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."

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