to be fine.

Gwenhywfar was stirring when she turned back to the room. She was certain the young woman could not possibly look ugly: propping herself up on one elbow, hair disheveled from sleep, blinking her cat-green eyes in the sunlight, she still looked breath-taking. "Good morning," the Guttersnipe said. She unlatched a trunk and bent over it. "What will it be today?"

The other sat up and ran her fingers through her hair to order it. "Oh, fetch me out my riding gown. It is too lovely a morning to waste."

The Guttersnipe shut the trunk and went to another, pulling out the sturdy dark clothing-leather that would make Gwenhywfar's fair shine out all the more. And as she came back, Gwenhywfar was just giving her hair a twist and a jerk, holding it place with an engraved shaft of thin wood. Then she got up and turned to the mirror as the Guttersnipe unpinned her sleeping gown and helped her into her riding outfit. Just as she was securing the thick hawking glove on Gwenhyfar's hand, however, her big hunting cat streaked out of the shadows and flung itself upon her shoulders.

"Ah!" She stroked the animal's tabby head. The cat arched its tail and set into Gwenhywfar's shoulders with its claws as she rubbed beneath its jaw. The Guttersnipe kept a safe distance as she bent to buckle on Gwenhywfar's knife-belt. Still busy with the cat, the other said, "Fetch Maidenhead out for me, please, Guttersnipe."

Wiggling the belt to where it would make the most of Gwenhywfar's hips, the Guttersnipe jumped up and left without a word. She was happy, though: her steps skipped along the passage as she trotted toward the servants' exit and the stables beyond. Maidenhead was a fine mare, part-arab, with a good set of legs and an intelligent eye. A part of her longed terribly to have her crossed with Pharaoh. She could see their children in her mind's eye: long-legged youngsters with that particular fine head and absurdly yet advantageously lengthy necks.

She stopped on the threshold of the servant wing, looking off down the valley where the early mists were still gathered, moony gold in the sunlight. It was the sort of sight that broke her heart: beautiful, distant, so fragile - like Gwenhywfar's songs. She had to tear herself away.

It was easier inside the long barn. The mares and their foals were turned loose in the native fashion. She had to move among the animals to pick out Gwenhywfar's little red mare at the back, half-asleep still in a shaft of sunlight so that, for a moment, the creature looked like stationary flame. Then at the sound of her voice the mare shook her head and looked round, ears pricked. She clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth. "Come, cousin," she crooned, taking hold of the halter. "Come on, girl. Time to get the fidgets out of your feet. There's my girl..." She led the mare out from among the others and found her tack: stamped leather with coral studs and bronze rivets. "Ho there!" she called to one of the passing servants. "Send word to Gwenhywfar that her mount is ready."

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Aithne's reaction to Gwenhwyfar, I think, will be different next time she sees her.

Kudos for the richness of this installment. It's gorgeous.


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