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..."

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