Jenny: Black Horse-hair

The Guttersnipe came up through the blowy wet and shook off in the atrium. Be glad for the rain, she chided herself on the heels of discouragement that it should rain so quickly after her arrival. They won't be able to fire the turf.

Caleb had left the mismatched armour in the atrium: a tumble of leather with brassy rivets and buckles peeking out of the heap at her. All of it had to be tidied and ordered so that at any time the men could snatch it all up, throw it on, and be out in the door in minutes. Without her tidying, she thought they could do it swiftly anyway. She had watched them tack up themselves with surprising speed, sometimes running at full tilt while they did so, the trumpets shrilling in a brazen sky over head...

She came out of her reverie and impatiently scooped the tumble of articles into her arms and made her way to Artos' chambers. He had always been a good patient, often understanding his wounds better than the surgeons who had tended him, and she would find him, she knew, quiet and reflective in his sparse bower, reading reports or books, or working steadily at his own gear, which was a familiar task: he did it the same way a man might whistle in the dark.

Coming to the doorway, she found him sitting at his battered old desk in his battered old camp chair, bad leg extended, good leg folded up beneath his seat. And in his hands he held very loosely an object which he tumbled over and over, slowly, looking at it from all sides so that the lamp he had lit on the desk flashed off its edges and the wiry glory of its plume. The black horse-hair fell across his hands and lap, which reminded her of her horse-pendant, which reminded her of the horse-magic, which took her back years and years to the first time she had ever seen him, big and fiery and valiant. And somehow, broken and still though he was, he was still all that - and more so, because he was her Artos.

"She's not as bright as she used to be," he remarked, holding up the helmet.

The Guttersnipe held her head to one side. "A little bit of tarnish is the cost for glories won. Every gilt honour has a tinge of verdigris: that's what shows it's real."

He laughed through his nose and looked up. "What are you about?" he asked warmly. He noted the bundle of leather in her arms. "It seems to be work to your liking."

"Tidying armour," she said, gesturing with the things in her arms. She moved in to join him, sitting on the little footstool near his chair. "I am becoming good at it, I think."

"You have done it often enough."

He moved the lamp across the table to shine on her as she worked. The room was gloomy otherwise, and she wished for a brazier. She wondered fretfully why he did not have one already, but before she could tell him so, he stayed her hands at a sweat-hardened buckle, holding out the helmet for her, saying softly, "Best add it in - just in case."

She hesitated, looking into his dark and weathered face, at the little cleft of shadow between his brows; then she took the helmet and put it with the rest of the armour, and something else in her middle loosened.

She went back to her work, forgetful of the brazier, and he occupied himself with studying his reports. Presently, however, she was startled by someone calling through the house for her. She sat up, perplexed, a dartsman's quiver dangling in her hands.

"That sounds like your friend," Artos remarked.

"It does sound like her," she replied. And as Wulf was passing by the doorway, she called out, "Wulf! If that is Domitia asking for me, bring her here, please."

The man nodded and disappeared from sight.

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