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.

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