Jenny: Defiance

She would ask it. In the back of her mind, the Guttersnipe had always known Domitia would ask it. She listened for a moment to the sound of her own boots and the softer shuffle of Domitia's sandals. The wind boomed off the uplands over the roof of the villa, and it was a wild and comforting sound. She wanted to throw herself into and felt the terror of its ecstasy rip her away and fling her aloft.

"Gwenhywfar," she said as they stepped out into the cold pre-dawn, "is seeing to her own things. We won't wait for her. We...go on ahead."

They walked across the courtyard toward the stables and the pen at the back. The stars twinkled overhead, hazy and warm: autumn was coming on, but they had not yet lost their summer coat of muted gold. But in the wind that tore down off the uplands the Guttersnipe could smell autumn sharp in her nostrils; and the horses could smell it, too, as they showed up as dark figures against the black, snorting and churning, flinging up their heads against the starry sky.

One of the horses moved forward as they approached. "All well?" asked Master Lucius.

"Yes, sir," the Guttersnipe clipped. She singled out the bronze-and-black colt and swung astride; the saddle-leather squealed in the quiet. "Domitia, Wulf holds your mare." She turned back to Master Lucius. "If we go south we can hit the Legion's Road without having to deal with the uplands, and we can take that north. It will be easier that way."

"That is the way they usually go, I think," he replied. There was a grunt as Wulf worked at tying Domitia to her saddle. Then, "Are you armed?"

She touched her knife. "Yes, sir."

"Very good, then. Off we go. Ours is a business that goes on regardless of who rules."

There was a shudder, a snort, and Master Lucius' horse moved forward. Domitia's mare moved in beside him, and in a moment the Guttersnipe and Wulf were fanning out on their skittering mounts to hold in the herd. Cu barked behind them. On the far side of the villa, the rooster crowed, woken from his sleep, and his strident notes fell over the river-valley, bright and defiant of the coming day.

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