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."

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