Jenny: Little Cu

Like a little dog, watchful even as he slept, the boy lay sprawled across the doorway of Aithne's bedchamber. Gaius had come by, late coming from the Hall with the other great ones, and had checked a moment. The soft petal of flame in his lamp had illuminated his face against the old darkness of the cloister walls, and he had smiled a little, always that gentle distance in his eyes, as though he were looking from a long way off - which reminded the boy ever more strongly of the Land of Summer - and the Companion had bent down, ruffling the boy's head of hair. "Good pup," he had said, and had passed on.

The cold flags of the floor did not keep him awake. He had stretched out afterward, full length, and had dropped off instantly into sleep with his full belly and the voice and eyes of the Companion in his dreams. But the door at his back was thin, warped and gaping at the edges so that it did not quite meet the jamb, and he was woken in the night by the sudden sound of stirring from within. Soft as a cat, he turned over and came to a squatting position, pressing his ear to the gap, having no notion Aithne might dislike an eavesdropper. But there was no other noise, only the little snap and tick of bare skin on the stones, sticking a little as warmth to cold, and he eased back down onto his belly, drifting off again.

Lys: A Fervent Prayer

Aithne awoke with a start. An odd dream, it had been. But it was not her first odd dream. She was sure, if she took the time to puzzle it out, that she would make some sense of it. On the surface it was most likely the result of going to bed with battle on her mind.

As her senses regrouped and formed up, she realized that wasn't what had woken her. There was something pressing on her heart- something she'd not experienced in a very long time.

She was overcome by the urge to pray for Cathair. Cathair? She didn't even know for certain he was still alive. And frankly, she hadn't prayed for him in near eight years, other than short mentions. Was it the Guttersnipe and Jason that brought him to mind? She thought about it and realized it was not.

Throwing off the covers, she slid out of bed and on to her knees. When God speaks, one listens. She bowed her head over the mattress.

Christos, I don't know why you want me to pray for Cathair, but here I am, asking you to keep him safe in whatever situation he finds himself. Protect him, Holy Father, in this hour and all others...

Jenny: The Naked Blade

"Sa ha!" said Jason, and it felt good to laugh a little. "And I think having a woman - or the hope of having one - is something to make your knees a little more sure when you stand."

He returned to his burnishing. The house had fallen completely silent: a tense, waiting sort of silence, like a thing lying under the heather, waiting to spring. The thing between his hands caught and lost and caught the light as he moved it. He rubbed and rubbed and rubbed rhythmically until the thing shone, and still he rubbed, thinking with his mind far away as he did so.

It had been a cool night, like this one, with the primroses just coming into bloom, and Artos all over sweat from a match he had won with Kay. Jason could remember being only chest high to the young man in those days, having to look up into the olive-dark face with its faint lacing of silver scars and fierce, storm-grey eyes. He had stood watching on the outskirts, heart a bloom of eagerness in his chest as he had seen Ambrosius' cub throw the wiry Kay to the ground. And then Artos had come up from the level before the Long Barn, shaking sweat from his face, half-laughing as someone tossed him a towel. The lamplight of the early spring evening, coming out of the lowering shadows, had glowed on his dark, damp skin. And as the young man looked up through the dark into the lamplight, the grey of his eyes sparking into blue, Jason was hearing the words of a Wandering Singer who had come through only a few nights before.

"Ah! Unferth, my friend, your face is hot with ale, and your tongue has tried to tell us about Brecca's doings. But the truth is simple: no man swims in the sea as I can, no strength is a match for mine. As boys, Brecca and I had boasted - we were both too young to know better - that we'd risk out lives far out at sea, and so we did. Each of us carried a naked sword, prepared for whales or the swift sharp teeth and beaks of needlefish. He could never leave me behind, swim faster across the waves than I could, and I had chosen to remain close to his side. I remained near him for five long nights, until a flood swept us apart; the frozen sea surged around me, it grew dark, the wind turned bitter, blowing from the north, and the waves were savage. Creatures who sleep deep in the sea were stirred into life - and the iron hammered links of my mail shirt, these shining bits of metal woven across my breast, saved me from death. A monster seized me, drew me swiftly toward the bottom, swimming with its claws tight in my flesh. But fate let me find its heart with my sword, hack myself free; I fought that beast's last battle, left it floating lifeless in the sea."

And Artos must have seen the images in Jason's face, for he had paused at the doorway, checked, and swung round, crouching down on the step where the boy had sat, the black pup sprawling at his feet. "This is quite the vantage point," he had said companionably.

"Yes, sir," Jason had said, not sure what to do with the Merlin so near. Then, as the silence stretched out between them, "You...fight very well, sir."

The Merlin had cast him a sharp-toothed smile. "You think so? It is not much more than dogs learning their own pack between us, the fighting you saw. Kay is fast, and best at the sudden strike. I can go in for the long haul. But we would not know this, you see, if we did not fight. See, here." He spun his knife out of its sheath, fondling it even as Jason fondled his pup's ears, and held it up to the light, flat across his palm. The lamplight ran down the silver lines of the watered steel, lines like the scoring across the Merlin's temple, and woke sparkling in the cut semiprecious stones of the hilt. "We are like this, my men and I," he said. "There is a whole fineness in this weapon, a sureness and a beauty that one takes in at once without realizing it. But looking closer, one sees the particulars of the piece. Without the hilt, the blade would be a naked piece of metal; without the gems, the hilt would be unlovely. But the blade, too, gives a hold for the hilt, and the hilt gives a bed for the stones. We each have our important place, and together - " he spun the thing again and brought it up with a force that could have severed a rib " - together we make a skillful weapon."

And Jason, with that bloom of red earnestness in his chest still, had liked that, and had smiled back.

The lamplight flashed off the blade into his eyes, bringing him back to the present.

Jeanne: The Guttersnipe

Druce snorted. "I have no girl yet," he said, half regretfully, "so I cannot say as I fully sympathize with you, but I'm not adverse to hearing you leave the realms of sanity. It is rather refreshing when your medical mind is confounded." He grinned, clasping his hands together between his knees. "She is worth loving, the Guttersnipe is. Odd, perhaps - or, as you say, uncanny - but she has a good heart; she was meant for you. Do you remember, in the games we used to play, that I was always the villain and you the hero? So, I think that is how she thinks of you. I hope," he added, snorting again, "that she does not still think of me as a villain, though. No, she's a good one, the Guttersnipe is."

He sighed, putting his elbows on his knees and tilting his chin. "Here we have gone from speaking of war and battles and sovereignty, to talking of women - who may well defy all of those."

Jenny: The Uncanny Woman

Jason blew a little wry breath through his nose. With the familiar blade in his hand, rocking to the old burnishing movement, things seemed a little easier. "Uncanny creatures," he added to Druce's words. "And there is more uncanniness in the Guttersnipe now that she has come back home. She has always had a bit of that unpredictable nature, but that is easy enough to come to know, raising wild young things as we do. But this time..." He paused, and spread the one hand with the cloth in it. "She is the same, but this time there is something more. As though the thing beyond the harp-song has got to her, and when she looks at you, you can see that other thing - that higher thing - in her eyes."

He stopped again, more suddenly. "Stop me if I go moonstruck on you."

Jeanne: Women's Ways

Druce looked about him and reached for the knife he had been pondering over earlier, handing it, hilt out, to Jason. Unconsciously he shifted backward on his heels. "I am not very helpful, I know," he went on with a grimace. "I say the things that I repeat to myself to keep my own head steady in times like these. It is the best I can do. I'm sure the Guttersnipe would have helped you better than I." He crossed the room and pulled himself up onto the table with a grunt, ignoring its loud groans of displeasure. He spread his hands out across the papers and books, cocked his head, and said musingly, "Funny how some women have that way..."

Jenny: God of Formation

There was nothing much Jason could find to say to that. The Guttersnipe had put it so, oddly more native and earthy than Druce's straight-paved logic. But the lines between such things were blurred here, here where two rivers flowed together, the Roman and the native...

But it was beside the point. Druce was right, the Guttersnipe with right; and he, deep in some place untouched by the turmoil of circumstances, had never doubted that. Was he not the God of formation? Was he not the Amen? They might die - or worse, live with nothing more to live for - but that would be the pattern of the Knot, and the Knot-maker would have made a thing of beauty, and that was all that mattered.

It did not lessen the clenching in his middle, but he nodded. "I am needing a thing to put my hands to, that is all," he said. "Hand me that knife, there, and that cloth..."

Jeanne: Beneath Sovereignty

Druce paused for a moment, uncertain, then took Justin's shoulder and pressed it hard and jerked his friend. "This is only tiredness and an overworked mind speaking, friend. You've been thinking too much on torn-up flesh and Artos' leg and your surgeon things; your morbid fantasies are clouding your judgment, that is all. Do we not all dwell beneath sovereignty? Perhaps," he added, more slowly and thoughtfully now, "the Lord Ambrosius cannot bring us through this one. Perhaps. But through the waiting, and the fight, and the outcome, we have one beside us who is greater by far than even our Hawk and Merlin. Think of that power, Jason!" He shook the other again, as if in this way he could show the man what he meant. "A power infinitely above and beyond what we see as might in our lords. And that mighty Being is equally with all of us, no more with Lord Ambrosius than He is with you and your knife; no more with Lord Artos than with me. So, the waiting is hard; but on the other side of the night is the morning, and night and day are both ordained and ordered underneath the sovereignty of God.

"There," he added after a moment, flicking a wan smile; "my bit of wisdom, I suppose. Take it for what you will."

Jenny: Cowardice

That, thought Jason, and so many other things. What a wretched way to go! To have come this far, all of them, to make something stand out of the dark, only to be snuffed out by mercenaries. He found himself nursing a passionate hatred of Vortigern's cowardice. A few years ago a raiding party had come upon them unexpectedly, and the world had slipped and teetered for a while as Ambrosius fought to win his own leg out of a mess of wounds. But the world had righted itself: this time he could not see how they were going to survive.

He bared his teeth suddenly in a self-deprecating smile. "This is it, Druce," he said harshly. "I wish it had been as it was for the Guttersnipe: no wait, just the fight, and then the aftermath. I think I could bear it better that way."

Jeanne: This Business

Druce turned at Jason's entrance; but he did not speak, for it had not been he who had asked for the pending discussion. The surgeon's words were harsh, not, perhaps, with anger, but with some large and tight emotion wedged in his throat that neither water nor food could push away. Druce watched him warily, saw the light in his eyes cloud and darken, saw his hands unconsciously ball into tight fists against his thighs, saw his lip tremble with the force of those half-suppressed feelings. The words burst from Jason as if he had not wanted to speak them, but could not keep them to himself; and Druce, for all his native blood and sharp eyes, could not see with certainty the meaning behind them.

He waited. There was no sound between them, and the candle on the table flickered impatiently. He thought later that perhaps it would have been better had he kept silent and let Jason clarify, but instead he stirred slightly with a superfluous glance out the window and said in an undertone, "You fear there will be many under your knife after tomorrow?"

Jenny: The Knot-Maker

The Guttersnipe was surprised by another knocking on her door. She had only just released her necklace and put her head down among her pillows, ready to blow out the light. It was Jason who stepped in, Frip thrusting his way in at his master's heels, and she sat up, giving him back a quiet smile. He came across and sat down in the place where Ambrosius had just been, pulling the blanket up around her shoulders as she slid in beside him. Then he sat, as Ambrosius had done with his arms across his knees, looking about in the lamplight at the room, taking in the cast-off gown and the book on the table by the lamp, taking in the faded grape-vine paintings on the walls, the ornamental shield, the twists of broom, and the high shuttered window.

"This has been your room for long and long," he murmured.

"But not much longer, I think," she said, and she found herself not minding.

He jerked his head around. "I passed Ambrosius in the hall - "

"He was just here, to talk to me, not knowing if there would be a tomorrow in which to talk to me..."

He nodded and they both fell silent, Frip's head between them on the chequered rugs. Artos had not yet gone to bed: the sound of his boots rang on the tiles in the hallway, far-spaced and a little uneven. She heard his swift undertone of "Habet! Tabs. Eat the mouse, don't play with it." And then his footsteps faded. The insect noises were dropping away into the deep-night quiet outside. And she thought, in the quiet, about the valley and Eryri, about Ambrosius' words, and about her folk, and Theodosius and Maximus, and about yesteryear and tomorrow.

Presently Jason asked, "What are you thinking about?"

She swung him a little wry smile. "It seems everyone is asking me that these days."

"You are very thoughtful these days," he replied, tipping his hands in an odd gesture, as though to let his words tumble from them into her lap. Then, "So? And who is everyone?"

The Guttersnipe lifted one shoulder. "Just Artos. I was thinking - am I not known to do that often? - and he asked me what about."

"And what were you thinking about?"

"Home." And it was odd, summing up the valley and the northern horse-runs, and the whole of ruddy-turfed Eryri, of which she had just been thinking, into a single word. Odd, and somehow fitting.

Jason slipped Frip's head between his hands and began to absently fond the dog's ears. "But it is in my mind that we are all of us thinking of home these days... What are you thinking about?"

It took her a moment to find her words, to distill her thoughts into speech, for it was solemn, and she was shy. She sat in silence, pensively turning Jason's ring over and over in her hands, seeing rather absently beyond it the shiny pale gall on his finger where he had worn it for years. "I have been thinking," she said slowly - slowly, as the words came to her, "that I have been looking at it all very narrowly. I have been scared, and I am still scared - perhaps not for myself, but for my home. Yet surely God's arm is still long, and surely these are his threads on his loom. It is is like..." She sought for a likeness, and Jason sat beside her, patient, watching the way she looked about with a little smile on his face. Finally she fixed upon the old shield on the wall beneath the cracking grape-vine paintings. "It is like that knotwork. You cannot tell, from looking at it, where it begins and where it ends. And choosing any one point, you would end up in a muddle. But if you stand back and take in the thing as a whole - "

"You see the pattern, and it is beautiful," Jason finished.

She nodded vigorously. "And surely the man who made the pattern must have had it all in his mind. He must have known, to make something beautiful - and so wildly beautiful! - out of such confusion."

"There is something of courage to be had in that," said her young man; and looking from the shield to his face, she saw he had gone away a little within himself, so she folded her hands in her lap and let him think on that, as she had done. But he came back soon, always faster to return than Ambrosius or Artos, and he got up with a sigh, pushing off his knees. Frip backed away as he turned round to face her. "And here I came to say good-night," he told her, sliding his hands under her jaw. He kissed her uplifted forehead. "Sleep well."

"You too," she admonished him, and held onto his fingers for as far as she could stretch. Ambrosius' going had left the room mellow and bright; Jason's had left it glowing with warmth, so that the room was very bright and fiercely burning after she had put out the lamp and had tumbled under her rugs, and the darkness had drawn away into the hollow hills for a little while longer.


Jason paused a moment in the hall to watch Tabs trot by, the tail of a mouse dangling from her tightly-pursed lips. Then he pushed off, calling Frip to heel. The sleepy dark filled the halls of the house, and he walked through the shadows, alone with Frip, pulling in the familiar brown scent the house took on after sunset. How long had he been smelling that smell? How many years? And what if the turn in the knotwork was to close off that smell and this house - and all of them - in the past? Worse, what if they were to go on, and the familiar things were to be left behind?

He stopped by Artos' shut door, thinking of the thing he and Gaius had done together for the Merlin's leg. It had been a good thing, a familiar thing; he could feel his bright instruments in his hands, and something in his middle clenched at the thought of losing those things.

"Surely the man who made the pattern must have had it all in his mind. He must have known, to make something beautiful - and so wildly beautiful! - out of such confusion."

But it was such a hard thing! Somehow he forced his legs to move, to find his own room, but he carried with him a small throbbing panic in his belly.

He found Druce there before him, standing at the window. He noticed, without really seeing them, that things on the table had been touched and rearranged. He met Druce's gaze for a moment as the other turned to greet him. He stood a moment in the doorway, unable to say anything, and the other, silent, looked back with reservation. Finally he broke away and flung himself across the room onto his bed, head on his hands. "This business!" he said huskily, and that was all he could say. Images of the pasture on fire, of the villa scored and burned, of his folk lying in their last moments under his hands came between him and his friend. It was hard not to long for a sight beyond the curve in the knot. "This business..."

Lys: A Dream

Aithne was just climbing into bed when there was a scratch at the door. She froze, so as to listen better, and heard a familiar whine. With a roll of the eyes and a laugh, she crossed the tiny room and opened the door. "So. The boys threw you out, did they? Come back to beg forgiveness for switching loyalties?"

In answer, Cu whined and laid down, muzzle in paws, and looked up at her with pitiful eyes. She half-laughed and stood aside. "Alright, then. In with you." He bounded in and she sharply rapped out, "But not on the bed. Not with how dirty you are!" He checked himself in the very act of jumping up, and circled a few times before settling down by the head of the bed. She shut the door and laid down, stroking his head as she drifted off to sleep...

Marching, marching, marching for days on end. Alarm had been raised and the advantage was all but gone. Speed was all that mattered now. The commander didn't seem to realize how badly they'd all fight if they arrived exhausted. Thankfully, the officers had begun urging him to stop more often, and he was beginning to listen.
It would not be long before they arrived and she could take her revenge on her enemies- the enemies she had tracked for so many years. Not long now.
The campfire was almost hypnotic as she sat before it. It warmed her and made her feel the aches that had been blocked all day. She took off her shoes and emptied them of bits of stone and twig that had become lodged there, then laid back on her pallet to sleep. The stars and the moon shone above, making her heartsick, somehow. But she watched anyway, because she knew that when they winked out of sight, she would be marching once more- marching towards sweet revenge...

Jeanne: Surgeon Things

He listened to the sound of his own boots clicking on the stones in the atrium and then echoing in the corridor, fully aware of the pitter-patter sound behind him that did not belong to him. At Jason's door he turned and looked down at Cu, who scrabbled along behind him - perhaps with the hopes of Druce having more food. "Clear out, dog!" he said, pushing it back with his foot as he slid into the chamber. He heard its whining outside and the sound of its body plopping down in the doorway, and he wondered how long before the creature would grow tired of waiting.

Jason had not shown himself yet. Druce blew a long, thoughtful breath through his nose and wandered the room, glancing over papers and diagrams on the table and idly straightening them with two fingers. Many of them were technical, the sort of things Druce would expect a surgeon to own, but several histories lay open on top of the loose sheets, as well. A small, gleaming dagger, with a very clean and smooth blade, sat half-unsheathed nearby; it was no surgery knife - it was too delicately fashioned and lovely - and he wondered what it was for and where it had come from.

Leaving the tumbled havoc of the desk, Druce moved to the little window on the far side of the wall, across from Jason's bed, to wait for his coming. Outside he once again heard Cu's whine.

Jenny: Moonstone Petal

For once Domitia went away without looking whipped and hurt. The Guttersnipe breathed a sigh of relief. She looked for Jason, but did not see him. Frowning a little, she took herself to her own room and shut the door, gazing about at the warmly-lit chamber for a moment before crossing and folding up on the bed. She dropped her gown on the trunk and wormed into her cool sleeping shift, and curled up with her back to the wall, listening to the late insect sounds outside her window; and with the light casting its glow on her side, she reached for one of her books and began to read. She had told Domitia that they had best get some sleep, and she was tired, but the thought of lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the hollow noises, with nothing between her and the unknown of tomorrow, was too much. So she read in the lamplight as one would whistle in the dark.

She was startled by a knock on her door. "Come in," she called, pulling her chequered blankets over her lap.

The door opened, and it was Ambrosius who stepped in, and she was months away again, watching him come in to bid her good night. She scooted up, and he folded himself onto the edge of the bed, both of them quiet at first. She put her head on the rough firmness of his shoulder, and he, arms folded across his knees, put his cheek against her hair. It was good to sit that way, thinking of nothing in particular, finding comfort in the solid presence of Ambrosius.

"What do you read?" he asked presently, noting the book on her knees.

She stirred. "I am reading about Theodosius and Maximus," she replied.

He lifted his head and looked closer. "Theodosius and Maximus? Any particular reason to be reading that? It is barely history, and you are so fond of yesteryear's tales."

"It is nearly yesteryear," she protested gently. "And I am reading because they did something together, the two of them, for Britain. And it makes yesteryear a little closer to today, that story."

"It ended unhappily for both," said Ambrosius in the same gentle tone.

She looked at the book, quizzical, and she hated that her throat seemed so tight of a sudden. "Sometimes I think it will end unhappily for us all," she admitted, her voice sounding flat in her own ears. He said nothing, so she thought he must think the same, but ducked his head down into the firmness of his arm just below his shoulder, very much like Artos in his appearance. At last she found her voice again. "Did you come particularly?"

"I came to talk to you."

She looked round at him. "Did you come tonight because you think you will not be here to talk tomorrow at this time?"

"I come to talk to you tonight," he said, the light jarring a little in one eye as he raised his head, "because if there is one thing I have learned in all my years of soldiering, it is that God's will is certain, and life is not."

And she waited for him to go on, not saying anything because the tightness had come back in her throat. But instead he fell quiet, and presently he reached over and drew the cord out of the front of her sleeping shift and let the pendants fall into his hand, the tiny horse black and tarnished bronze in the light, the ring a fierce copper with its moonstone a petal of pale blue and yellow, colours muting and converging as he turned it in the light.

"You've come into your own," he said after a while of turning the ring over and over between his fingers. And she, watching the turn of it, saw the storm-grey of eyes in the stone. "It was a long time coming, my little filly finding her legs on her mountain runs - a long time coming... Jason has come to me for you."

She nodded wordlessly, knowing she ought to think of something to say, but unable to find the right words when she needed them most desperately. She knew Ambrosius had always seen the thing that had been between her and Jason, and had known that when his little filly came into her own, that he would be giving her over to Jason. She only wished that it was not happening with the threat of thunder over them all.

"You are saying very little."

"I...can't think of anything to say," she admitted with a catch in her throat.

He let out a little horsey breath through his nose. "It is not many of us who can reduce you to that state."

"Sa ha!" she cried, throwing back her head and laughing in a shaky, uncontrollable way.

And he smiled, so that she knew he was certain she was happy for herself. He put his hands on his knees and hoisted himself to his feet, sighing heavily. "Get some sleep, my little man-raised chit," he said warmly, sliding his big rough hand through her loose mane. "And if we are here to see tomorrow - and the tomorrow after that - perhaps Artos and I, and you and Jason, will make something better of Britain than Theodosius and Maximus did between them."

She looked up through the lamplight at him adoringly. "Yes, Ambrosius."

"I love you."

He shut the door behind him, and in his wake he seemed to have left the room a little brighter, a little mellower, and the dark seemed further off than before.

Lys: Goodnight

Aithne nodded. "I suppose so. Goodnight, then."

She made her own way out, back to the cloister and her quiet cell.

It was evening- things were going quiet outside, inside held bustle of nighttime preparations, and she was sitting with Cathair in an unassuming corner, talking and laughing. The wedding was just over a week away, and both of them were giddy with impatience. It would’ve been long before now, but her father demanded that Cathair have a house of his own first, and Brother Parthalán required them to be well-read in the Christian marriage.
Not that she minded either, but it did slow things down. Meanwhile, she sat in her beloved’s lap as they spoke in low tones and stole a kiss or two. Anyone could look over and see them- it wasn’t as if they were hiding.

Cathair interrupted her thoughts with a short tickle. When she protested, she was met with a kiss, then he rubbed noses with her. She laughed. “You were right, Cathair. I like this ever so much better than studying.”

Cathair laughed at that. “I should hope so. I’d hate to think my wiles weren’t working on you…”

Spluttering, she playfully punched him in the arm. “You…! You’re impossible.”

“Ah yes, but you still love me.” He leaned close and kissed her again, and she was happy to let him. But suddenly a call rang out. “Aithne! Time to go, child.”

She pushed off and stood, brushing out her skirts. “That’s my da.” She looked up at him. He’d risen when she did, and he gave her one last hug before pushing her in the direction of the door. “Better go, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She grinned and nodded. “Tomorrow. Sleep well, Cathair.”

“Sleep well, Love.”

And they both went home, each of them content in the fact that the wait would not be long.

But he had not seen her the next day. Nor did she see him. They'd had no way of knowing that there would be raiders in the rath that night, nor that they’d kidnap the bard’s only daughter, almost on the eve of her wedding. And no one expected her to be sold away from the entire Scotti territory, handed over to foreigners for a price.

No, the last she'd seen of him was him fighting desperately to save the house and cattle that were to be theirs, while she was hauled from her father’s house, thrown over a saddle, and carried off into the night.

Jenny: The Deeper Thing

Looking through the dissipating group for her lord Ambrosius, the Guttersnipe shook her head. She thought, quietly, that Domitia was too depressed about not being a real bard. What did that mean? She was given a pat on the shoulder and told, "You have completed your training. Now you are a bard." But what was that, really, in the long run? Being a bard was not long years of training, nor a pat on the shoulder by some learned holy man. That would no more make Domitia a bard than putting a sword in Ambrosius' fist had made him a war-lord. It was the fibre of a person that did that. But glancing at Domitia as she thought it, she knew it was something the girl would have to find for herself. It was a thing between her and the Song-maker, no one else.

"I don't know," she said presently. "Perhaps my Lord Ambrosius knows. He knows things. But good-night, Domitia. Try to sleep. If we make it to tomorrow, we had best not be tired." She smiled, but it was a mirthless smile.

Lys: The Waiting

"Well." said Aithne, after a moment. "That's sobering."

She smoothed her skirt. "Ten years it's been. Ten years since I've done anything like that. I play at being a bard, Guttersnipe, but I am not a true one." She watched the people making their way elsewhere- gentle but sturdy women, and every man looking a warrior. She rubbed her arms, suddenly feeling a chill. "How long, do you think? How long before they arrive?"

Jenny: Presence of Spirit

The Guttersnipe looked up from straightening her doeskin shoe. The song over, Domitia looked no more different than usual, always a little confused and awkward. "Tell him?" she repeated. The misty candlelight must have got into one of their brains. "Tell Ambrosius? But he knows. He has been about and about in the world. He knows an official bard when he sees one."

She could not tell what an official bard meant. She only knew that there was something in Gwenhywfar that Domitia did not yet have, whether some presence of spirit or little more than the gesture of a hand. There was something deep and unmoving in Gwenhywfar, something steadfast to which all her songs and tales, all her knowledge, was anchoured to: a sort of surety which was, she did not doubt, in God and the sovereignty of God, which left her unmoved by all. Domitia did not have this yet - nor, she thought, did she herself - and that was perhaps the world of difference between the one bard and the other.

Lys: Misunderstanding

Cu lapped it up ecstatically, his tail wagging so hard that he had a hard time keeping balance while perched so. When Druce stood to leave, Cu followed him, never taking his eyes off the wonderful man who had shared his food.

Aithne noticed the goings on with some amusment. Little traitor. But she knew he'd be back and let him make some friends of his own. She herself made her way around the table to the Guttersnipe.

"Guttersnipe... um... the Lord Ambrosius called me a bard. But I am not a bard. I didn't finish my training. Should I tell him?"

Jeanne: Salute

Druce looked up in surprise from scraping the last of his blueberry duff into Cu's open mouth. His eyes, narrowing, flicked back and forth across Jason's face, but he could not tell what thoughts were running through the other's mind; he raised a hand in what was almost a salute and said, "Yes, sir." He was not sure whether he meant it mockingly or not. It simply seemed right to say.

Pushing the dog away from him and swiping pawprints of dirt from his trousers, Druce swung away from the board. He said good-night to the Guttersnipe and and nodded to Ambrosius as he passed them - he did not interrupt Artos and Caleb's conversation by hailing them - and left the hall, as ordered, for Jason's chambers.

Jenny: To Ground

As the song concluded and Domitia rose from the cushions, Jason stretched, blinking back the sleepy feeling that had come on the hall as the music had played. Beside him the Guttersnipe was unfolding, and Frip was shaking himself at his feet. Artos' chair scraped on the flags. At the end of the table there was a general soft rustling of bodies as the folk got up and began to file out into the night, bound for their own cots or for the horse-watch. The women were coming back to clear off the table, and the occupants began to withdraw. Gaius left with Lucretia; Master Lucius, his head already back in a book, was making his way toward his chambers. Caleb had caught Artos and was talking to him softly, grimly, and the Guttersnipe was shaking out her skirt to go to bed.

He checked as he rose, seeing Druce still at the table. Without really knowing why, he put out his hand and touched the other's shoulder. "Come up to my room," he said firmly. "I will be there, by and by."

Lys: A Bard, And Yet Not A Bard

She blushed at the unexpected praise, and dipped her head in response. But she wondered if she should correct him. She was not a bard- not yet, not among her people. But perhaps the rules were different in Britannium. She finally decided to ask Caleb or the Guttersnipe later.

She sat a moment longer, stilling the strings and returning the harp to its place. Then she stood, shook out her skirts a little, and returned to her seat. She was a little surprised to see that Caleb had moved to the Guttersnipe's side, but she took her earlier seat without comment on the change. Instead she leaned across the table, eyes shining, and said, "Thank you, Caleb. That was wonderful."

She sat back again, happily. But then she realized that this put her right next to her little shadow, and she gave a small sigh of resignation.

Jenny: A Dread Champion

She sang of war. The lyrics were familiar, the tune spun differently, but familiar to his ears. And the holy war, that was familiar too. She spun it out in images that he knew, of tarnished hills breaking clear into the sunshine above the mists, of the great rivers rolling in the full spate of spring; of horses and the thunder of horses, of fire in the heather and the sky gone black with smoke. She could not know, though she was a bard, that those words were a hymn that throbbed in him beneath the pulsing of his own heart. But the Lord is with me like a dread champion. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name - he is with me like a dread champion. The Lord shall reign for ever and ever.

She concluded in a benediction, as any bard might, at once concerned for and in awe of him, emotions he was accustomed to seeing in faces. But she was, without a doubt, a bard, so that he leaned forward, the silver-worked green-glass goblet cupped loosely between his fingers, and gave her back the customary benediction. "A blessing on the bard and the songs of the bard," he said. "This house is glad for the music."

Lys: The Lord's Song In A Foreign Land

Cu whined pitifully and nosed Druce's plate. He was polite enough to beg, not steal, but it was clear to anyone with eyes that he found the duff fascinating. His big eyes looked back at Druce, and he waited for the verdict.


Aithne looked up from her playing to find almost every eye on her, and she shrank a moment. But a second look showed them to be at least polite, if not approving, and it gave her courage to sing her song. For this was her song; not her words- she had drawn them from the Holy Scriptures- but her song nonetheless. It was her story to share, her tale to tell, her song to sing. And that was something not done lightly. She had not done something like this in ten years.

She took a steadying breath, and began. Once more, the words gained strength as they came, this song coming more easily to her toungue, it being in Latin, which she spoke daily...

My heart is overflowing with a good theme;
I recite my composition concerning the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.
We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.
For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How shall we sing the LORD’s song
In a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget its skill!
If I do not remember you,
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
The LORD is a man of war;
The LORD is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
The depths have covered them;
They sank to the bottom like a stone.
“Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power;
Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
And in the greatness of Your excellence
You have overthrown those who rose against You;
You sent forth Your wrath;
It consumed them like stubble.
And with the blast of Your nostrils
The waters were gathered together;
The floods stood upright like a heap;
The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy said, ‘I will pursue,
I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
My desire shall be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword,
My hand shall destroy them.’
You blew with Your wind,
The sea covered them;
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
“Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.

“The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”

Once more her fingers plucked the strings long after the words were gone. She played them quietly, looking up towards the head of the table. She had a clear view of he who sat there, and despite the imposing brow, she summoned the courage to speak to him. "Hail Ambrosius, Lord of Britain. This day the LORD moved your hand and the hand of my master to free me, that I may sing once more. How true are the scriptures- 'And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee'." She broadened her gaze to take in the whole gathering. "Therefore I bless you in the name of the LORD God. May He keep you in the time of battle to come. May He shield and uphold you. May He overturn your enemies as he overturned the armies of Pharaoh, and may He give you peace forever."

Then she bowed her head over the harp, suddenly uncertain as to whether she had done well to speak so...

Jenny: Acquital

Aithne acquitted herself no less gracefully than she had last night. If she was nervous performing before a larger audience, she did not let it show, and Caleb commended her for that. But under the blanket of her playing he rose, skirted the table - nodding to the soft grunt of hailing from old Hunno as he passed - and slipped in between Druce and the Guttersnipe. With his left hand neighbour occupied with the dirty big dog, he moved on toward the girl, who looked round curiously at his gesture, quizzical.

"Guttersnipe," he whispered, watching Aithne, "what do you know about her? Is she trustworthy?"

A sort of fire sparked in her eyes, and her face grew drawn with a sort of indignation. "Trustworthy?" she whispered back. Jason turned to glance their way. "She's as sour as a sloe-berry before the frost, but she's honest. Why?"

Aithne continued playing prettily, unaware that they were talking about her. All eyes were on her, curious, some veiled with criticism - for Caleb was the only one who played the Harp-song in the Hall, and they were loyal folk - but all were fixed unwaveringly. Only Ambrosius, he thought, must be aware of his conversation with the Guttersnipe, though the man never moved his head.

"Because she is foreign, from Cunorix's land, and she came with you as the word of attack came."

The Guttersnipe was quiet for a moment, her eyes seeming to swallow him up in their largeness as she took in his words. Then she said, very softly and slowly, "But that cannot be, for Wulf bought her from the Wear-side village in the shadow of a Roman villa, and Wulf is not one of them, nor Master Lucius. It is uncanny chance, no more."

So he had to be content with that. The Guttersnipe, for all her faults, knew people as a horse or a dog will know, instinctively, in some wild, deep part of her soul where even she could not see. So he was content, settling on the bench to listen better. He would not tell the boy; best to let him have his fun while he was broken and could do nothing else. Turning his eyes in his head, he caught Ambrosius' gaze for just a moment, and nodded; the man nodded back, and that was all.

Jeanne: Pawprints

The song distracted Druce from his food and he twisted his head over his shoulder to see what the woman was up to now. She had Caleb's harp cradled against her body and was playing her own song on it, one whose lyrics Druce did not understand, and he wondered that the Jew let her near that beautiful work. He was a kind man, Caleb was, but that harp was precious to him; Druce wondered if the woman had any clear idea of the grace she was being shown.

And then he forgot the harp for a time in watching the motions of her hands across the strings and listening to the odd music that was her song. It was different than Caleb's powerful, lilting ones that he seemed to draw out of the air and weave together effortlessly, as a spider does its web, but it was beautiful in a very foreign way. The words were not smooth - and Druce liked the way Caleb's songs were so liquid and water-smooth - but she held them well in her voice and they were not as harsh as they might have been otherwise. Yes, she was a good singer. Perhaps she was better than Caleb, but Druce was too loyal to entertain the thought; Caleb had power and other-worldly beauty in his music that was suited, as no other music could be suited, to Britain and to the company of this warm hall.

The thrusting of a wet muzzle into the crook of his arm startled him, and he turned back to find himself looking into two large, half-covered dog eyes. He leaned back with an instant's disgust for the dirt that caked the creature's fur and the scrabbling muddiness of the paws below the table, but the dog whined a greeting and peered charmingly at Druce. "Ho, you're a newcomer," he commented, putting down his last bite of food and taking Cu's chin in his hand. "Where are you from, you ragged lump of mud?" Again he looked over his shoulder at the woman and narrowed an eye. "Come with her, did you, boy? So - I guessed as much. What is it you want?"

Lys: You Will Find Rest

Now that it had come to it, Aithne found herself a bit nervous. She stood quietly, and made her way somewhat unobtrusively to the hearth, gently pulling the harp into her lap.

She played a few experimental chords, just to get the feel of it again, and began to play her mother's song, though she did not yet sing. She played through a verse or two before finding her voice- a little wobbly at first, but the warmth of the hearth and the feel of the harp soon steadied it as she fell into the song.

"Am Brunnen vor dem Tore,
Da steht ein Lindenbaum.
Ich träumt in seinem Schatten
So manchen süßen Traum.
Ich schnitt in seine Rinde
so manches liebe Wort;
Es zog in Freud und Leide
Zu ihm mich immerfort.

Ich mußt auch heute wandern
Vorbei in tiefer Nacht,
Da hab ich noch im Dunkel
Die Augen zugemacht;
Und seine Zweige rauschten,
Als riefen sie mir zu:
"Komm her zu mir, Geselle,
Hier findst du deine Ruh.

Die kalten Winde bliesen
Mir grad ins Angesicht,
Der Hut flog mir vom Kopfe
Ich wendete mich nicht.
Nun bin ich manche Stunde
Entfernt von jenem Ort,
Und immer hör ich's rauschen:
"Du fändest Ruhe dort.""

"You will find rest here."

The tale of the journeyman longing for the peace of long-lost home trailed and twined about the harpstrings, until finally the tune faded and was quiet. She let it be a moment. "Let the song rest before continuing on, Aithne. Even the most common song has something to say. Never silence it."
A small smile flitted across her face. Yes, Father.


Meanwhile, across the room, Cu had finished his bone and was on the prowl for more. He made a few sniffs around, and detected something particularly unusual and good-smelling. Following his nose, he ducked under the table and came up on the other side, immediately turning and putting his front paws on the bench, coming nose-to-nose with Druce and a spoonful of blackberry duff.

Ever the charmer, he gave the young man a winsome smile, followed by puppy eyes that rivaled that of a dog a third of his size.

Jenny: All That Is Britain

For a moment Caleb lost her words, attached as he was to the mental image she produced. Long into the evening they had heard the Guttersnipe out; Ambrosius had pulled from her every detail she could give - and perhaps more - so that when Aithne mentioned the Gauls the quiet part of him was instantly put aside, and the Companion came out. He dropped his brows in thought. There was relief in her fear, relief for himself. Gauls. She said it in such an old-fashioned, uneducated way, which was yet another relief. There needed to be only one more questioning, and that not to Aithne, before he could go to Ambrosius and say, "I see this and I see this. Does my lord think of it as I do?"

The talk fell, as he thought, into that after-supper murmur. The light seemed to surround them only, with the corners of the room drenched in a soft, sleepy kind of shadow-mantle. Ambrosius had turned from speaking at large and was talking to Artos, as was usual between the two of them, in thoughtful undertones; with glow from the candles woke a tiny bloom of light far down in the Merlin's ring as he sat, one elbow on the table, chin in his palm: a small, almost sentient red point, flickering as the young man moved, waking and sinking, so that - perhaps it was the wine - for a moment it seemed the little point of light were thinking about Ambrosius' words and, like the Guttersnipe, was all fire and emotion waking and sinking with the tides of life.

He turned his flickering gaze to her, finding her listening to Jason, who was speaking with gestures, explaining, he supposed, what he had done for Artos' leg. She sat with her lips pursed, a little wary of what he was telling her, glancing frequently across the table at Artos as though to see the work being done there now. And then the young man jostled her with his elbow, a mocking smile on his face, and she bloomed into laughter quite suddenly, so that Caleb almost wished he had heard the joke.

Kay's and Bedwyr's seats were empty; he did not pause to look at them long, feeling the gap somewhat keenly. They had been Companions too long for it not to smart. He passed on over to Gaius, who sat by Artos with Lucretia, that distant softness about his eyes and lips, as though he were some other place, some quiet, unattached place, even as he listened in on Ambrosius's words. And across from Caleb sat Druce and the other Hounds of Jason's age, rising in the ranks in the wake of the Companions. And then there were the others, Struan and Buic, and Hunno who was as old as the Eryri mountains themselves... The native folk, the hardy, honest, native folk, who were as much kin as anyone could ever be, and all that Britain should be, ranged down the table, as warm and comfortable as his own tunic.

Presently he came back to the person at his side, feeling as one coming through a mellow haze of light. The candlesmoke, yellow with the light, blurred between them. "It is time for the music," he told her. "There, on the cushions by the hearth - you'll find the harp in its case."

Lys: Filthy but Faithful

"He might, at that. But I don't know his parentage. He just showed up one day and saved my life, more or less." Her demeanor stilled a moment. "The day the Gauls arrived. I remember because I hid behind Concordia and Cu as I passed through the courtyard with the Guttersnipe."

She almost ruffled the dog's fur, then thought better of it. She was eating, after all, and the dog was filthy. "He also has an abhominable aversion to baths. I think he stays clean all of ten minutes before he returns in his current state."

Jenny: Dog-Teeth

The young Jew watched Aithne toss a sweetmeat to the shaggy damp dog that had come thrusting up between them. Underneath the ragged fur and broken sprigs of bracken, he saw a fine creature with a clever head and a full chest to house a good heart. It had good legs on it, built for hard hunting and the long march in the hilly northern mountains where the mists would come in off the sea of a sudden and turn the world dark and damp. And in a kindly sort of way, he remarked, "It is a good dog - he has the marks of fine breeding underneath that coat. Struan's bitch just had a litter by Jason's Frip two months past - I was not here at the time - and promised a pup to Artos." Nodding at the dog between them, he added, "He might sire some good pups, I'm thinking. If there is one thing we breed out well," he said with a little smile, showing his own canines, "it is dogs, here in Britain."

Lys: Unauthorized Long Patrol

Aithne dipped her head in thanks. Leaning forward, she looked around Caleb at the young boy sitting next to her, and could not supress her smile. His sheer brazenness... getting one such as Caleb to act as nursemaid...

She was about to volunteer to take over when something very wet and snuffly nosed in between them. Drawing her hand away quickly, she looked down and found a very damp and dirty Cu standing there, begging for food.

"Cu! Where have you been?" In answer, he sat his rump down and wagged his tail happily. "Hmm... Judging by your appearance I'd say you've been out in the rain all day." She took some of her meat and tossed it to him, and he caught it quite happily. "Were you out in the rain? You went out and did some long patrol of your own, didn't you?" She said, smiling down at him. "And did you find any Gauls? Hmm?" She tossed him another scrap, and a bone, which he set to work chewing and worrying.

She turned back to her food. "That dog. Half the time I have no idea what he's doing."

Jenny: The Old Ways

"I don't see why not," replied Caleb. Beside him, the boy bobbed as he chewed at his mutton. His only misgivings toward her playing was the threat, however slim, of harp-magic. He had seen the North Isles women spell men under their notes, and freeze them there like so many frightened deer; he could remember, faintly and with a little chill, that cool smile of dominion on the harper's face just before she let off the enchantment. But looking round at Ambrosius, and Artos at his right hand, he could not imagine even Aithne being clever enough to spell them. They could scent such things a mile off. All would be safe, and he did not seriously think Aithne could do such a thing.

Lys: Songs Old and New

Preoccupied. Well, that was understandable, what with all the bustle and preparations against invasion. She accepted his explanation, though it didn't explain everything.

Then he mentioned the harp. Something in the way he brought it up made her think it was something of an olive branch. She smiled. "Oh yes. I- I was composing something of a song this morning. I wish I had time to play it out for myself first... but I really must play it tonight. It is not a song for another time." She took a bite of stew, then asked a moment later, somewhat hesitantly, "Might I play two songs?"
There was a certain song of her Mother's that she thought was apt as well, and it hadn't been heard in a long time...

Jenny: Foreground Images

It was not, he considered, the sort of question a woman with twisted motives usually asked, unless she were very good; and he had been about and about, and had seen the very good ones. Glancing her way again, Caleb managed to straighten a little and reply in a warm sort of way, "No. No, you haven't offended me. I'm just a little preoccupied with other things."

She was feeling the rub. Word spread like wildfire in their runs, and he knew she was feeling the wariness of the others - and, too, probably a bit of homesickness and strangerhood among a community so tightly-knit as his own. So he said, slipping sideways a little, "You were going to play the harp after supper..."

Lys: No Safe Harbor

Aithne took a little food on her plate and picked at it. She'd had hopes for this evening, and they were looking to be dashed. She almost wished she was back behind Master Lucius's chair. There she didn't feel as much of a need to fit in. She had a job, and she knew how to do it, and that was her place in the community, wherever she went.

Now she found herself cut adrift in a world she didn't understand- she was trying her best to find safe harbor, and all shores were closed to her.

She looked over at the Guttersnipe. It was really no use trying to talk to her, up the table as she was, nestled between her two favorites. So she kept herself to herself and tried not to make any more enemies.

But a few moments later, she looked over at Caleb. He seemed to be actively ignoring her- doing his best to make sure she didn't catch his eye. It wasn't right. She'd been nothing but nice around him. They had not argued in the slightest. Yesterday he was all warmth. Something was wrong.

"Caleb," she asked quietly. She saw his reaction in his shoulders. He had heard her. "Caleb, did I offend you in some way?"

Jeanne: Spy's Spy

Druce made a wry face on Aithne's behalf: Caleb's response had obviously not been what she wanted. Well, he thought as he turned back to the conversation on his other side, if she is not a spy, we will know it soon enough and welcome her then. She must learn how life goes on here, though, or she will never get anywhere.

The next time he cast the two a glance he spotted the girl's personal spy, squished between Caleb and his other companion, stuffing his mouth - or, in fact, having it stuffed for him. He did not seem very interested in his guard at the moment, but Druce saw him lean around the Jew once to peer at the woman; then he slumped happily into his place again and opened his mouth, bird-like, to have it filled. Druce grinned at him and, to satisfy the lad's craving for mystery, gave him a conspiratorial wink over the edge of his goblet.

Jenny: Redshank

The boy broke out of the tumble of hounds and pups at the foot of the table, scrabbling over with arms and legs in the air, found his footing, and ran to find Aithne. He berated himself for having lost her. But Frip had got in a tussle over a bone with Io, a fight which had threatened to squash some of the pups. Now he trotted along, anxiously looking at the faces of those gathered, relieved when he finally found Aithne among them.

He crowded in, squeezing onto the bench, finding the Companion Caleb as his right-hand neighbour. He had never sat so close to the young man before: it was a little awful. And Caleb, in a rougher way than he had addressed the boy earlier, moved aside and said, "Hullo! What are you doing, barging in here? You are where my elbow needs to be, boy."

But the boy said passively, "I have my reasons. And I can't eat with my arms broken."

Caleb said, "I'm not feeding you like a child."

"Then I'll starve."

"You have a mother."

"I have a job."

The young man looked back with a face uncannily immobile, as though it had been caught as a painting on a page. Then his shoulders unfolded and he jabbed a piece of mutton with his knife, putting it in the boy's mouth. A little more gently, he asked, "What made you break both your arms, luckless redshank?"

Around the piece of mutton, the boy replied, "Well, I broke the one because I got too near old Goblin's hindquarters. I broke it again falling out of an apple tree, and Master Jason told me to break the other next time I went to break a thing, so of course I had to."

"Of course," Caleb nodded understandingly.

The boy swung his legs in the air above the floor, working at his mutton, happily content. The company suited him. The talk drummed in the air, comfortingly deep in pitch, with the Guttersnipe's pealing laughter from time to time, and with the warm food in his belly, life seemed very pleasant. He did not think Aithne a very bad threat - if she was a spy, she was a very poor one for not quietly poisoning them all by now - so that his task suited him well too in an easy, idle sort of way. She was prickly, but he was used to prickly - women were always a bit prickly. And she could be nice when she wanted to be, and he thought perhaps he would marry her when he was man-grown, and had a horse, and maybe a dog. And he thought perhaps she might like a warrior, and, looking around at the Companions and the Hounds, he could not find himself objecting to being one, so he said to his neighbours, kicking his legs at little, "I think it is very pleasant here."

Lys: Among Enemies

Aithne let out an involuntary squeak as Caleb jumped. Didn't he see her sit down? And even if he didn't, what was so startling about hearing a voice next to you while sitting at a crowded table?

Having jostled the person on her other side, she murmured something like an apology and turned back in time for his response.

She was taken aback at the coolness in his tone. What did I do? Her ally- lone among the menfolk that actually seemed to enjoy talking to her, and he was acting as though... Acting like Jason. And Druce. She didn't understand. She'd been cheerful, open, smiling... and it earned her more cool words and strange looks.

She lowered her eyes, and was met with the sight of white knuckles gripping the dagger. Her eyes flew back to his. "I... I'm glad of that." she said with a sort of smile, somewhat flustered. Then she turned her attention back to her plate and tried to puzzle out just what was happening.

Jeanne: Knifeblade

The thud - dull, and yet so different from the normal clatter of plates and goblets - of the knifepoint diving into the scarred wood caught Druce's attention and he glanced down the board in surprise. He saw Caleb wresting the blade from the table, startled irritation on the Jew's usually-peaceful face, and he scanned the faces surrounding the man idly. He had half guessed it was the woman again, and he found himself correct; she sat beside Caleb, an eager smile on her face as she waited for the answer to whatever question she had asked. Druce quirked a smile and looked for the boy that shadowed her, but though the Welshman guessed he was not far off, he could be spotted amid the press of bodies.

"No matter," he murmured, words barely audible even to himself. "I cannot think what she could do in a crowd like this."

He looked again at the knife Caleb continued to grip in his strong hand; the light flickered off it for a moment, yellow-orange and bright, and Druce was satisfied that the woman could do no harm if spy she was.

Jenny: Reflexive

Caleb cursed himself for starting. His arm jolted, jerking his knife-point into the battered table. It was better, he reflected as he pulled it back out, than putting in her. What did she mean, coming up on him so? And her question irked him. Did she mean the Guttersnipe? Or did she mean herself? And why would she be underfoot, and why would he resent the Guttersnipe? Confused, reserved, it took him a moment to find his countenance.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "The day went as well as could be expected. If tomorrow stays cool and overcast, the rain may have put us at an advantage."

He looked at her face sidewise, watching for her reaction.

Lys: Among Friends

"I wasn't sure where to- Elijah? Who is Elijah?" She allowed herself to be led by the Guttersnipe, who plopped her down near her own seat, one removed from sitting across from Jason.

This was a rather bleak prospect. She looked around her and down the table. She picked out Druce fairly nearby, also across the table, but could see neither Lucius nor Caleb. She assumed they were sitting on the same side as she.

She finally risked looking at her neighbors- something that had to be done boldly, not surreptitiously, and was pleasantly surprised to find Caleb on her left.

"Hello!" She said, then stalled a moment, wondering what to say. "I've been wishing for you all day, you have no idea how horrible it was for awhile"? No, silly.

"Have a good day?" she smiled a little. "No more girls stepping into danger underfoot?"

Jenny: Elijah

There was a brief lull in the noise as the meal was blessed, and then there was a cheery banging and clatter of knives and dishes, and the sound of all their voices. Except for Lucretia, the Guttersnipe was the only girl at the table. Then she thought there was something wrong with that and, looking round, saw Domitia looking daft and shy in a corner. With a little sigh she began gesturing to get the girl's attention, wondering why on earth she was standing about when there was an empty place at the table.

Failing to catch Domitia's eye, she turned to Jason and murmured, "I'll be but a moment," and she got up from the bench, trotting down the table to confront the girl. "What are you doing?" she purred, taking the other just above the elbow. "We don't keep the space on the bench open for Elijah, you know. Don't be ridiculous. Come on."

Lys: Lost, As Usual

Aithne stood in the corner, watching it all. The last time she'd sat down to a meal here it ended in near disaster. She didn't wish to repeat it, but as she was no longer a slave, her place was somewhere at the table. Where was the question. The Guttersnipe seemed happily ensconced in between Lord Ambrosius and Jason. She thought to look for Caleb, but couldn't find him in the bustle.

So she stood by and waited for things to calm a bit. Perhaps it would be clearer once everyone else had sat down.

Jeanne: Hounds

Druce shouldered his way into the hall with the rest of the pack, but newly returned from his patrol with Lucius and still a little damp with the past rain. He had only had time for a cursory wash; he could feel the dirt still underneath his tunic, but he was content in that it could not be seen.

He sighed, easing himself into his place at the board, not too far from Jason. A glance around the company showed the woman quite near him and he felt irritated; then he remembered Jason's words, spoken in jest though they had been. He had no desire to cause anyone else to imagine seriously that he had an interest in her other than the honest curiosity and distrust he truly felt, so he neither looked at her nor pulled away, which was more his desire. Instead he reached for a cut of bread and looked down the table to Lord Ambrosius' own cluster - Artos, Jason, and the Guttersnipe.

Jenny: Horseshoe Place

The Guttersnipe took in the bustle of the hall abstractly at first. She was aware of Domitia, brushed and rosy from a scrub, flickering up and down the room as though unable to resist looking for something to do. The unmarried girls were still busy coming and going from the kitchen. The great furry bodies of the dogs sprawled along the central hearth, and the blaze felt like a living warmth on her skin after the remoteness of Artos' quiet chamber.

Things became a little more solid to her as the others joined them, Ambrosius leading them, the grime of work washed off, leaving their rough faces and arms a clean nut-brown. She felt a little glow inside herself, which was better than washing, as the room echoed back their voices, deep and familiar. She had no real idea of what they said, standing as they were in a knot about the head of the table. She was aware of Master Lucius joining them, and being swept into their company - which made her happy - and of Jason turning to see Artos swinging toward them, and how he stood with his hands on his hips, a smile taking his face - and that also made her happy.

After taking them in from a distance, she drifted their way, moving up between Artos' odd, twisted figure and Jason, fitting snugly into their circle. Catching sight of her, Ambrosius said, "There you are. I thought my shadow seemed a little thin today. What have you been busying yourself with?"

She unexpectedly blushed, happy, and Artos saved her the trouble of answering by saying, "She has been seeing to the armour all afternoon. She has greased them through and through so that if one were to grab you in it, you would shoot out of his hands like a fish."

Ambrosius laughed that warm, distant laugh of his, and he took in Jason. "You took the first long patrol this morning. Please report."

And Jason did so, right then and there, suddenly a little straighter than before. "We took the runs up toward Snowdon to get a look from the uplands. All was quiet in the Red Glen and the Three Peaks. The Guttersnipe and I went no farther than half a morning's ride, round by the Judas Tree and up the river to the Rock. We came back by the wood between the northerly two of the Three Peaks and saw no more than a few rabbits and some deer.

"The storm had been gathering since the midmorning, which obscured the view to the east. The glens beyond the Three Peaks were clear until midday, and nothing showed from them. By the time we came back north of the apple orchard and the pasture, the mizzle had set in, and we could not see for a mile and a half."

Ambrosius and Artos were both quiet, thinking; then the former nodded. "Thank you, Jason," he said. Then, gesturing, "I believe it is time to sit down."

So they turned about, breaking up to find their seats. Jason took her hand and helped her in, and she sat swinging her legs a little over the floor, looking round at all their faces as they jostled into their seats and waited for Ambrosius, happy in her horseshoe place.

Lys: A Job Well Done

In the hall, Aithne was putting the last touches on some things. She'd done a little investigative work, speaking to Lucretia and the other kitchen girls, and had discovered foods the three men favored. Well, two men. It seemed Lucius was happy with anything set before him.

It was good, hearty fare- beef stew, loaves of fresh bread with new-churned butter, poultry, fish, apples... and she had even managed a moist, heavy blackberry duff. She hoped there would be enough for everyone. Just in case, Lucretia had baked a few apple pies as well. The table was practically groaning with food by the time they had done.

She stepped back and surveyed the work, wiping her hands on her apron. Giving a satisfied nod, she went back and stuck her head in the kitchen doorway, letting Lucretia know she was going to tidy up before supper. She'd already been shooed out, so she did not feel guilty leaving while the others still worked.

A bath would do wonders... But she had no time for such things. She made her way back to her room in the cloister, where she washed up as best she could, changed her tunic- she was relieved to see that someone had washed the one she'd worn yesterday- combed her hair, and made something respectable of herself.

With a little bustle of arranging this and that, she left her room and returned to the villa in time to hear the supper bell.

Jenny: Eryri Mountains

When all the armour had been organized, tidy in their battered piles of brass rivets and boiled leather plates - each familiar, each like a friendly face looking back at her, a bit worn and pocked like the faces of the upland herdsmen - the Guttersnipe took down Nutmeg's bridle and began to oil it. She was not sure why she did so; she had some vague, confused notion that had much to do with Artos handing her his helmet that she ought to. There were pieces of last week's grass caught in the buckles, and she sat patiently pulling them out onto the stone flags between her feet, her fingers and the leather shining with the grease that she rubbed over it. It had that welcome smell about it of horse-sweat, dirt, and worn leather which, mingled with the late evening feel of the room and the mellow glow of the lamps, made her sleepy, and made the world a sort of bright, soft bubble in her mind.

She was aware, a moment before he spoke, of the constant scratch of the pen against the vellum. "You have been quiet."

"And so have you," she observed without raising her head. The quiet fell between them again.

"What have you been thinking on?"

"Things," she said, vaguely. "And yourself?"

"The same," he replied.

Things. The afternoon had produced many thoughts. The overcast day had brought on a sort of solemnity in her mind, and after the burst of happy sunshine of the morning, she had found herself looking at the valley as though from a distance, looking at the whole of their runs and grounds, their upland breeding pastures, as a hawk - or a merlin - must look at things on the wing. They had all taken on a new aspect, a sort of patient steadiness, an unchangeableness. Like our Eryri mountains, she had thought: beautiful and unmoving. And she thought that perhaps that was how her Lord Ambrosius and Artos saw it most often, that sort of high and lofty viewing of a whole, seeing it as a living thing laid out before them, so that for a moment she caught how they must feel now, looking at that living thing laid out before them, beautiful and endangered as it was. It was a raging kind of feeling, pulsing deep down in her being the way firelight would catch in the gem of Artos' signet-ring when he turned it: small and waking, small and fierce, but quiet, serious - that was how she felt when she turned the thoughts over in her mind and looked at them.

There had been other thoughts, too, which had come out of the winking fire of her quiet rage. The view of her Eryri mountains had distilled into faces, chiefly Jason's, caught in the sunlight and laughing - laughing at her. And she had known, thinking about it, that she had always loved him, though it had taken her some time to sort out from her upbringing among Artos and his fellow Hounds that it was a gentler, stronger sort of love. But the discovery, long as it was in growing, swift as it was in blooming, was pleasant, and made that winking fire inside her chest burn a little brighter.

And then there had been the little amber-studded bridle in her hands, which somehow seemed to be a larger thing than Jason and the whole lofty sight of her Eryri mountains together. It was the amber, the amber in Gwenhywfar's ears, around her throat, burning with an oddly otherworldly intensity. It was the thing that she stood for, in all her amber splendour, the thing that she stood in the gap to protect - that her Lord Ambrosius stood in the gap to protect, and Artos with him. An ideal, a hope - perhaps little more than a dream. But it was beautiful, and surely what was beautiful was worth fighting for. Eryri was home, and one fought for home, and Britain was their world, and though she was sure they all knew that one could not stop the turning of a world, yet sometimes the world turned a way that was wrong, and men like Ambrosius and Artos, the Companions, and women like Gwenhywfar, lodged their shoulders in the gap and did all they could to right the reeling of the world.

Artos' chair creaked ominously under his frame. "There is the supper bell," he said, as the jangling peals broke up her thoughts again. She put aside Nutmeg's bridle as Artos put his hand flat on the desk and hoisted himself up. She was told muscle weighed more than fat, and if that was so, she thought he must be quite heavy. He was all hardness, and the thick leg that he eased around must be like a log he had to drag after himself. Sunshot images came to her of his kingfisher movements training her - training himself - and how easily he moved, and yet with such power. Even now he managed it with grace, and if someone had urged her to help him, she would have blushed with embarrassment for his sake.

As the smells of supper wafted to them from the atrium, it felt good to be home.

Lys: Two Matches

Aithne smiled a little at Lucius's response. He seemed at least somewhat favorably disposed towards her, which was something.
And he had given her leave to prepare food against their return. As he turned to mount, her smile widened just a bit. It was said the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, and she knew very well how to fill a stomach. She might even be able to win over Jason, if he bothered to try it.

As they rode off, she nodded a returned farewell, and watched them go for a bit.

She heard Lucius say something in audible, then Druce's voice carried quite clearly to her, his head turned as it was. "Jason and I are arranging a match for you."

Her face burned bright red with embarassment. She turned and fled for the kitchens. Arranging a match? How could they? The had no authority. And there could not be two people more unequal. Besides, she was already promised to Cathair. Whatever good that may do. You don't know if he's even alive anymore.

She went to wash her hands, and saw her reflection in the water. Oh heavens, I look a mess. Gone was the tidy girl of this morning. Her hair hung in damp curls and she was sticky with flour paste. She'd dusted off as much as she could before going outside, but it still managed to cake up on her arms and tunic. She sighed, allowing herself to simply stand still for a moment. Then she shook herself out of it and washed up as best she could.

Now that the initial shock had worn off, she chuckled at the idea of being married off to Lucius. Lucius, who was so very different from Cathair- almost opposite from him...

“Come on, Aithne. Just one sentence- it’s not hard. ‘Yes, Cathair, I’ll marry you’.”

With a sigh, she shook her head. “No, Cathair, I know you. You’re just trying to get me to break my word, to quit my training.”

Cathair stared at her. “After eight years, you’re still holding that grudge?”

She set down the towel in her hand. “No. I don’t keep grudges. But I don’t break my word, either. I said I would become a bard and I will, if it is in my power.” She went back to folding the towels, but he caught her hand, taking the towel away and covering her hand with his own. “You and I both know you don’t want it that much. It’s pure stubbornness, Aithne, plain and simple.”

“And so what if it is?” she asked, her chin jerking up. “Determination accomplishes much. And I have much yet to accomplish, with Brother Parthalán’s training added to my father’s.” She looked sidelong towards the house that was now a chapel. “I think he fancies me becoming a nun. But a bard I will be, and neither he, nor you, nor the High King himself can change that.”

He looked at her pointedly. “Determination and stubbornness are not the same thing, Aithne.“
Her chin came up again. “I don’t care what you say, I-“, before she could continue, he cut her off. “Crom’s toes, Aithne, for once will you just let it go?” Before she could respond, before she knew what happened, he pulled her close and kissed her. It was rough- he was making his point, not sweetly wooing. She resisted, but he didn’t back down this time. Against her will, she felt her stubbornness melt away, found it hard to think…
I’m going to faint. But just before it happened, he broke off. She was grateful for the arm still around her waist- her legs were water. The fight had completely drained out of her, and it took a moment before she managed to gain her feet and pull away. She looked up at him. He was wearing that maddening grin again.

“I- I’m still going… to be a bard.” She said, but it came out sounding half-hearted.

He just smiled, “No you aren’t,” turned, and sauntered away.

Aithne's smile turned wry. Impossible man. Ohhh, how he had vexed her. But at the same time, they somehow remained friends through the years, just as quick to laugh as they were quick to argue.

She turned from the bowl, having tidied herself as best she could, and set to work on the bread again.

Jeanne: Odd Creatures

Poor Lucius. He was not sure what had passed between Jason and Druce, but he caught the sly mischief in the latter's tone as he spoke to the woman. He found himself in an unenviable position. He could see that there was something stiff in both men's attitude toward the newcomer - something just slightly begrudging - and he did not want to fall in with someone who had earned herself disapproval; yet the woman's eyes were hurt and seemed, more importantly, earnest enough in question. Lucius glanced hurriedly at Druce, took a step backward to begin mounting, and found the words to say, "I want nothing now, thank you, but patrol on such a dreary day does leave a man hungry."

With that hint Lucius turned, face burning without any good cause, and swung onto his mare's back. Druce nodded politely to the woman and turned his mount's head away; Lucius did the same and put his horse into the same gait as his companion's to come up beside him. "You're laughing at me," he commented, glancing back discretely at the bedraggled woman.

Druce shrugged almost imperceptibly. "Jason and I are arranging a match for you."

The other made a face, hunkering down into his cloak to keep the last remaining splatters of rain off his face. Squinting at the line of clouds on the horizon, he grunted, "Arrange one more to my liking next time. I only meant to be polite to her."

"I know; we meant nothing by it. It would needs be a strong-willed man indeed to keep her in check, I think." He realized after he spoke that Lucius could take it as an insult, and he grinned to soften any perceived blow. "She's an odd creature, that woman."

"So is the Guttersnipe."

"So are all women, at that. Here, watch your hooves: you'll write into that mud pool." He drew his own horse around the thick mess of brown and leaned forward thoughtfully over her neck, beginning to whistle snatches of one of Caleb's tunes through his teeth.

Lys: Dismissed, Again.

Aithne watched, a little stunned, as she was dually dismissed. She had chosen the wrong path. Again. Christos, will I ever find my way here?

Her shoulders slumped a little. But there was still Lucius. Lucius, who shared her master's name. Former master. She'd yet to do anything to offend him. Perhaps she could manage to gain at least one more ally- how she wished for time with Caleb!

She waited for his response.

Jenny: A Little Bronze Inkpot

Perhaps it was that feeling of coming to the end of a thing which took his thoughts away to the beginning of it all. He could not tell himself what was ending, or if it was just moonshine fancy; the beginning was a muddle, little more than a blur of moonshine itself. But there was one night, nearly over thirteen years ago, that stood clear in Artos' memory, and he found himself then so vividly that for a moment he did not remember it was only a memory.

It had been a hard day, a long march into Venta, with the sleet squall driving at them all the while, dropping away only at the end of it into a cold, hard evening with the lights in the western sky early doused and the torches guttering wildly. It had been the night, he reflected, that the Guttersnipe had come into their company. But before that he had found himself saddle-stiff, folding up on his couch, staring into the heart of a newly-lit brazier in his uncle's quarters. The draughts had snaked along the tent floor and whistled in the cracks of the fabric, making a dismal sound. He had sat there, cold and stiff, waiting for a glass of wine to warm his insides with, going far away within himself meanwhile. And it must have been the bleakness of the march which had prompted him to such thoughts, for he rarely thought about it ever. He found himself thinking about that muddled blur of moonshine which was his earliest memory, and his uncle's face. But the one face he wanted to see continued to elude him, and perhaps that was why he said suddenly, a little more harshly than he meant to, "Did she regret it?"

He had been aware of his uncle checking in the act of unpacking a little bronze inkpot, but he did not lift his own gaze from the brilliancy of the fire. A stillness took the room; he was aware of his uncle's eyes on him, and of the tinsly sound of the little logs in the brazier, and of the moan of the wind without.

"Perhaps," his uncle said finally. "But not you, I think."

He had looked up sharply then, for though it had surprised him, it had been what he had wanted to hear. His uncle had been looking at the fire, a small, wry smile at the corner of his mouth. Artos had been aware without really looking that he was still holding the inkpot, and that it was a little dragon - and that he held it somewhat tenderly.

"I do not remember," Artos had said, as though it had mattered.

And his uncle had asked gently, "Do you mind much, the not remembering?"

He had shrugged. It was not a thing that he wanted; he knew no lack to life. But he thought it was a thing he would like to be able to remember, to remember something other than the muddled blur of moonshine. But she had regretted it, that woman with the face he could not remember, and she had made things right as best she could. And then he had wondered, as his uncle had left him to his thoughts, if ever word got to her of him, and of all he did, and if in some secret place where none but God would ever hear, she told herself, "That is my son."

The Guttersnipe's gentle voice broke through his thoughts. "Is it a good sort of love you're in?"

He came back to himself, finding himself staring at the little bronze inkpot that stood upon his desk, and he saw that it was a dragon. "I...have never been sure," he said, and he took up his pen.

Jeanne: Matchmaker

So, Druce thought with an ironic twitch of the mouth, watching Jason's departing form, you leave us to take care of her on our own. How kind...

Aloud he only said, "I want nothing, thank you." And (he could not help it) - "Lucius here might, though." He turned away to check his mare's harness once more, leaving the other man to fumble his way out of the predicament for a few minutes before mounting. Then he interrupted curtly, "We're off for patrol now. Good day."

Jenny: Good Lad

The girl said nothing for a few minutes, but stood regarding the three young man standing by their horses in the court before the Long Barn. She had that pale look on her face again, the boy noticed; it was clear that they were talking about her, the only new thing worth talking about - if she was worth talking about - and he could see it genuinely confounded her, which made him think.

She recovered a moment later, gave herself an unconscious shake, and started down the steps for the level, heading, to his surprise, for the three young men. He kept his eyes on her hands as he jogged down after her, but he doubted both from the look of embarrassment on her face and from the business of the yard that she would try anything dire.

Women stab you in the back, anyway, he thought. Only a man could look in your face while he killed you.

So he was pleasantly surprised, if a little wary, when she stopped shyly by the young men who were half a decade her juniors, shy as though she were a little girl, and asked if she could fetch them anything. The look on the surgeon's face could not be missed. He looked at her, eyebrows flyaway, and glanced across at his friend Druce, all surprise. But he found himself in time to push off from the mare, slinging the reins up over her head, to say, "I think we're well enough off, thank you." Then Master Jason looked past Aithne at him, frowned a moment, but said nothing. He gave a little general nod, flicked his hand at Master Druce, and broke off from the group, making his way toward the villa.

In passing, he laid a hand on the boy's shoulder companionably, and murmured, "Take care of those arms, lad."

"I will, sir," he assured the surgeon. And as Master Jason walked away, the lingering pressure of the young man's hand on his shoulder warmed him through and through.

Lys: A New Approach

They saw her looking back, and seemed content to ignore the fact, pointing and speaking just below her hearing. For a moment she felt like she was back on the auction block. Humiliating.

Mark the Guttersnipe.

Jason's words came back out of nowhere. Alright then, what would the Guttersnipe do in such a situation?

She had no clue.

Her instinct was to flee. Since she and the Guttersnipe appeared to be polar opposites, one could theorize that the Guttersnipe would therefore approach them.
Approach a group in which two out of three dislike her?

If nothing else, it was bold. She wasn't sure she was prepared for more rejection, though, and she was fairly certain that's all it would win her.

But perhaps, just perhaps, it might win a grain of approval from the Guttersnipe's Jason...

So with a steadying breath, she came forward. "Hello again." She made herself look up from the ground. "I-" Perfect. She'd walked over with no idea of what to say. "I am on my way back to the kitchens, and I thought- would any of you like something to refresh yourselves?"

The offer was genuine enough. She held no rancor for them, only fear.

Jenny: Noticing

Lucius murmured a gracious, "Oh, that's all right, if you don't mind..." and Jason snorted at Druce. Crossing his arms, leaning against his friend's mare as the other finished, he said, "That will be the girl. It's almost hard, thinking of the Merlin settling down, making a nest. I can settle down, I can make a nest, but Artos - she'll have to be a goddess to pull him in."

Just then he noticed that the girl on the steps was looking their way and had sniffed the gist of their glances. Gesturing surreptitiously, he said, "Look, you would suppose she had never seen a man before in her life. Judging from how she deals with the Guttersnipe, you would think she had never met a girl before, either. Where did she come from? Under a rock?"

Lucius put in helpfully, "Well, the Guttersnipe is different..."

"Sometimes she is so flighty, I think she has a bad conscience," Jason added, shoving his thumbs into his belt. "As much as I hate to say it." Then, a little more gently, he added, "Perhaps she was badly used."

Lys: Memories

"If that is so, how do you expect me to keep my eyes open and see?" She quirked a brow at him. "I'll say then that I'm not used to having any so obvious about it."

Except for one... How a nine year old boy could bring back so many memories of Cathair, she did not know. But he did. She smiled a ghost of a smile. They'd been a pair, that was certain. Both of us stubborn as mules. But in the end, she'd given in.

Voices from across the way interrupted her thoughts. Her hearing sharper than most, she picked out a few words, though not the whole conversation.

The hair on the back of her neck prickled.

She whirled around, certain she'd find someone close behind her, and instead saw the three men all looking her direction, and the one she'd fought with was laughing.

The blood drained from her face. She wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed, angry, or scared- right now it was a little bit of all three. She had no idea how to read the situation- no idea what was going on.

Jeanne: And Women

Catching the jest in the other's tone, Druce bared his teeth in a dog-like grin. "You've turned matchmaker now!" he observed. "But you should try your luck catching a bride for someone else - Lucius here, maybe. I will wait for a Welsh girl to be my bride, with good native blood in her veins. As for Artos, coupling his name with just any girl's is ludicrous; he will have a goddess or a queen, or as near as he can get to that: you mark my words. Only the best could be worthy of him."

And then, his eyes sparking into mischief again, Druce added, "But you needn't tell him I said any such thing."

Jenny: Men

Jason admitted that he could not see why Druce was interested, but he had to tell himself that he had a narrow mind when it came to girls. Stepping back to let Lucius in, nodding a hello, he asked with a good-natured quirk, "I don't see why. Isn't she a bit old for you? I'd guess her to be Artos' age. And he wouldn't look twice her way." He glanced over his shoulder in time to see the girl in discussion come out with the boy on the front step of the villa.

Jeanne: Intruder and Spy

Druce had expected the question, knowing he could not ask so many things himself without making Jason wonder. "She came out of nowhere," he said with a shrug; "or so it seemed. I know just about everyone around this place, and you cannot deny me the right to be a little wary when a newcomer appears - and makes her presence known like that. It seems strange that she is accepted so readily in times like these. Besides," he added, splaying a hand against his mare's cheek, "that boy was more curious than I and had already dreamed up dark things about her. I suppose he piqued my interest."

The rain had stopped and there was a bit of sun glaring behind the clouds, hurting Druce's eyes with its grey brightness. He squinted against it, raising a hand to shield his face and watch Lucius' approach.

Jenny: Flower Garden

She went away inside herself for a moment, and the boy watched her out of the corner of one eye, suspicious, seeing thoughts play idly across her vacant face. Her countenance darkened: was it anger, or regret? Perhaps it was determination. And when she came back, there was a soft darkness about her words which made him think it was a little of all three, and chiefly that she was trying to brush off something she would rather not remember. He had seen that, once, in Master Gaius' face when something had fallen on a patch of cobbles in the cloister yard, a patch overgrown with moss and never tread upon. He had stood there with a sort of pale look about his features, then - he had not known he had been watched - he had snatched up the object and shook one shoulder, as if to shake off a thing in his memory.

"You think that," he said musingly. They had stepped out into the grey, windless aftermath of the rain. By now the thatch was nearly all torn off the Long Barn, and Gaius had sent two boys to haul the sheaves away. He saw Lord Ambrosius standing splay-legged on the roof-beam; his voice came indistinctly but loudly across the distance as he spoke. She thought he was just a boy. Every glance from her told him that. And he did not mind much, because it made his job that much easier; but another part of him, the part that was not just a boy, knew a thing or two, and he sought for an explanation for her.

"You think that... And maybe you're right. And maybe you're wrong. What do you know about fellows, as to that?" And before she could answer, he went on: "It's not so much the sort of noticing as the sort of seeing. You can look at a garden, and you'll notice that there are flowers. Any fellow with his eyes open in his head will notice the flowers. But there will be one flower that he will see. It will stand out to him, and no one will know the difference between the noticing and the seeing but himself."

Lys: Noticed

Unnoticed? Had he been watching today?

Oh no, never unnoticed. Even as far back as six years old...

“You take that back, Cathair DeCainneach!” Aithne was angry.

“Why should I? It’s the truth. I’ll say it as much as I please- my father’s a warrior, and yours is just a bard.”

Aithne’s eyes flashed lightning. “Just a bard? JUST a bard? Do you know nothing, Caithair? Without a bard, you’d be nothing but a silly boy with a sharp piece of metal.” Arms folded, she eyed the boy that was two years older, and stood a head taller than her, and challenged him. “Which is what you appear to be right now.”

Cathair looked down at her, his own face growing red with anger. “Take it back.” He growled.

She shook her head. “No. Not until you take back what you said about my Da.”

He stepped closer, looming over her, threatening with stance alone. Part of her wanted to shirk from it, but another part of her- the stubborn side, kept her back straight and her chin lifted. It would either come to blows or one would back down.

She was not going to back down.

So she returned glare for glare, until finally he broke off, stepping back. “Oh fine then. Your da’s more than a cowardly harp player who can’t lift a sword.”

At that her blood boiled. Every bit of his tone was laced with sarcasm. With a banshee’s cry, she flew at him, having no idea beyond inflicting harm on the boy who had so little respect for her father. Suddenly she felt herself yanked back by her tunic, and saw Cathair receiving the same treatment.

From this position, it had all came out quickly enough. Cathair was punished for disrespect, she for fighting, and they were told to go separate ways. But as she was herded off, she had looked back over her shoulder and called, “You just wait, Cathair! I’ll be a bard, too! Then you’ll see! Beware my satire on that day!”

That was when she’d first started studying in earnest. From that day on, she had thrown herself into bardic studies.

"Oh no, not unnoticed. You saw that today. There's more than one kind of noticing, scamp."

Jenny: Odd Pairs

"I assume she is to stay," replied Jason, wondering fleetingly why Druce cared. "I don't know her name. I think she has some connection with that Master Lucius, the little bird-like fellow that came with the Guttersnipe. God knows the Guttersnipe is brawny enough to cart both of them around - they're an odd pair." Casting a glance over his shoulder at Lucius approaching, he indulged his own sharp-edged curiosity. "Why?"


The boy gave it all he had. With a little smile that he made to dance at one corner of his mouth, the way Lord Artos would do sometimes, he asked, "Are you sure you keep your eyes open in your head for such things? Surely you're not unnoticed by fellows." And as he said it, he turned in step with her.