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.

No comments:

Post a Comment