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.

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