Jenny: Wolf Cubs

There was a kingfisher across the water, looking at her out of one small black eye, head to one side. There was a faint ripple in the water under the reeds where a polecat had slipped down to drink and was slipping away again. High up in the willows overhead, a crow called loudly to its mate further down stream. The Guttersnipe sat hung between the worlds of the busy villa up the slope and the wilderland thrumming around her. Once she turned her head in time to see the jewel-red body of a cardinal flash out across the water; the kingfisher plunged into the water in an eruption of silver droplets.

She glanced round, suppressing the urge to jump as she found Mordred at her elbow, fists at his sides. "You didn't hear me," he said with triumph in his tone.

"Go away, Mordred," she told him.

He did not go; she knew he would not go. He would stand there, and presently reach over to play with a tendril of her hair as though she were a girl his age. She swept out with the hard of her wrist and hit him in the shins, then swifter than thought gave him a blow behind the knee. He went down, rolling on the slope, and grabbed her other wrist, holding it back as she went to strike him across the bridge of his nose. And for some reason they both stopped. Looking into his eyes, the Guttersnipe saw something unnatural looking back at her, and he stopped, knowing - as an animal might know - that she could beat him. The birds were quiet. The dogs stopped barking. The two of them caught their breaths and stared at one another. For some reason, the pendant and ring felt very heavy and close against her chest. Then, as one, they flung themselves off; the Guttersnipe flung up her head and looked at him the way the kingfisher had looked at her.

Mordred blew through his nostrils heavily as he got to his feet. "Calidus told me he saw you last night. And that you beat him. I'm sure that tasted sweet to you."

Her eyes narrowed.

He looked away downriver, across the river toward the south and the lands beyond the uplands. "Six years, was it? I was nine and putting bird heads on frog bodies." He looked back at her forcefully. "But it isn't just your family that can see. I had a dream last night about men on horses and silver flame in their hands, and how they drove back the darkness by lighting it with red fire."

Artos. She got to her feet herself. "Well? So what of it? Gwenhywfar can see - I think. Lots of people can see if they take the time and have the blood of it."

The other shrugged with thin shoulders. "Maybe."

She wanted to ask him what he had to do with Calidus, and thought perhaps it was an answer she would not want.

He laughed suddenly. "You think that. You would be wrong. Calidus...well, to each his own. To each a bird, a man with clean knives, and a little bunch of herbs." As he spoke, he took an wooden chess-piece from his belt and turned it over thoughtfully in his hand. Then he snapped his hand shut and jumped up the slope and began to melt away through the dancing shadows of the willow-wood.

The Guttersnipe took a stride after him. "Tell Calidus that Rufrius is dead, Mordred. My Lord Ambrosius killed him himself. Tell him that!"

Mordred made a half-turn, looking back at her over his shoulder. The shadows were across his face so that the eyes and whatever it was inside them seemed to shine out uncannily, and there was a cold sliver of a smile on his lips. He bent down and put the chess-piece on a jut of rock and left without another word.

And with a cold shiver of premonition, the Guttersnipe realized that Mordred had known.

It took a moment for Domitia's voice to penetrate. She jerked round, sketching the best smile she could. "I'm sorry! Just a moment." She ran back down and took up the gown and ribbon and waded out to the tent. "Arms up," she said, and held the gown high to slip over the other.

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