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.

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