Jenny: Reports

It was pure beauty to collapse on the cushions again, so many cushions that had endured her impatient needlework. Jason folded up beside her, arms on the tabletop, leaning in to get a clear look at her face and her Lord Ambrosius beyond. Master Lucius sat by Artos, both of whom seemed to occupy their seats with the faint gracelessness of invalids. Faces thronged about, faces that - well, it must have been an imperfection in the wicks that made the room blurred and smoky. Gaius was there, and Kay and Bedwyr, and Caleb, and old Dexter the Horse-breeder. The girls from the village had come up, and in a moment they came in with the wine, sparkling with laughter, eager to see a new face. Master Lucius seemed entirely unaware of their curious glances and looks of approval among themselves. At the moment he was giving an account of himself to her Lord Ambrosius.

"Unhappily my illnesses have prevented me from journeying much, but I think it was for this purpose that I was so long in Vortigern's company. I have longed for yours since I was a lad, but not until now was I enabled to come. I have little enough to offer, I fear, except my herd; and little enough to recommend except a capacity as a scribe. What I know of Vortigern you doubtless know yourself."

Her Lord Ambrosius paused, one elbow on the table, a fine vessel of green glass suspended in one hand. There was a faint twinkle in his eyes as he spoke. "I own an acquaintance with Vortigern and a lasting enmity - I fear that is not conducive to teaching me his personal habits. You have been the Eyes-within-the-gate, and presently I must pressure you to a written report of your dealings with him."

He turned and looked her way. "I think that you have been looking out for my little Guttersnipe, for which I owe you more than I can give. As cunning and ruthless as my antagonist is, I feared all ill for her. How is it that you managed?"

He meant, very kindly, "In your present state of uncertain health," which she saw Master Lucius understood. But as she had observed over time her Lord Ambrosius saw at once that Master Lucius was not only resigned to his illness, but comfortable with it as with an old friend. She thought he might be perfectly miserable without the chronic trials. The man straightened in his seat - Domitia fluttered about in the background with the cushions - and said,

"It was no hard thing, sir. She is a little fighting cock, your Guttersnipe, and promised to make a great deal of trouble for Vortigern if he attempted to make life unbearable for her. I persuaded Vortigern to take her under my care, needing as I often do a pair of quick legs to run about for me, and in this way we lived in very amiable disinterest of one another, my people and Vortigern."

The girls withdrew presently to help with supper and the Guttersnipe found herself prevailed upon to give an account of their journey. Largely uneventful, it had been cold at nights and hot during the trekking hours, always with the threat of discovering breathing down her neck. She had not realize until she was safe back under her lord's roof how the tension had taken a toll on her. She relaxed, leaning against Jason, and told as though relating someone else's story how she had met the brigands in the stream and dispatched of them.

Her Lord Ambrosius crooked a smile. "A little fighting cock. Was that your first kill?"

Artos roused himself from his elbows. "No, she made an end to a North Saxon we discovered in the north. It was a good stroke, too; sure, if a bit blind." He looked at her warmly. "It's good to see that all my training didn't go amiss."

She smiled back hollowly. Then she asked, "What has happened since my absence? How long have you all been home? It's a bit early in the year."

"Artos brought us home early," her lord admitted. "Otherwise Jason and Gaius tell me it has been peaceful. The harvest will be soon."

He did not say it, but as the conversation swung away back toward Master Lucius, who seemed to be an instant favourite among her Lord Ambrosius and Artos' friends, and as a large gold-winged moth came darting down about the wine-vessels, drawing her eye, the Guttersnipe knew he was reminding her of it for her love of it: for the rambles in the warm sunshine among the tangled old apple-trees, hauling baskets upon baskets of the ruddy, cheery fruit. Of her love for the cider-making and the pastries and the whole air full of friendliness and homely spice. All of which made her suddenly blush for anger that the great fair man was coming to wreck it all.

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