Lys: Apples of Gold

Aithne accepted the apple happily. "Oh, thank you." She could not help but take a bit before answering her question. It was perfect. Crisp, sweet, juicy... But she made herself answer before eating more. Motioning to the rumpled state of her dress, she said, "Like the dead, or very near. I don't think I moved all night. As for where I was put..." Her brow furrowed. "I believe Lord Artos mentioned the cloister."

She looked around the room. It looked different in morning light- bright and cheerful and no less welcoming for the change. Then she saw the harp, and remembered hearing and playing it, and a smile came to her face.

Jenny: Good Morning

"Oh tush," the Guttersnipe said warmly, depositing Master Lucius into a chair at the table. "It was nearly today by the time we all got in bed last night. How did you sleep, by the way? And where did they put you up?"

She caught up an apple from a passing basket and rolled it into Domitia's hand, waiting for her to speak.

Lys: Late!

Aithne awoke to the sun streaming through her window. She sighed a contented sigh and rolled over. The bed was the softest she'd had in... possibly forever. It wrapped her up in itself and lulled her to a half-sleep from which it seemed impossible to wake.

I suppose I should get up, she thought, though she did not move. Master Lucius will- Her eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright. Master Lucius! He would need her more now that the Guttersnipe was no longer his servant, and here she was, sleeping the day away. Throwing off the covers, she rose, swaying slightly at the speed of it. She reached for her dress, only then to remember that she hadn't bothered to undress the night before. Looking down, she found herself rumpled and wrinkled. But there was no time nor way to remedy that. She quickly combed through her hair, braided it out of the way, and scrambled towards the hall, knowing Wulf would have handled anything before breakfast. Were they at home, she'd be cooking right now.

You are at home, Aithne. That made her pull up short, which was just as well, as Master Lucius was only a few yards off, being helped by the Guttersnipe.
She trotted up to them. "I'm so sorry I'm late! Please forgive me, Master Lucius. I overslept."

Jenny: Gossamer Magic

There was a cardinal warbling in a tree. Somewhere beyond her closed eyes, the Guttersnipe was aware of a blur of light, cool air, and a wild freshness that she had not known for almost six months. She tore open her eyes and found the world familiar at last, the same faded paintings on the walls, the same tumble of white linen and wolfskin tangled over her, the same patch of broken sunlight on the far wall beside the door. She sprang up and flung open the lattice over the window and craned out, teetering precariously, to look out into the garden.

She could see the cardinal in the tree, a little red spot of colour against the yellow of the trees. The leaves lay like bars of gold on the dark surface of the pool, blurring in their movements the reflections of the cardinal and poppies.

"O-o-h, lovely morning!" she cried delightedly. She sprang back down onto her bed and off again, catching up her gown and tying the sash. She ran out down the passage, feet pattering loudly in the quiet. There was little time to be had before breakfast, but she had to get a look at the garden before then when the gossamer was still shining on the lawn. She came through the solarium at a whirl and banged open the garden door, plunging out into the beautiful sunshine and mountain air all full of apple-spice and faint horsey-tang. She stood in the middle of the garden with the gossamer making diamond anklets round her feet, pulling in great lung-fulls of the air. She could hear children laughing, and a horse calling, and she remembered the evening in the apple-orchard with Jason, sitting on the bough and talking, and not talking, just being together after being so long apart. And, in a way, discovering that they had both grown up, which was a discovery first awkward and then wonderful. He had given her one last kiss and seen her back to the villa, and they had parted.

The cardinal dropped off the cherry-branch and tore by on the wing, a slash of red in the watery dawn, and she followed its flight, catching now the strong scents of breakfast. Satisfied with the sight of the garden, she tread back across the lawn into the solarium, and was started to find Master Lucius at the table surrounded by his books.

"Well! This is a familiar sight," she said. "I didn't see you when I came through."

He did not take his eyes off his book. "Considering the speed at which you came, I would have been surprised if you had."

Her lips twitched. "It is nearly breakfast time," she went on. "Are you going to join us?"

He seemed to wake fully and come alive, sifting through his papers for a single book. "Yes, of course. Just a moment..." He continued to sort until he found his Xenophon, whereupon he rose and, since she darted forward, took her arm to lean on. "My legs feel stronger today," he told her as they made their way along. "I cannot quite put a finger on it, but somehow they seem better."

She did not tell him, she just smiled a little polite smile and helped him in his progress, but to herself she confided that it was the magic of the place that was making him better. A magic which she hoped would also bring Domitia out of her shell and make her human again.

Lys: Long Day

She smiled again at his determined use of her name. Suddenly shy, she bobbed her thanks at his offer to let her play- an amazing offer, the offer of a friend to a friend, from a stranger and a free man.

She followed Lucretia out the door, across the way, to a small room not unlike her room in Vortigern's household. Suddenly tired, she murmured a thank you to Lucretia, and as soon as the door was closed, collapsed on the bed, still dressed.

Moments later, she was sound asleep.

Jenny: A Long Day

Caleb frowned a little at the girl's suddenly reserved manner, but Lucretia simply brushed her hands off on her apron and said, "Has he? That's nothing new. But it's late and I know you and I have had a long day. Good night, Caleb. I will see you in the morning."

"Good night, Lucretia," he called. "Say good night to Gaius for me. And good night, Aithne," he forced out her name again. "Whenever you have time, come and rout me out to play on the harp a little. I won't mind you handling her."

He gave her a little wave as she was pulled off by Lucretia and fell to packing away his harp, pondering as he did so the unlikelihood of pulling her out again soon, considering the coming storm...

Lys: Praise

Aithne smiled at his attempts to master her name. It came out more like ann-EE-uh, which was amusing and a very good try at it, for someone who came from the other end of the world. His own name she did not find terribly hard, between Brother Parthalán's teaching and her many years among Romans, her tongue had grown somewhat accustomed to such sounds.

Then there was movment in the doorway and Aithne scrambled to her feet. Lucretia's arrival had broken the moment and reminded her that she was a slave, not even of this household, and she had not been acting like one. She flushed with a kind of embarassed pleasure at his praise, though. "Master Caleb has been very kind to me." she said quietly.

Jenny: Lyrical

Caleb tried the name out for a moment, found it lyrical and at the same time difficult, and cast away the difficulty with a smile, knowing she must find his name like a sharp-tasting olive in her mouth. How much harder, he pondered, the names of the Hawk and Merlin? But if she was really a bard's daughter, which her fingers seemed to prove, she would be accustomed to wrapping her tongue around odd sounds without offence.

Before the conversation could grow awkward, which he feared it might thinking of no more to say to her, Lucretia appeared in the doorway and, seeing Aithne, came closer. "She has just been playing my harp," he said warmly. "She is not a bad player herself."

Lys: A Slip of the Tongue


Her Scotti name came readily to her tongue. It was not until after she had said it that she realized she had not said Domitia, the name by which everyone else knew her. Even the Guttersnipe did not know her name. But this odd bard who played at warrior- or warrior that played at bard? A Roman Israelite in Brittanium- more odd than she was, now knew it.

Perhaps that was why she had told him. He was a transplant, as she was, and there was some common ground in that. Her chin came up.

"I am Aithne."

Jenny: Exchange of Names

The girl sat in a curious sort of rapture, hanging on his words with a little knot of confusion between her brows. When she asked after his grandfather, he explained: "Of course. My grandfather was a Roman citizen, as was his father before that, and as far back as the family memory will go, and farther. I dare say we have been Roman citizens since there was a Rome to be a citizen of.

"I am Caleb, by the way," he added, touching the first two fingers of one hand to his forehead. "And yourself?"

Lys: Land of Myth

Aithne listened quietly, but latched on to a few things especially. "Israel? Where the Christ once walked?" The land had seemed faintly mythical to her. Not that she did not believe it existed, but when she had learned of it long ago, she thought of it as a land that no longer existed- far away and long lost. Since she had come to Roman lands, she had learned how vast was the world beyond her borders, but she still never thought to meet someone who had come so far. It seemed a hero feat, and yet only one or two generations back, a young bard had done it. An Israelite bard with a- "Your grandfather had a Roman name?"

Jenny: Generations of Music

"There has always been a bit of harp-song in my family," Caleb said conversationally, politely passing over the awkward stops and hesitations the girl made about her past. "It makes for pleasant pastimes at nights, particularly when we are campaigning and the men are bored. Now, this creature," he held up the harp, "is a thing of herself. You'll notice some of her chords are a little off-key and there's a jump of about three notes between this string and the next. It makes playing awkward, but if you know her, you can coax a pretty tune out of her. You did well yourself, for having never handled her before. See, just here..."

He turned the harp about and leaned it over to the candlelight. "On the knob, do you see those initials, J.E. b. I.? Junius Etesias, Israel's son. That is my grandfather. And here, my initials: C. b. J.E.. My father didn't live long enough to master it," he explained. "In fact, I was only ten or so when I came into Lord Ambrosius' care. The whole west was in turmoil, and my village was burnt to the ground, and I fell in with Artos, myself a few others - Gaius and Kay and Bedwyr, really - having nowhere else to go and no one else to go to. So I came away with my harp and learned horses and sword-play, and I make music on the harp between whiles." He smiled in a friendly way.

Lys: The Foreign and the Familiar

Aithne blushed under the praise. "My father was- is- a bard in Eire. He began to teach me when my fingers could barely span the strings. I could have been a bard myself, if I chose, but instead I-" The words cut off. She had grown closer to Cathair in her time with the Guttersnipe, even though he was not there, even though she had not seen him in 10 years. To speak of him right now seemed wrong.

She started again. "The harps in my land are made differently. They sit so-" She moved her arm to demonstrate, "and are played with both hands." She looked up at him. "It is hard for me to play properly, one handed. Truth be told, before today I did not know such an instrument existed." Brow furrowed, she added, "In my ten years with the Romans I have never seen its like."

Jenny: The Instrument

Caleb gently took the instrument back. "My grandfather made it," he said, "oh, a long time ago. She sings well," he added. "I think she is remembering older times when I play her. You sing well too. Where did you learn? You have an odd way of holding your fingers on the strings which I have never seen before."

Lys: The Spell Breaks

When she had finished her song, her fingers continued to play, notes tumbling in a pleasant chaos before finally trailing away. Reluctantly, she stilled the strings, and after a moment, handed the harp back to the bard. "Thank you. Thank you so much. I've not... not played a harp in a very long time, and never one like this. Where did you find it?" Bold, Aithne. This is not a fellow slave. But the words were out, so she waited for an answer.

Jenny: Loftiest Hopes

He had thought he would find her in the apple-orchard. Without paying heed to his steps Jason found himself climbing the hillside under the wash of moon, and in the frisky shadows he could see the Guttersnipe in her old seat in one of the trees, overlooking the valley.

She looked up as he approached, smiled, and moved aside to give him room. But this time, he noticed, she did not move very far. It was a squeeze to fit in beside her. They were quiet for a moment, listening to the wind in the trees. Fripp lay down at their feet. Then Jason said, "It's hard to believe it's nearly been six months."

"I know," she breathed. "It seems like just yesterday I went away. Everything seems so peaceful."

Truly he could not agree more. The lights had nearly all gone out below them, leaving the silver of the moon to light the landscape, and between the soft gusts of wind, it was very peaceful. And there was the Guttersnipe, curled up on the branch beside him, which was a new and warm thing that he found himself liking very much.

Presently she stirred. Reaching into the front of her gown, she pulled out a sturdy leather thong on which swung, sparkling silver, his old family ring. She cast up her eyes from it to his face. "I still have it," she said, as though he could not see that she had it.

But when she made to take it off the thong, he put out his hand and stopped her. "No, you keep it. I gave it to you."

And she gave an odd sort of laugh, almost like a purr, which he had never heard before, but found himself also liking, and she put the ring back inside the front of her gown and laced her fingers inside his. He sat contentedly watching her and the way the moonlight blurred her features into a feather-soft paleness, who the light refracted off her eyes and made them almost uncannily perceiving. The wind washed her untidy mane across his shoulders: it smelled of heather and honeysuckle. He wanted to tell her is smelled so, and that he liked it, and that he particularly liked the gown she wore, but at the moment he thought it best not to speak.

In a little while the quiet was broken by a flurry of hard, bare feet on the earth running up to meet them, and they both looked round to see a boy with a cast arm leaping through the dark grasses to them.

"Oughtn't you be in bed," Jason said reproachfully as the boy joined them, awkwardly trying to fit on the branch and ending up on the ground by Fripp.

"Yes," the boy said truthfully.

"Well, why aren't you?" asked the Guttersnipe.

The boy looked at her, head to one side. "Oh! I almost didn't recognize you," he exclaimed. "You look prettier in that dress. You've been gone an awful long time," he added. "Master Jason has been worried about you."

The Guttersnipe purred, "Has he? And have you been looking after him?"

"Oh yes!" The boy flung up his head and beamed. "I've broken my arms three times to keep his mind off of you."

"You little redshank," Jason growled. He buffeted the boy's head about with the heel of his hand. "Now why aren't you in bed and not disturbing us?"

Instead of answering at once, the boy folded up his legs, arms around Fripp's thick, shaggy neck, and looked about himself. A particularly heavily-laden bough bobbed its leaves through his wind-tossed hair. "Because it reminds me of the Land of Summer," he said presently.

For a moment Jason thought it was nonsense, but he had said it so seriously, and the Guttersnipe had inclined her head in her thoughtful way, that he said nothing. She asked, "What do you mean, the Land of Summer?"

The boy looked round. "You know, that place Master Gaius says Adam and Eve lived. The Land of Summer."

"You mean the Garden of Eden," the Guttersnipe corrected gently.

"No, I mean the Land of Summer. It's always summer there, isn't it? And they have apple-trees twice the size of ours, and the colts are born tame. And you can't break your arms falling out of the trees there." His tone became suddenly achingly wistful. "I want to go there someday, when I have my own pony and I'm a man. I suppose Adam and Eve will still be there. How odd!"

For a moment Jason was aware of the Guttersnipe struggling to answer the boy gently, and failing, he prompted, "Eden...the Land of can't get there. It's gone."

But the boy did not seem affronted. He rose, shaking his head. "Oh no, I know it's there. And when I'm all grown up, I'm going to go there myself. Good night!" And without a backward glance he ran off down the hillside, an awkward, broken-winged figure in the moonlight.

Lys: A Harp Once More

Aithne's eyes grew wide. Play it? She longed to, but she never dreamed... Nonetheless, her hands reached for it, and in a moment it was in her lap, nestling against her shoulder, familiar yet foreign. She plucked a few notes experimentally, trying to get the feel of the thing, and found it easier than she thought. In a few minutes she had become completely familiar with it, and was playing a song of her own land, a song she was sure the harp had never heard. It was the song she had sung to the Guttersnipe, after her battle with Calidus. She played a verse or two before she began singing- softly at first, but then gaining strength.

"Don oíche úd i mBeithil,
beidh tagairt ar ghrian go brách
Don oíche úd i mBeithil,
go dtáinig an Briathar slán
Tá gríosghrua ar spéartha,
's an talamh 'na chlúdach bán
Féach íosagán sa chléibhín,
's an Mhaighdean in aoibhneas grá

Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe,
go nglacann na haoirí scáth
Nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire,
tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil

Céad glóir anois don Athair,
i bhFlaitheasa thuas go hard
Is feasta fós ar talamh,
d'fheara, dea-mhéin síocháin..."

Jenny: Harper's Hands

Caleb quirked a smile at her odd, awkward use of his language. Like a cat or a stray cur she leaned in, anxious, curious, to look at the thing in his hands, poised to dart away at any gesture. He had seen her like before, the big eyes, the tense figure, but more often among young children that one her age. She must have been ill-used at one point, which prompted him to shift forward a little, rocking the harp off his shoulder, and ask, "Would you like to have a try? She will not mind your hands, I think. You have a harper's hands."

Lys: The Spell of Music

Aithne was drawn in by the song. So involved she was, it was not until he had finished that she realized she had crept closer, until she was almost across the room from him, though still in the shadows.

When he had stilled his harp, he looked up and saw her. She would've drawn back, perhaps murmured an apology and left, but the spell of the song was still on her, and instead she took his smile and nod as permission to come closer. So she did, walking quietly, kneeling almost at his knee. "That was beautiful." she whispered, as though speaking aloud would shatter the music. "Lord Ambrosius is twice-blessed to have such a bard." Her eyes involuntarily strayed to the harp in his hands- the curious yet beautiful harp, the like of which she'd never seen.

Jenny: Heart-song of Victory

The flickering candlelight left blurred impressions on the curves of Caleb's harp. Each string shone out bright for a trembling moment as he plucked it, stilled it, let it thrum. As he played alone in the stillness of the empty atrium, a song began to form in his head quite unexpectedly, but pleasantly.

"Hallel! hallel! they ate and sang the Hallel
With Him, so solemn in their midst.
Disbelieving, misunderstanding, they ate and sang the Hallel.
They went out to the garden amidst unheard wings,
They went out on the notes of the Hallel.
The Hallel.
The Hallel the angel-wings still sing.

They went out to the garden, all solemn and confused
With Him, grieving in their midst.
Weary, soul-weary, they lay and fell asleep.
They slept through His weeping, unheard angel-wings,
Never heard the notes of the Hallel.
The Hallel.
The Hallel He sang in their midst.

Hallel! hallel! rang the tongues of prophets,
With Him their blood was justified.
Broken and bewildered, they watched the Hallel-singer
Crushed upon a praising cross of shame,
Never understanding the Hallel.
The Hallel.
The Hallel that they would learn to sing.

Hallel! hallel! they ate and sang the Hallel.
In Him who is the Hallel for evermore.
Quickened and enlivened, they partake in the Hallel,
The heart-song of their victory,
The Hallel they came to understand.
The Hallel.
The Hallel they had learned to sing."

As he played out the last movement, idly toying with the flow of the notes, he became aware of a newcomer in the room: it was the girl that had come with the Guttersnipe, watching eagerly from a dark corner as he played. He smiled and nodded at her.

Lys: Fidgets

Aithne followed Artos to the kitchen, grateful that there was a place for her somewhere.
When Lucretia remarked about Vortigern, she barely surpressed a laugh, but she was unable to keep the smile from her face. Absolutely ridiculous, it was, and yet something she'd expect of a person like Lucretia seemed to be.

They said their "goodnight"s, and Aithne was startled. She had called him Artos! Were all servants so familiar here, or was this woman not a servant? If not, why was she working so hard in the kitchens?

Artos left her standing in the doorway, so there she stood, trying to decide whether to pitch in or wait. In the back of her mind played those few notes she heard as she left the atrium. The bard was playing his harp- after everyone left. He must be composing the song of the Guttersnipe's return, she thought. Her fingers itched again, and-

"Heavens, child. You're fidgeting worse than a colt!" When Aithne jumped to attention, her voice softened. "Why don't you go out for a bit. I've a feeling I'll still be here." She shot a dark look at the fireplace. "Go on with you."

Merciful Christos, you answer prayers I don't pray! With a smile and a short curtsy, she made her way outside, flew across the yard to the door of the atrium. She could hear the bard inside. A few tears sprung to her eyes as memories of her father surfaced.

Knowing better than to disturb his song-making, she entered quietly and sat down in the shadows to listen.

Jenny: Sleeping Arrangements

They made an odd pair, Artos thought wryly as he swung on his one crutch. Though straight of frame - a trait he thought highly of in the young man - Master Lucius was thin and bird-like; he could snap one of the man's wrists with a little twist. Yet the man had a fire in his gut, and that was a thing Artos liked still better.

When at last they arrived at the guests' sleeping-wing, he turned in the doorway of the newly-lit room and said, "These will be your quarters for now until we can fix you up a proper place of your own. If you have need of anything, send the girl to one of us and we will get it for you."

Master Lucius moved to the doorway and put his head in, looking all around. There was a faint sheen of excitement in his unruffled countenance, which reminded him with a little start of Gaius. "Admirable," the other young man murmured. "Admirable... Do you always keep bookshelves in every room?"

His eyes dropped to the volume the man held in his hands. It was worn, tattered at the edges, obviously much read. Within the room, the burly manservant was beginning to unpack countless satchels, many of which produced scrolls and hard-bound manuscripts. He gave a breathy laugh through his nose. "My uncle is fond of reading. If you are needing a quiet place, the solarium overlooks the north garden. It is less sunny this time of year, but that is the fault of whoever built the place. You are free to it." He moved aside to let the man in. "Breakfast is at sunup," he added, "in the atrium."

Mater Lucius turned in the act of taking over from his manservant. "Thank you, sir. Your people have been all I anticipated."

"Artos," the Merlin insisted.

"Artos, then. Good night."

"And to you. And you," he said, turning to the girl when the manservant had shut the door. "We had better find you a place to stay. One of the maids will probably have a room to share."

He moved back down the hallway at the now-familiar swinging gait that he had developed, the girl shuffling on her doe-skin house-slippers in his wake. She was a quiet, subdued soul, very different from the forward nature of her companion the Guttersnipe. He could not imagine the two had got on well together in their travels. Such dispositions as the girl's were more likely to make the Guttersnipe angry. She could not stand passivity. She was always flying here and there, ready for some new thing, ready to do something. As much as she enjoyed her personal studies, she could never sit still long. Contrasted to her was the girl behind him, mousy-quiet, content to follow and look about.

She is new, he thought. Give her a little time and perhaps she will come round.

He lounged into the kitchen doorway and looked about for a familiar face. He was surprised to see Lucretia among the girls cleaning up the supper dishes. "Why, Lucretia," he exclaimed. "Your husband has gone home. It is late. Why are you still here?"

The young woman brushed the tendrils of hair out of her face, looking very warm in the lingering heat of the ovens. "There is such a mess," she said flatly. "And if Vortigern is coming, he won't come to a dirty kitchen."

Artos refrained from explaining to her that Vortigern himself was not coming, that Vortigern himself could not care. He gave a noncommittal grunt to her words and said, "Master Lucius' girl is needing a place to sleep. Is there room at the cloister with you?"

Lucretia brightened considerably. "Why, yes!" She looked directly at the girl in his shadow. "Yes, of course. There is always room at the cloister. I'll just be a minute, dear. I have some things still to clean. I won't be long. Good night, Artos."

"Good night, Lucretia," he murmured, and swung away. "She'll be a little more than a minute," he added in passing to the girl.

Lys: Night Comes to the Eyrie

Just like that, the conversation went over her again, she forgotten and left to listen. Faith, they should be thankful I am who I am, with all I am allowed to hear! That they would trust her, an enslaved Scotti, not to fly off and report to some enemy or other, was something of a wonder.
But Gauls were worse than Romans, and she'd voiced that opinion at least once.

The trust did not go unappreciated.

Artos- Artos, of whom she had heard so much, now laid low with a wound- made an exclamation, and it broke her from her reverie. Suddenly she realized the enemy was coming here. Here, to Lord Ambrosius's rath. And beyond that, the people who lived here did not seem very secure. There was a bustle and a small flurry to get things ready- a battle was coming soon, much sooner than she'd expected, and her heart tore to think of such a welcoming place laid bare to violence.

She rose when Lord Ambrosius rose, bowed as he left, and dutifully helped Master Lucius to his sleeping quarters, Cu trailing along behind them. He had found a friend in Jason's dog, for which Aithne was glad. It could've gone the other way just as easily.

Wulf was already there to see to Master Lucius's evening routine, so Aithne left the room, feeling suddenly awkward at the prospect of Artos, Lord Ambrosius's own nephew, showing her, a slave, to her quarters. She stood by quietly and waited for him to lead or send as he would.

Jenny: The Inclination of Brutus

"That is unfortunate," Ambrosius murmured. "And his likeness - what was it?"

The Guttersnipe answered him that. "He is tall, as tall as you, but finer of build and fair-haired, like wheat. He wears his hair braided at the temples, long, and he wears a sort of black paint about his eyes that make them stand out." She drew in on herself. "I should not like to meet him again. He seemed formidable."

But it was Master Lucius this time who filled in the empty gap. Unfurling from a pensive reverie, he said, "Cunorix. That must be Cunorix. I have heard - a friend of mine has studied him a little. I would recognize his appearance anywhere. And yes," he turned to her Lord Ambrosius, "he is a formidable warrior. He is ruthless and cunning, though perhaps not as much as the man who holds his leash. But his bite is deep enough. Once Vortigern has lit the fire under him - "

"He will be firing the roof over our heads for these lands," Artos finished up simply enough. "Euge! Do they think of nothing original?"

The Guttersnipe protested, "We have good horse-country here, which the man Cunorix would find pleasing. And Vortigern would be rid of us. It is a simple enough scheme."

"And one that might have worked," said her Lord Ambrosius, "but for Master Lucius and the Guttersnipe." He contemplated the inside of his glass for a while. On the back of his chair, Champion had come up and perched, turning and turning his head about to look at all their faces. The Guttersnipe could never hold the bird's gaze for very long, so deep and searching it was. She watched Artos sketch an idle image of a horse's head in the spilled lees of wine on the tabletop. Under her breastbone there began to be a hard throbbing of fear that had sprung up out of her Lord Ambrosius' words "I fear this is not a very defensible place; its virtue lies in its seclusion," and she found herself hating Calidus still more. Long ago he had turned his back on them all, but to so thoroughly, so spitefully, so damnably betray them, it had no place in her mind. It was a thing she slipped at and could not grasp, and left her trembling mad.

With a quiet and oddly detached certainty, apart from the fear of the roof being fired over their heads, she knew he would find them and bring Cunorix and ruin on them all. She knew that, without a doubt.

Then she was aware of her Lord Ambrosius speaking quietly to Kay and Bedwyr of the cotswolds and sheep, and of a southward droving of the horses; and the brothers, uncommonly solemn, were getting up and slipping out, and she knew that presently, in a few hours, she would hear the familiar sounds of a great body of horses being driven from the valley to safety. Others would go with them, she thought, still with that odd detachment from the whole thing. Some of the boys would go, which would take them out of harm's way. The others...

"There is the Fox," Artos said without preamble, chin in his hands. "Send a word to him, and he will come, surely. And we will have a chance at this thing."

So it was decided. The Fox would be sent for, and the raw horses and brood mares would be sent off, and they would have a chance at this thing. Then her Lord Ambrosius and Artos put their hands on the table and shouldered up, side by side, and the former said, "That will be all for now. It is late, and I know that some of us at least will be wanting to sleep in a real bed tonight. Little one," he turned to the Guttersnipe, "your bed is made up, waiting for you. Master Lucius, Artos will show you to your place. Good night, all of you, and God keep you until tomorrow."

He bent over and kissed her on the forehead, and she kissed his cheek back, feeling less desolate for the whole place. As always, things fell into place. Gaius left for the cloister and Caleb retired to the corner of the room to idle at his harp for a little; taking up Champion, her Lord Ambrosius went to his chamber; Artos took Master Lucius and Domitia away.

It was then that she noticed Jason had slipped out with the brothers, at which something in her gut twisted. She stared at the vestible doorway in dismay and the shadows that clung there, heavy with the night. She wanted to fly after him and beg him not to go, not since she had just come home again - home to him. But then she knew he had not gone, and the knot in her middle relaxed. Fripp was still here, sitting at her side, which was as sure a sign as any. She patted his head absentmindedly and, suddenly far less tired than she expected, she went out of the atrium through the back hall to the garden beyond, and through the dark, windy garden to the apple-orchard beyond.

The hillside was drenched in a moony silver. The wind went through the trees and made the shadows of the gnarled boughs dance on the long grass. She moved through them, moving as a ghost through her own past, until she reached her favourite tree and sat in the low crotch of it, legs still too short to touch the ground so that they swung idly in space, and she stared up through the branches as the coin of the moon, noting the Emperor's Face in it and the mute spangling of stars clustered about it like shards of light broken off from it as flecks of air will break off and sparkle when one dives into clear water. Below her, soft and still, lay the villa and the village like glowing topaz gems with the light beginning to go out of their facets. The whole world seemed to be hushing into sleep at her feet, and she sat above it all in the windy solitude of the orchard, feeling very empty inside.

Lys: Unknown Enemy

Aithne was falling under the power of a warm fire and a warm dog, only half hearing what went on about her, when she suddenly heard her name mentioned. She blinked to full wakefulness in time to hear the Guttersnipe ask about the Attacotti.

"I..." All eyes were on her. Only a moment ago she had blended in to the wall, and now they were watching her. "I do not know his name. He bought me from my captors, put me on his ship and sailed me over-sea, then sold me to someone else on this shore. I did hear his men call him something- I do not know if it was his name or his title. It sounded much like our words for High King- Aird Ri, yet different enough for me to know it was not the same. The similarity between my language and their's, judging from what I could understand of them, makes me think that the meaning is not that different, and that they were simply calling him their chief."

She lowered her gaze. "I am sorry I cannot be of more help to you."

Jenny: Council

The talk revolved around the horses for some time. Master Lucius had brought his breeding records with them, written, he said, on the back of each page in his volumes of Pliny, which the Guttersnipe thought was clever.

"They are still somewhat raw," he warned her Lord Ambrosius. "They are broken to the halter, and some to ride, but no more."

It was not until after the supper that the serious talk began, which was as the Guttersnipe remembered it. Her Lord Ambrosius never had his talk broken off by the arrival of supper, nor did he indulge in serious conversation throughout the course of a meal. It was only until the dishes of mutton and dumplings, simple but wholesome fare, and the dishes of tart crab-apples had been finished off and cleared away, that her Lord Ambrosius nodding to one of the maids to bring the wine afresh, turned and said in a much more serious tone,

"So. Now you must tell me, the two of you, what it is Vortigern is planning against us."

The Guttersnipe nodded to Master Lucius, deferring to his broader knowledge in the matter. It would only make her angry, and they needed his level head for this.

He waited until his glass was refilled, then he sat for a moment staring into the warm red contents of his glass a moment, sorting his thoughts. "It began three months ago," he started, "when a man from over the Western Sea came to visit with the Green Branch. I recall neither his name nor his face. It was related to me by a friend, for I had been very sick at that time. The ambassador was of the Attacotti, who have ever been eager to get a toe-hold on our island, and they proposed to do something about the thorn in Vortigern's side."

Ambrosius and Artos exchanged wry glances.

"So it was decided," Master Lucius went on, "that something would be done, and the Attacotti, with Saxon friends, would do it. Taking you, as they hoped, by surprise, their combined forces would doubtless do the task. A fire, no matter how high, must succumb to the waves at last."

"This is very true," her Lord Ambrosius said after a thoughtful pause. "And they have no knowledge that you came away to tell me this?"

Master Lucius shook his head. Among the lamps the moth continued to dart, casting big soft shadows among the cups and idle hands, and for a moment the Guttersnipe watched it without seeing, seeing in her mind rather the black-pained eyes of the great fair man from across the Western Sea. Then she realized her Lord Ambrosius had continued talking, and she came back to herself with a jerk. He had asked what danger they were in, it coming into autumn, and their villa being largely unknown to the world. "Calidus," she heard herself saying, very bluntly, and she wondered if the word had really come out of her mouth or someone else's.

Everyone looked round at her suddenly. Her Lord Ambrosius' and Artos' faces had gone stiff and cold, and she felt Jason's eyes on her, his hand on her arm very tight. The others looked at themselves with confused snatches of glances, knowing something was up, not knowing quite what.

Very self-conscious, she blushed herself into her next words. "I was not the only tenant of Vortigern's rath from here. I met Calidus again, after all these years, and I knew him and he knew me, and...and I was glad that Artos taught me how to fight."

Artos gave a mirthless snort of laughter.

She did not go on to tell that she had been stupid and had told Calidus of Rufrius' death, which was a thing one did not tell, a thing to be forgotten. A thing one did not forget. She let it go with a horse-like shake of her head.

Her Lord Ambrosius cleared the area in front of himself on the table and leaned forward on crossed arms, giving his nephew a sharp, companionable glance. "Who are we up against. If Calidus has not had the sense knocked out of his head by the little fighting cock, the valley is in some danger. I fear this is not a very defensible place; its virtue lies in its seclusion. Calidus - and who else? Vortigern?"

"Vortigern had no intention of venturing himself, I think," Master Lucius objected. "There was just the Attacottiman and his band. I do not know his name."

"Domitia does," the Guttersnipe said suddenly. "She has seen him. Domitia!" She leaned back and beckoned the girl over. "Domitia, come tell us what you know of the Attacottiman."

Lys: An Unlikely Friend

Aithne was grateful when Master Lucius distractedly brushed her away and motioned for her to sit.

Finding a rug nearby, out of the way and unobtrusive, she sat, and was pleasantly surprised when Cu arrived out of nowhere and sat beside her. She rubbed his back companionably, and he stretched out, chin in his paws, his tail thumping happily.

She found strange comfort in that.

Jenny: Reports

It was pure beauty to collapse on the cushions again, so many cushions that had endured her impatient needlework. Jason folded up beside her, arms on the tabletop, leaning in to get a clear look at her face and her Lord Ambrosius beyond. Master Lucius sat by Artos, both of whom seemed to occupy their seats with the faint gracelessness of invalids. Faces thronged about, faces that - well, it must have been an imperfection in the wicks that made the room blurred and smoky. Gaius was there, and Kay and Bedwyr, and Caleb, and old Dexter the Horse-breeder. The girls from the village had come up, and in a moment they came in with the wine, sparkling with laughter, eager to see a new face. Master Lucius seemed entirely unaware of their curious glances and looks of approval among themselves. At the moment he was giving an account of himself to her Lord Ambrosius.

"Unhappily my illnesses have prevented me from journeying much, but I think it was for this purpose that I was so long in Vortigern's company. I have longed for yours since I was a lad, but not until now was I enabled to come. I have little enough to offer, I fear, except my herd; and little enough to recommend except a capacity as a scribe. What I know of Vortigern you doubtless know yourself."

Her Lord Ambrosius paused, one elbow on the table, a fine vessel of green glass suspended in one hand. There was a faint twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. "I own an acquaintance with Vortigern and a lasting enmity - I fear that is not conducive to teaching me his personal habits. You have been the Eyes-within-the-gate, and presently I must pressure you to a written report of your dealings with him."

He turned and looked her way. "I think that you have been looking out for my little Guttersnipe, for which I owe you more than I can give. As cunning and ruthless as my antagonist is, I feared all ill for her. How is it that you managed?"

He meant, very kindly, "In your present state of uncertain health," which she saw Master Lucius understood. But as she had observed over time her Lord Ambrosius saw at once that Master Lucius was not only resigned to his illness, but comfortable with it as with an old friend. She thought he might be perfectly miserable without the chronic trials. The man straightened in his seat - Domitia fluttered about in the background with the cushions - and said,

"It was no hard thing, sir. She is a little fighting cock, your Guttersnipe, and promised to make a great deal of trouble for Vortigern if he attempted to make life unbearable for her. I persuaded Vortigern to take her under my care, needing as I often do a pair of quick legs to run about for me, and in this way we lived in very amiable disinterest of one another, my people and Vortigern."

The girls withdrew presently to help with supper and the Guttersnipe found herself prevailed upon to give an account of their journey. Largely uneventful, it had been cold at nights and hot during the trekking hours, always with the threat of discovering breathing down her neck. She had not realize until she was safe back under her lord's roof how the tension had taken a toll on her. She relaxed, leaning against Jason, and told as though relating someone else's story how she had met the brigands in the stream and dispatched of them.

Her Lord Ambrosius crooked a smile. "A little fighting cock. Was that your first kill?"

Artos roused himself from his elbows. "No, she made an end to a North Saxon we discovered in the north. It was a good stroke, too; sure, if a bit blind." He looked at her warmly. "It's good to see that all my training didn't go amiss."

She smiled back hollowly. Then she asked, "What has happened since my absence? How long have you all been home? It's a bit early in the year."

"Artos brought us home early," her lord admitted. "Otherwise Jason and Gaius tell me it has been peaceful. The harvest will be soon."

He did not say it, but as the conversation swung away back toward Master Lucius, who seemed to be an instant favourite among her Lord Ambrosius and Artos' friends, and as a large gold-winged moth came darting down about the wine-vessels, drawing her eye, the Guttersnipe knew he was reminding her of it for her love of it: for the rambles in the warm sunshine among the tangled old apple-trees, hauling baskets upon baskets of the ruddy, cheery fruit. Of her love for the cider-making and the pastries and the whole air full of friendliness and homely spice. All of which made her suddenly blush for anger that the great fair man was coming to wreck it all.

Lys: Serendipity

Aithne trailed along in Master Lucius's wake, until they came to their destination. Then she dismounted quickly so as to hold Master Lucius's stirrup for him. Someone else- she did not know who, took the horses to stable them.

She was surprised when he continued to have her support him. That role usually went to Wulf or the Guttersnipe. But Wulf had gone with the horses, and the Guttersnipe would not be serving any longer. So she took his arm, and walked with him as he met... Lord Ambrosius. She was slightly in awe of the man, having heard so much about him. The conversation between her master and the lord did not much register. She was snapped out of her reverie, however, when Master Lucius started forward again.

They were led into a very cozy dining hall. Until then, Aithne had not realized how cold she was. Warm are the fires in Lord Ambrosius's rath, great is the welcome, and therefore thrice blessed is the household. This she would say, were she not a slave and bound to silence.

She stood near Master Lucius, attending him, but wishing she could sit. Why is it one can sit a horse all day, yet still wish to sit down when one comes to rest? Not needed at the moment, she took in her surroundings. The board took up only part of the space. Round about the room were rugs and furs and benches, and the fires blazed merrily. Then her sight was arrested by an object in the corner. A harp! It was unlike her father's harp. Very unlike. But there was no mistaking it. She looked around the room. Surely these warriors did not play. Where was their bard? On such a return, would he not be playing? Or was he waiting to hear an account, that he might put it into song?

Her fingers itched to play the instrument. It was well cared for, and besides that, well loved. The seasoned wood was strong, the strings were good quality... oh, that she might hear it played!

Jenny: Dog-Rose and Privet

"Mine! my little one!" Jason said in the native tongue, and shook her somewhat hardly by the shoulders as he pulled back to get a look at her. "You have made us sick for longing!" And a moment later he had her freckled face cupped back in his hands, forehead to forehead, heedless of the crowd.

The Guttersnipe was breathless and finding it hard to talk round the lump in her throat. Finding herself in Jason's arms was a new world in itself, though they had tussled and boxed enough as young children. Those days seemed very distant now, as though she was seeing them happening to someone else from a very great distance on a day when the clouds came down to touch the hills. "I would have come back sooner," she managed to say, "only Champion said not to, and there was Master Lucius, and Domitia has fits - and Jason, so much has happened! There is so much to tell my Lord Ambrosius!"

And she found herself dangerously on the brink of tears again, so that she was relieved when the young man - much taller and broader than she remembered him being - slipped his arm around her and turned her toward the villa-road. "Gaius! Gaius!" he called above the crowd. Gaius waved back, but with the happy throng between them was unable to reach them, and he seemed busy with Master Lucius, for which the Guttersnipe was glad. She would see him presently. Then Jason was pulling her firmly up the hill after him. Fripp and Cu were at each other, barking and sniffing and running about in awkward circles as they discovered the other. Behind them, she caught glances of Gaius herding the crowd off and seeing to putting the horses away, and bringing weary Master Lucius and Domitia after them.

There was a tangle of dog-rose and privet by the doorway to the villa. The light was shining on them last of all so that they were a confused blur of red and purple flame, royal flame, and between them her Lord Ambrosius stood, the sunlight turning his eyes and the hair about his temples to a moony gold. Jason let her go, gave her a little push, and she was flying across the distance into his outstretched arms, back out of the barrow, in her world familiar. He held her as tightly as Jason had, smelling of horses and cool wine and something faintly silvery that she could never quite place: he smelled like home. For a moment neither of them said a word. He held her, rocking her slightly, face down into her hair, and presently in the quiet between the two of them she discerned the softest, deepest throbbing within him, far down where it was hardly tangible, and it struck her in her own deepest places that he was crying.

She pulled her head back to look up into his face. "I've come back," she told him, and shook him a little. "I've come back!"

"So you have!" he said breathlessly. "My little man-raised chit - my little Guttersnipe! And what have they done to you?" He looked her over with admiration. "You look so well. But you have not lost the freckles."

"Never. I know you love them so much."

"And Jason."

She tucked a little smile in. "And Jason."

There was a scuffle on the flags behind him. Turning, she could see a figure in the far doorway of the vestibule, head up, figure screwed to one side in an awkward gesture. He looked like a hound there in the doorway, tensed, listening, eyes wide open in his head, restraining himself as though unwilling to come and find himself wrong. But he was not wrong, and she shook off from her Lord Ambrosius and darted forward into the shadows over the familiar worn lip of stone and old scuffed mosaics. "Artos!" she cried happily - her throat was getting tight again - "Artos, I've come home! And what has happened to you...?"

She caught him by the forearms as he lurched forward, almost unmanageably tall and broad of frame, pivoting with a grimace on one good leg. But he instantly thrust the awkwardness of his physical state aside and caught her himself. She braced for the shaking, but it did not come. He held her at arms' length, looking keenly into her face, a little pale and disbelieving.

"Artos," she whispered. "I've come home..."

His face came alive at her quiet voice. "You've grown up," he murmured. He spread her arms wide in his grip, looking her over. "Where did the little brat go that insisted she ride with us on the northward march? Have you got her in your pouch, little lady?"

"I'm here!" she flared, suddenly horribly angry that he pretended not to recognize her. She gave him the shake he had failed to give her, and he began to laugh hollowly. And then she realized as he pulled her close and tousled her hair into hopeless disarray that he had been sick with worry for her, and it was his way of laughing at the dark. She still had to stand on tiptoe to put his arms around his neck, and he still seemed twice too long to put his arms around her comfortably, but that was a thing which would never change, no matter how grown up she was. Suddenly they were laughing with each other in short little breaths, first close and then at arms' length again, with nothing particular to say and wanting to say so much.

Finally she pulled away and looked at the thing he was favouring. "What has happened to you? You have been rolling about on one leg since I came."

He waved one hand. "I took an arrow in a fight almost a month ago. It's mending - Jason and Gaius have seen to that. They say I will ride again, which makes for good hearing."

"It does make for good hearing," she replied, but underneath that she knew it had been a hard fight and a desperate one, and that something had been lost which would not be regained. Which brought the urgency of her journey to the forefront of her mind, and she turned to her Lord Ambrosius, who was now greeting Master Lucius in on the doorstep. "My lord," she said, gently touching his arm, "I have some news. About Vortigern."

At which the whole assembly stilled to silence, and the moony-gold eyes looked down at her with quiet concern, pensive, though she felt no surprise in him. "Is this so?" he asked with equal gentleness. "And we will hear it. Presently." He returned to Master Lucius. "Come in, sir. It is in my mind that you have had a long and tiresome journey. I hope you are not adverse to wine."

Leaning on Domitia's arm, for Wulf had gone off with the horses, Master Lucius assured him he was not. "I have waited a long time to take wine with you, sir. I would not quit it now."

So her Lord Ambrosius led the way to the warm dining area where the servants had set the fires blazing. Supper was not near ready, so with Jason and Artos and her lord nearby they found their seats and settled down until the wine was brought.

Lys: House of Healing

Aithne smiled a little. "These things" he had said. As if he did not have as much hand in his stock as the Guttersnipe did.

The monk- was he even a monk? did not remind her of Brother Parthalán, and for that she was glad. She approved, also, of the man himself. He was not so caught up in the Guttersnipe's return- miraculous and wonderful as it was- that he could not see the rest of her band or offer them hospitality. All the same, she hoped he would be able to see her as soon as possible. He should not have to wait longer.

As they rode on, the scent of apples and woodsmoke grew until it permeated everything. How she longed to ask about the orchard she knew must be nearby. Apples meant health. Yes, it was a wive's tale, but for her it was true. An apple in the morning kept her healthier and more alert than anything else could. Away from the painfully poignant reunion, she was able to once more take the place on its own merits, and it was as though she had found a house of miracles, where the sick were healed and the lame made to walk. That had her thinking- would Master Lucius also regain his strength here?
But she restrained herself and followed dutifully, taking it all in as she rode.

Jenny: The Man in the Cloister

It took a little more time to get down the hill and into the wood by the cloister. There seemed to be a great throng gathering, Master Lucius noticed, around the Guttersnipe and her horse. There was a young man, very tall and fair, who had the young woman firmly in his arms so that Master Lucius was certain it was Jason, whose ring he had caught the Guttersnipe fingering pensively over the fire on the nights of their travel. Because of him, the Guttersnipe blossomed. She came out of her hard shell, came out of the domineering, stern-faced creature she had been, and it was pleasant to see.

We have made it, Balbus, he thought to himself. All the long way... I was never sure... Well, here we are, and that is what counts.

A little apart from the rest, alone with Domitia - Wulf had taken in the herd - he sat back wearily and got a look about. The wood was cool and beautiful. The cloister, to his left off the path, peeked out at him beckoningly like a palace of quiet sylvan splendour. "You will like it." And now he was sure of it. Above them at the end of the valley the last light touched the tops of the apple-trees in the orchard and made them glow, and down here in the little tangled wood with the river running nearby, it was almost peaceful.

He was still looking at the cloister when someone came out: a tall man, broad of shoulder, his hair trimmed in the Roman way. He carried himself oddly, very straightly, as though he expected someone to come by and require him to whip to the salute. Nevertheless, there was a curious calm about the figure, sort of solitude about the dark eyes, so that for a moment, just a moment, Master Lucius thought...

But then the man looked round his way and he knew he was mistaken. The other strode across through the winking sunlight, a spade in his hand, damp spots on his breeches where he had been kneeling in the earth. He kept glancing at the crowd, but it was so thick now with the natives and with dogs that the Guttersnipe and her young man could hardly be seen.

"Gaius," the young man said as he approached, by way of introduction.

"Yes," Master Lucius replied. "I know who you are."

Which caused the fellow to jerk his head back round, the dark brows swooping down over the surprisingly piercing eyes. There was a pause between them, the horse shifted uncomfortably, and then Gaius said, "I do not have the honour of your acquaintance, sir. Who might you be?"

He shook his head. "No one of consequence. I have brought my stock of raw horses down from the north country. It is the young lady in the heart of that throng, I think - " he pointed with his crop " - that you will have an interest in."

A fire sprang into the eyes, but the man held back, concentrated though he was on the crowd. Level-headed, Master Lucius thought with some admiration. "You have had a long journey, I think," Gaius said. "Come up to the house. Come up. My lord...he will want to see you all."

Master Lucius joggled the flanks of his mount after the fellow, turning in the saddle to Domitia as he did so. "Just a little longer," he called back apologetically. "They will have us down from these things soon, I am sure of it."

Lys: Remembrance

She felt the tension break before there was any outward indication of it. All she knew was that suddenly the air was less heavy about her, and a moment later the Guttersnipe was flying headlong down the hill, and a young man was running to meet her. Their reunion was beautiful. It was instantly obvious that Jason had missed her as much as, or perhaps even more than, she had missed him. There was a huge dog near them, and Cu shivered and barked by her, staying close but excited at the prospect of a new friend.

And the tears came to her eyes again, though she pushed them back. It was a happy time for everyone else. It was sweet for her as well. Why, then, wasn't she happy for them?

Because when she looked into Jason's face, she saw Caithair, and when she looked at their surroundings, she saw her own home. Presently, she thought, there will be a monk who reminds me of Brother Parthalán, or a bard who... The thought choked off there. Setting her teeth, she wiped her eyes with her cloak, chastised herself for crying, and forced a pleasant look on her face. She would be happy for them. All else is selfishness, Aithne, plain and simple.

Jenny: Pigeon In His Hands

The boy had followed advice and had broken his other arm. Cleaning up the mess after setting the bone, Jason sat on the front stoop of his little surgery, rolling up strips of linen and basking in the cupped glow of sunlight that was already beginning to turn chilly as the wind picked up. It made the dog-rose at his elbow spring into a hundred points of flame so that they reflected in the curves of his instruments.

"B'oof!" Fripp said suddenly, which made him jump out of his reverie. The big black dog shouldered out of the dust at his feet, tail whirling; he hesitated, eyes on the Beacon-road, then in a flurry of gravel he was off, barking madly. Behind him Jason had leapt to his feet, heart in his throat. The wind must have caught the fires behind the villa, for his eyes suddenly stung and went blurry. Through the silver blur he saw Fripp racing for a horse, the horse coming at a canter down the road through the cloister-wood, glancing in and out of shadows. He blinked and the silver left, and he was seeing a girl on the horse, her own brown mane tossing in the wind of her going, and he could never afterward describe whatever it was that exploded in his chest. Somehow he was running, running as he had to save Artos, running with the sound of horses' hooves and dogs barking and the loud rush of blood in his ears.

The horse was nearly on top of him when it swerved aside, and the rider was falling as he was reaching out into his arms, all soft and light like a bird, and he was kissing her, and she was kissing him, and laughing, and crying; and Fripp was barking, and the horse was trumpeting shrilly, and he was never sure of anything that was whirling around him except for the softness in his arms was more than his flickering dreams, was finally real, and he felt as though everything was breaking apart even as it came together.

Lys: The Apples and Home

"Guttersnipe? What- oh." They had arrived. There was no use doing anything now. They had probably already been seen. She checked Concordia and let the Guttersnipe take the lead. It was her moment. Hers to relish, and heaven forbid that Aithne would keep her from it. She returned to her place just behind Master Lucius and followed as she had for so many days.

There was a pleasant scent heavy in the air. It had come on so slowly, Aithne had not noticed it before now. Her eyes grew wide. Apples! She vaguely recalled mention of an apple orchard, but not enough to make the scent so strong.

"I have come home." she said. She was unaware she had spoken aloud. Tears blurred her vision, and she blinked them away. Oh Christos... it is more than I'd hoped.

Jenny: The Valley

The colt skittering upward on the rough shingle, the sides of the hill soaring up on either hand, and the Beacon towering over all. The sunlight washed in gold and amber and dark emerald waves down the woods. A few more moments and she would be able to see the valley.

Even as she reached the crest and paused, breathless, the whole familiar valley spread drenched in damson-shadow at her feet, Domitia sidled up to her, hoof-falls muffled in the grass that over-grew the road. "Guttersnipe," she heard the other ask, "will you allow me to be your bard? Please, allow me to herald your return."

She could not pull her eyes away from the sight. Peeking out of the wood that was just beginning to be burnished with autumn was the cloister, stocky and stalwart. The road ran down and by it, across the river, and up again to the villa on the far side, like a topaz set in aged filigree copper. The village ranged all over, and the wide spaces of open pasture covered the hillsides above. The wind came to meet her full in the face, heavy with the gathering dew, heavy with the spice of apples, of horses, of hearth-fires. And suddenly she could not have replied to Domitia even if she had wanted to. It all caught her by the throat and she could not speak, knowing in the back of her mind that it was best that way, best that she not speak lest she break the spell of the moment.

Somehow she took her eyes off it for just a moment long enough to straighten the hem of her skirt, and she was riding down the road at last, coming out of the barrow at last, with the silver-winged bird overhead.

Lys: A Bard's Daughter

The tension grew with each hoof-fall- an expectation, a breath-holding, and Aithne began to grow restless with it.

Moments later, she rode up to the Guttersnipe. Technically she should've spoken to Master Lucius, but this was the Guttersnipe's moment. "Guttersnipe, will you allow me to be your bard? Please, allow me to herald your return." She rode as close to the colt as it would let her, expectant and waiting for a reply.

Jenny: Watch Tower

The half-familiar countryside turned into her home-runs as the day progressed. She could see the hill beyond which Lucretia had come from, she could see the familiar rivers and sheep- and horse-pastures; she recognized the road she was on. The wind in her hair was fresh and smelled more and more of apples. She had caught it just that morning, the faintest hint of spice, and her heart had leapt inside her chest. Home! She was nearly there. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she was coming out of the long dark barrow into the sunlight again.

And then, like the soft voice of the slave by a triumphant general, something in the back of her mind knew it was not to last long, that almost at once she would have to turn from the wind-full grass and open light to plunge back down into the dark once more - and God alone knew if she would come out of it this time.

High up in the sky as the blue turned to yellow, she caught a glimpse of a bird of prey on the wing.

They were quiet through that ride. It was fitting, somehow, that their arrival should be as silent as their departure some weeks ago. Master Lucius held his book, but he never opened it. His eyes seemed full wide in his head as he looked about, like a boy; Domitia seemed reserved but no less eager. For herself, while her heart still thumped loudly in her chest, somewhere deep inside there was a calm.

But the calm nearly failed her when they came out of the thicker wood and began to ascend a gravel road which might have once been paved, and through the thinning branches, high above them, nestled in a mantle of neglected green, rose the Beacon, shining pink and gold as the level rays of the late sun touched it, washing away its tinder-age so that it seemed to her a think of always, a thing that, no matter how many times she left, no matter how many times she turned and plunged into the dark and out again, it would be here, waiting for her, standing old and golden over her valley. There was a flicker of silver as the far-away bird soared around its crest, and the colt was clambering up the incline, and she had to watch the road.

Lys: Nearly Home

Circumstances swirled around her again. Aithne obediently gathered her things, stealing glances at the Guttersnipe now and then. She looked down at her own clothing and could not help but be a little bit jealous- she looked travel worn and shabby. Pushing her hair out of her face, she found bits of twigs and dead leaves all through.

She sighed, then turned to help Master Lucius mount his horse, then mounted her own- she had become rather proficient over the journey, and had not been tied to her horse in a while. Cu had become quite good at predicting her episodes, and so she was able to truly ride.

As she trailed along, just slightly behind Master Lucius, she contemplated the morning's happenings. We are close, she thought. We're nearly there, I know it.

The Guttersnipe would not wear such a beautiful thing on a lark. She was expecting to meet her Jason today.

Jenny: Great Expectations

"I never woke until this morning," Master Lucius added. Then, "Have you eaten?"

"Not yet." The Guttersnipe turned aside and frowned at the dead fire, and a little of the other Guttersnipe came out in the line of her jaw for a moment. "I - I don't think I will eat this morning. I'm not hungry."

To his surprise, Master Lucius found he had left Xenophon on his cloak. He hastily bent to pick it up, cradling it apologetically in the crook of his arm. Now that he thought about it, he was sure he could not eat either. There was a potency in the air which the Guttersnipe had brought out of the foamy white wood with her, a sense of expectancy, so that he knew something was about to happen. Things happened, he considered, around the Guttersnipe and her people.

"If it is all the same," the Guttersnipe was saying when he surfaced from his thoughts, "if we are hungry, I think I would prefer that we eat in the saddle. I would like to be pushing on. Domitia? If you will..."

She gestured to his own damp sleeping-cloak, and bent to collect her own. Even then she moved differently, wavering downward like a candle-flame instead of dropping violently onto her heels as she so often did. But when a wind picked up, suddenly strong for the gentle morning, she flung up her head, earrings tinkling, mane flying, with her eyes wide open in her head and her nostrils distended so that she reminded him of the horses she rode; and he found himself straining into the wind as well, not sure what he sought for. He caught the birdsong and the sound of white water, but nothing more. Still the Guttersnipe lingered in her doe-like pose before the softness came back into her limbs and she relaxed, folding up her cloak.

Presently he was finding himself in a position that had become very familiar to him over the past few weeks with his cloak rolled up about his shoulders and his panniers full of books banging at his legs and the sides of his mare. "You are light, thank heavens," the Guttersnipe had told him. "Otherwise she would never stand for all that." But she did stand for it, and they had become rather friends, the two of them. Gathering up the reins in one hand, Xenophon still in his other arm, he fell into his usual place with the bright dawn unfurling above their heads and the Guttersnipe, side-saddle at last at the head of them all, throwing back her head in a gay and rippling laugh.

Lys: A Lady

Master Lucius rose, and a moment later, so did Aithne. Whatever had happened? The Guttersnipe was... a lady. She did not seem so girlish any more. She looked equal to her station for the first time Aithne had ever seen. Always before she looked a slave girl or a girl man-raised. This was the first time she ever looked a woman.

And she looked every inch a princess. In fact, Aithne found herself automatically bowing her head in the respect a slave owes such a one. She raised it slightly when the Guttersnipe asked a question, but found herself unable to return completely. After all, she had wronged the girl, too, and had yet to beg forgiveness from her. "I... I slept well." Huddled under a bush, I slept more deeply than I have since we left.

Jenny: The African Limes

Master Lucius finally abandoned the attempt. Coming back around, he said, "That is delightful. Simply delightful. Your father sings hymns? Gwenhywfar does the same. And you - you must do likewise. But how wonderful to hear that on the edge of the world, such good things are being proclaimed! I will think of him in my prayers. He must be very lonesome."

He was about to go on when Cu gave a welcoming bark. It came to his attention that it was getting late, and that the Guttersnipe had not called them to their little breakfast and then packed them up on their horses. But that quite left his mind when he saw the Guttersnipe coming back to them across the lawn, glancing in and out of the light-and-shadow, and he wondered if there was an end to her changes.

It was Gwenhywfar's doing, he reflected, and yet it was all the Guttersnipe. She glided across to them, suddenly unlike the sharp-tongued, bright-eyed girl she had been the previous night who stood hands on hips, talking about boxing people's ears. There was a doe-like softness to her movements, and sort of reserved and prancing lightness to her step. She sparkled - she was fairly radiant. One could not believe, looking at her now, that she could be such a furious little fighting cock as she could. He could just see her now, if he let Euripides have free rein, with Gwenhywfar, decked out as she was in her fine leopard-skin gown. Somehow he found himself on his feet.

She stopped before them; the amber earrings swung gently from her movements. "Well," she murmured in that cat-like purr he knew so well. "Good morning, both of you. Did you sleep all right? The dew was biting-cold..."

Lys: History

Aithne involuntarily leaned back at the torrent of information about Greeks- a people she barely knew existed. They remained in the back of her mind as a sort of sub-clan of the Romans. To hear that they knew of the One God, yet squabbled over him was near to appalling.

Almost without taking a breath between, her master switched to questioning her again.
She blinked a few times, trying to catch up to him. "Brother- for he has us call him brother, though he is older than I by many years- Brother Parthalán came riding up to our rath when I was still very young. He appeared from nowhere, going nowhere, with an odd tongue that stumbled over speech more often than not. Though in all fairness, his name proved a challenge to us. Parthalán is not his true name. It is B- ba- is a mouthful and I pity him for having it."

She sat back and drew her knees up to her chin, remembering her home. "I lived on this shore of Eire. Your people would call mine Scotti, though that is a wide name and encompasses even our sworn enemies. We are a sailing folk, but also kept cattle. Between the two, our clan is ranked high- our clan chief is a king among clans, and my father is his Bard.

"When Brother Parthalán first came to our clan, my father feared the king would try and replace him with the monk. But this did not happen, and my father learned much at the monk's feet, and put song to the words he spoke. We are still learning- Brother Parthalán says one never stops, but we worship the One God, who made all things."

Jenny: Candlelight

"Famous!" Master Lucius broke a smile. "I had no idea it had got that far already. News comes rarely of such things, especially on such northern limes as ours. Every now and then I hear of some new flurry of controversy in Constantine's City - do those folk do nothing but argue? Greeks! Yes, we Greeks, we thrive on arguments. You would think that they would concentrate on godly living, on studying the Scriptures; but even that will not do. One fellow sees a thing one way, and another sees a thing another way, and with Paul's admonishments thrown to the wind they are up in arms at once, and before they can blink they have a heresy on their hands where before they had nothing but an idle difference of opinion. It will happen and they will argue, and God knows the gate of heaven are sorrowful for it."

Realizing he had gone off again, he came back to the point. "Who is the monk, and how did he come to be in your region?" He cast about still unsuccessfully for something to write on. "Where was your region...?"

Lys: Not All Pagans

Aithne looked up at him, her brow furrowed in confusion. She'd asked for forgiveness, not questions... Surely someone as learned as Master Lucius would forgive... But she had just confessed her selfishness. It wasn't right to continue in it.

"I... My father, mostly, and he from the Monk." Her chin lifted. "We are not all pagans in Eire. The One God is working in my land as well." She sighed. Pride again. "Our clan has served the Christ for many years. My father studied under the Monk, and he trained me. He helps the Monk, and leads liturgy when the Monk is taking the Word to other clans."

She looked down. "Would that our neighbors had listened." she muttered.

Jenny: Defender of the Faith

So the Guttersnipe had been right, after all. A box on the ear would have done the girl no good, and it had been a thing between her and the sobbing, and it had come out right in the end. For which he was glad; but even more thrilling was the girl's apparent knowledge of the Scriptures. He wondered how much she knew. His mind began churning through developed doctrines, schisms, and heresies, heroes of faith, martyrs...

"Well, I had no idea..." he murmured. "What do you know? Where did you learn your faith?"

Intrigued, he moved forward, legs tucked beneath himself, and cast about without luck for a pen and something to write on while prompting with his free hand for her to talk.

Lys: Contrition

Aithne looked up when Master Lucius awoke. She gave him a minute to awake fully, and gave herself some time to work up the courage, then rose and walked over to where he sat. Stopping at his feet, she knelt and bowed her head. "I am sorry, sir. I should not have run off like that. Quite apart from being a slave, the Holy Word commands us to be unselfish." She paused a minute, then rushed ahead. "I have sinned against you and against God and I beg your forgiveness."

Strange how the morning puts things in a new light. Last night she had been sobbing for freedom, and this morning she realized just how close she was to being sold to the next buyer...

Jenny: The Olive-Grove

Somewhere in his dreams where an olive-grove tumbled down to the foamy curve of silver shore, Master Lucius came aware that the thing in his hands was sliding, and he jolted bold awake to grab it.

"Oh, thank goodness," he breathed, sitting up and pulling the book into his lap. Then he was aware that it was morning, and that it was beautiful. Birdsong rang in the treetops. He looked about, wondering where the Guttersnipe was, expecting every moment to hear her calling across to rise and eat and get on the move. But she was nowhere in sight, and in her place sat Domitia, looking very contrite, by her dog.

Lys: Selfish

Aithne woke to the sound of birds chirping above her. There was a short moment of bewilderment, then she sat up quickly. She had slept here all night! A groan escaped her. How could she have done this? Master Lucius had never beaten her before, but if ever there was a reason to do so... He would at least be upset, probably angry.

Or he may be buried up to his eyebrows in books and not even notice.

Nevertheless, she should never have run off in the first place. It was selfish from start to finish. She still ached for freedom, but she had her duties, and others shouldn't suffer for that.

So she stood, brushed herself off as best she could, and made her way back to the camp, hoping to speak to Master Lucius immediately. The spent campfire still had little tendrils of smoke coming out if it, and the Guttersnipe's bedroll was empty, but Master Lucius remained asleep. It's just as well. she told herself. At least this way he won't know you were out all night.

Cu came bounding up to meet her, excited, but keeping his voice to a small whine, rather than his usual bark. She managed to get him to sit and be still as she stroked his back, sitting close to ward off the early morning chill. Soon enough she would have to face them.

Jenny: A Gift

The Guttersnipe woke to the spangled fingers of cool autumnal morning light streaming through the crown of white overhead. The heavy dew was laden with the ashy scent of the dead fire. Across the open wood rang the mocking call of a woodpecker.

She rolled over and propped herself up on her elbows. There was still a faint stream of smoke coming out of the grey heap that had been the fire of last night. Several dandelions lay shriveled and scorched on the rim, rattling dismally in the early morning breeze. At a distance, the horses were grazing in the shadows of the trees, their noises carrying across the lawn with the softness of the river. Wulf was awake, minding Cu; Master Lucius was still curled up in his sleeping place like a small, thin animal in its winter nest, still clutching the Oikonomikos to his chest. She quirked a smile, then looked for Domitia.

The girl was nowhere to be seen. She was on her feet in an instant, treading lightly off her cloak and through the dewy grass. She followed the girl's flight out of the clearing, and presently came upon her curled up in the grassless patch under an oak, fast asleep. With a breathless, mirthless laugh, the Guttersnipe let her be and returned to the camp.

The morning was glorious. There was a faint trace of woodsmoke lingering in the air from some other fire in the distance, probably another horseman for they were in horse-country now, if only the fringes of it. The birds were tuning up to a spectacular racket in the trees, and far off roared the river, little more than a murmur of surf-sound in her ears now. Pausing, thinking on it, it reminded her of the soldiers when they saw Artos and her Lord Ambrosius, how the wave of sound rose to an almost impossible height, shaking and thundering like the angry heavens. How she had gloried in it! She, who was little more than the Guttersnipe, but she had shared in the glory in some way she could not describe, tied to it in a way she was not really clear about herself.

And with those thoughts and the distance surf-sound of the river, the flurry of almost-panic came jangling back under her breastbone as it had the night before, an almost-panic she could not suppress. Her mouth was suddenly full, and she swallowed back and went for her sleeping-place.

She had been using it for a pillow all this time, not really thinking about it, the rough tan wolfskin bundle that Gwenhywfar had thrust into her hands over a week ago when she had found herself walking down the long dark barrow for the pinprick of light outside. Now the pinprick had fanned out and was ready to swallow up the darkness behind her - a darkness which seemed all the more dark as she approached the end of the barrow - and now she could turn and look at the thing which she had not had time to think of before.

In a little she found herself a distance from the camp with the surf-sound of water turned to a roar in her ears. She was standing in a little enclosure of hawthorn, not remembering how she got there, holding the bundle in her hands. And despite the sound of the water and the noise of the birds overhead, a sudden quiet had taken her inside, and a curious potency had come into the square, unlovely thing she had carried with her. She had always been angry at Gwenhywfar for staying behind, even when she had told Domitia that things would be fine, that Gwenhywfar would take care of herself. The anger she had nursed almost unconsciously deep inside herself; but now, holding the thing, the anger dropped away.

The grass was too wet to kneel on. She cupped the bundle in the crook of one arm and undid the leather knots with the other hand. Throwing away the binding, she turned back the folds of tawny skin, and then blinked, and then started, when she saw the thing inside.

Patches of saucy black showed up in the sunlight, glowing on a field of almost gold fur. Heavy scents of oleander and lavender poured from the bundle. She shook it out, dropping the wolfskin, to see that it was a gown of leopard-skin, finely cut, and suddenly her mind was full of the things she had learned from Gaius, of worlds far away where the winters are mild, where the grapes grow thick on the vine, where ships with rolling eyes skim across damson-waves - the world of the old heroes, of Achilles and Hector, Aeneas and Achates.

And then, unbidden, she was seeing Jason in a patch of dappled sunlight under the apples, his head tipped back as he laughed at her, teeth flashing, and she knew why Gwenhywfar had done it.

She might have laughed, but it was too solemn to laugh at. She slipped off her tattered scarlet and squeezed into the leopard-skin. The sunlight made the fur and the beads on her earrings shine, and for a moment she just stood there, curious with herself almost like a young child, and the panic in her chest eased a little.

Lys: Too Much Thought

She had never wanted her freedom so badly. Even when she was first taken, she had not felt like this. But now she was headed to a place... a wonderful place... a place where her status seemed as thought it should be an abomination. But the Guttersnipe did not see it that way. Who knew how many slaves served Lord Ambrosius? But she could not reconcile the idea of such a man owning slaves.

And so she laid there, curled in a ball, weeping for all that was lost, and all that could never be.

Presently her tears slowed- as all tears do- and she sat up, sniffing. She dreaded rejoining the group. Upon thought, she found it strange that they had not chased after her. She could, after all, have simply run away. She could still. Leave and not return. For awhile she considered it. But she felt too drained to try it. And deep down she knew she had no chance alone, and that she could not bear to leave the Guttersnipe. She was more like family than most of the people Aithne had known in Britain.
She furrowed her brow. It was too much to think on. She was too tired to think...
Laying her head back on the ground, she was asleep only seconds later.

Jenny: Euripides

A flurry of movement started Master Lucius out of his poetry. Blinking like an owl he surfaced, confused, in time to see Domitia scuttle off blindly for the trees, and the Guttersnipe on her feet on the far side of the fire, staring after the other girl with an oddly pale and stony face, hands clenched into fists at her sides.

"What was that?" he asked her.

For a moment she made no move, then she slowly shook her head as if to clear it. "I forget things, sometimes," she said absently. "I've lived so long in my valley, I forget there is a world outside."

"Are you going after her?" he wanted to know.

But she gave a harsh bark of laughter that minded him, even in its harshness, of Gwenhywfar. "No, I would box her on the ear - and would that make things better? No, then, I wouldn't know how to begin to comfort her girlish sobbing. And anyway," she added in a softer tone, almost under her breath, "it is a thing between her and the sobbing, not me."

She dropped back down onto her heels, her eyes oddly potent as they cupped the wild reflection of the fire. Wulf loomed in the ring of firelight, slapping his hands clean on his thighs. Wordlessly he took his share of the food, and as the other moved to eat, Master Lucius hunched forward on his own rock. The Guttersnipe's face flickered back to the present out of wherever she had gone for a moment, and she handed him his supper. It was watered and spiceless, but wholesome. And rich foods, he considered, had never been good for him.

Without preamble, she told him, "You will like it there, at the villa."

He smiled. "I am sure I will."

"But no." She tucked her legs crosswise underneath herself and settled her chin in her palms. "You will like it. You will like Gaius - perhaps you are twins - and my Lord Ambrosius, and Artos will be fond of you - he is fond of most people who are willing to use their minds, and be friendly in return; he does so hate stupid people. And it is sunny there, too. I remember it being sunny so often; more often, perhaps, than is normal."

It must have been Euripides that did it, for he heard his own voice saying gently, "It must be your people who make it sunny."

Her head flew up, eyes wide with surprise. And then her face softened into a blossom of a smile and she nodded. "I think you must be right. You see? You understand, and I am sure you will like it. And your horses will be put to the best of training. You must see, too, when the time comes what things we can make our horses do. Artos will not let me - he boxed me when I tried - do the tricks, because they are a little dangerous, and you must go through training, you and the horse, before it can all be done. But what a show to see!" She flung back her head just as a branch shattered and fell into the heart of the fire, flinging up a great shower of sparks into the air so that, for just a moment - he thought it must have been Euripides that did it - he wondered if it had been her witchery. "What a show! The horses and the riders, and the drums and the old cavalry trumpets calling out maneuvers..."

Her voice dropped away into a soft rush, and he knew because he had felt it before that the happiness of it all had choked her off. He felt that way when he was describing Paul's epistles, or when he read a certain passage in Xenophon. The happiness would choke him off and he would be left wordless in the midst of a thousand words, no one word adequate to convey his joy.

And like the tiny bloom of fire that was beginning on a long branch extended toward him, small and orange, white at its centre, a little pain of homecoming sprang up in his breast and began to glow.

Lys: A Slave

Aithne listened to the Guttersnipe describe her home. Every time she heard it, it sounded more wonderful than the last. She was content to ride and listen, taking pleasure in the pictures the girl's words created.

Eventually the small company stopped and made camp for the night. They had fallen into a pattern by now- Wulf to the horses and the fire-starting, Aithne and the Guttersnipe to cooking, and Master Lucius, as always, to his reading.

As they worked, the Guttersnipe bent close, telling her all would be well, that she would not be forgotten, but at the words something ripped open inside Aithne. Soon the Guttersnipe would be free. And for all that Master Lucius was a good master- perhaps the best of masters, she was still his slave. To him she was nothing but the person who took care of his books and his cup.
It had been easy to forget the Guttersnipe's status, when the two were wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and doing the same things, but she was about to return to her place as Lord Ambrosius's ward, and Aithne would remain behind, and no amount of remembering would change that.

Tears welled up, unbidden, and she tried unsuccessfully to choke them back. Stop it, Aithne! Overcome, she leaped to her feet and ran to the trees. She didn't know why it had hit her so hard, she just knew she didn't want to fall to pieces in the midst of them all. Going just beyond the treeline, she sat down behind some brush, buried her face in her hands, and wept.

Jenny: Firefly-Sparks

By Deva and the horse-country, where the hills tumble in on themselves and the air is crisp and clean. Aloud, the Guttersnipe said, "Home, Domitia. Lord Alan - he was lord to us in the old days - gave my Lord Ambrosius a valley for his horse-breeding, knowing that while it's the rank-and-file that hold the line, what is Mars without a little of Jupiter's lightning? So we breed good horses, and we trade some of them, and that it our business."

She tapped at the colt and brought it up alongside Domitia's mare. "It's quiet in our valley. No one comes up our road now, unless they be the Fox, who is nobody much himself. There used to be a garrison nearby, but that's fallen to tinder; the old Beacon still stands at the head of the valley, but we don't use it. Artos tells stories of how they first came to the valley and found it overgrown and choked with weeds, so that it was a long time before it was made serviceable again. But," she smiled slantwise and twisted one shoulder, "I think the valley is kinder for it, and loving, that my Lord Ambrosius took it out of the tangle it was coming to. But that was all before my time. Now it is home, and we're going back to it."

And presently, as the valley widened and the hills through which they were riding became heaving waves of turf under the trees, she called the halt. Cu began at once to run about with Wulf and pen in the herd. Master Lucius climbed down and saw gamely to his mare before slipping to a rock and pulling out his books. The wood was beginning to be drenched in mothy shadow. Finished with the horses, Wulf struck up a fire and the Guttersnipe, with Domita, began to make the supper.

"Domitia," the Guttersnipe said slowly. She rocked back on her heels at the fire, arms draped across her knees. "Domitia, when we come won't be your home - I realize that. But I don't want you to feel left out when we get there. I know everyone, and you don't know anyone. I'm going to be so busy catching up and being home and everyone will want to hear what happened. If they have heard, they must be frantic with worry, if Champion hasn't told them of me. Which he won't have. It kills that bird to utter one syllable of clear Latin. Only know that you won't be forgotten."

"I will always need you," Master Lucius mused over his book. Looking round at him, the Guttersnipe was not sure he addressed the volume or the slave-girl. He looked up. "After all, I'm losing the Guttersnipe. Thank goodness Domitia is here..." And back he slipped into Euripides.

The Guttersnipe gave a husky laugh through her nose. She rocked on her heels a little and worked with the supper, watching the smoke and firefly-sparks go up among the peeking stars between the branches overhead. And then it struck her full in the chest that the hawthorns were familiar, that the particular yellow of the sky she knew, and the drubbing of her heart was suddenly sickeningly loud in her ears.

Lys: Curiousity.

Singing the song had helped. The Guttersnipe had saved their lives. She knew that from the start, of course, but it had been overshadowed by the shock of it being the Guttersnipe who had done it.

The girl had gotten a faraway look in her eye, and Aithne wondered where she was. Memory? Foresight? Deep in thought? But a moment later, she came out of it, and picked a twig from her tunic. Aithne shook her head and watched forward again. It was strange, herding horses. Cattle, she knew. Horses on the move, en masse and riderless, were wholly new to her.

The sun soon reached the tops of the trees, and she pulled her cloak a little closer around herself.

"Might I know where we're going, now?"

Jenny: Beyond the Farther Hill

Coming down a gorge with the hawthorn in foamy bloom all around them, the air cool and quiet, the world seemed at peace. The surrounding woods were full of the soft murmur of the birds looking to roost and, farther away, the tumble of white water. The sky was burnished faintly yellow as it began to grow late. It had been a good day, and the Guttersnipe felt she could go on riding forever if only the beauty of the moment would last.

Perhaps inspired by the evening, ahead of her Domitia began to sing. She did not recognize the lyrics at the outset, but as the song progressed she found herself back in a familiar walled garden, little legs banging against the underside of a wooden bench, reading aloud to Gaius as he whittled a spade's shaft beside her. But then she was seeing not herself, not Gaius, but a wind-tossed shock of reddish hair and a headland overlooking the sea. The ash-blooms became the cream of waves on the shore, dashing up in flecks on the rocks; she heard the soft tinkle of amber beads. In a moment she could see clearly the figure on the headland, the wind and the pale sinking sun on the face, in the eyes, making the amber sparkle. Her arm began to throb. The figure, which she took at first to be lonesome, unfolded its arms and cupped its hands over the eyes, looking far into the west with a faint smile about the lips. The shoulders relaxed, the figure seemed at ease as one would standing on one's doorstep.

In the distance she heard the soft splutter of hooves on the turf and the figure turned and smiled. A lithe little horse was sweeping across the level grasses toward her, the coral-studs flashing on the headstall. The woman moved to meet it. It all took on a wavering aspect, as though someone had dropped a pebble into her dream, and she caught the faintest glimpse of a rider, and then she was jerking round to find a branch had stuck into her tunic and was causing the pain.

Lys: The Bard's Daughter

It was two days since the incident with the brigands. Try as she might, she wasn't able to push it from her mind. But it simmered in the back, and turned and formed itself into something new, so that she could pull back and see it from a different perspective.

So it wasn't too far of a stretch when one of her father's songs came to mind. Technically it wasn't his. It was one he had been taught when he was still rising through the ranks of bardhood.

She could not remember all of it, and how she wished she had a harp! but what she did know would not stay inside her. So under the British sun, in the company of this odd band, the song made itself known.

“Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!
I even I, will sing to the LORD;
I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.

In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways.

Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel,
Until I, Deborah, arose,
Arose a mother in Israel.

They chose new gods;
Then there was war in the gates;
Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.

My heart is with the rulers of Israel
Who offered themselves willingly with the people.
Bless the LORD!

Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,
Who sit in judges’ attire,
And who walk along the road.

Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places,
There they shall recount the righteous acts of the LORD,
The righteous acts for His villagers in Israel;
Then the people of the LORD shall go down to the gates.

Most blessed among women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Blessed is she among women in tents.

He asked for water, she gave milk;
She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.

She stretched her hand to the tent peg,
Her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
She pounded Sisera, she pierced his head,
She split and struck through his temple.

At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell dead.

Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
When it comes out in full strength.”

Jenny: Blue Eyes

Twilight was encroaching on the valley. The tops of the hills were pricked out in fine gold against a pink sky; the air was soft and dun-coloured, hung with the heavy spice of apples. A dog's bark, high up from the pastures, pulsed across the distance. Children in the native language were laughing and playing at ball in a courtyard somewhere.

It was Jason's favourite time of the day, at his favourite time of year. Time lingered for a moment between one thing and another, in no real place at all, holding its breath as though for wonder. The air was almost tangible to the skin, heavily rosy and spiced as it was. The laughter of the children, distant now as he moved up the hillside away from the villa, was like jewels tumbling out of a hand, and was so beautiful that it hurt way down deep where he could get to soothe the ache.

"She'll come home, Jason..."

He paused a moment near the crest of the saddle to look out toward the Beacon-road, the whole valley sprawling at his feet in a sleepy daze. It was beautiful, so small and remote from the world, so bright and familiar. He thought of her, far away in some strange place, among people who spoke strange things, who had different pasts and different futures, and that deep place ached still more.

Fripp came a welcome bark and broke away from his side. He swung round to see Lord Ambrosius above him, seated in the crotch of a wild apple, looking, as he did, over the valley. He went up after Fripp and stood nearby, wordlessly, while Lord Ambrosius stroked the dog and the two of them looked over the valley. Presently Jason glanced over and saw with a little shock that the hair about the temples had flamed into silver, which he had always remembered as black, that the grey eyes had paled into blue so that looking into them, it gave him an almost uncanny feeling. It comes from looking beyond the next hill, he told himself.

Lord Ambrosius stirred. "How is he?"

Jason snapped back to the present. "He is in less pain now. The leg is still not serviceable, but he is healing quickly."

The other nodded, as though he had known. And then in a little while he asked, still more quietly, "How are you?"

For a moment Jason did not know how to answer, and he knew he did not really know the answer himself. How was he doing, wrestling with Artos' bum leg and the knowledge that the Guttersnipe - his Guttersnipe - was far away in someone else's control? He gave a little groan. "I'm...managing. Work helps. And it will be time for the harvest soon."

"Perhaps," Lord Ambrosius said, and Jason looked round sharply to know what he meant by that. But the other man had that coldly distant look in his eyes, the steely blue eyes, and a darkness in the cleft between his brows. He saw something, and he did not know what he saw; and Jason, tucking his arms around himself, shivered.