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."

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