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.

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