Jenny: Moonstone Petal

For once Domitia went away without looking whipped and hurt. The Guttersnipe breathed a sigh of relief. She looked for Jason, but did not see him. Frowning a little, she took herself to her own room and shut the door, gazing about at the warmly-lit chamber for a moment before crossing and folding up on the bed. She dropped her gown on the trunk and wormed into her cool sleeping shift, and curled up with her back to the wall, listening to the late insect sounds outside her window; and with the light casting its glow on her side, she reached for one of her books and began to read. She had told Domitia that they had best get some sleep, and she was tired, but the thought of lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, listening to the hollow noises, with nothing between her and the unknown of tomorrow, was too much. So she read in the lamplight as one would whistle in the dark.

She was startled by a knock on her door. "Come in," she called, pulling her chequered blankets over her lap.

The door opened, and it was Ambrosius who stepped in, and she was months away again, watching him come in to bid her good night. She scooted up, and he folded himself onto the edge of the bed, both of them quiet at first. She put her head on the rough firmness of his shoulder, and he, arms folded across his knees, put his cheek against her hair. It was good to sit that way, thinking of nothing in particular, finding comfort in the solid presence of Ambrosius.

"What do you read?" he asked presently, noting the book on her knees.

She stirred. "I am reading about Theodosius and Maximus," she replied.

He lifted his head and looked closer. "Theodosius and Maximus? Any particular reason to be reading that? It is barely history, and you are so fond of yesteryear's tales."

"It is nearly yesteryear," she protested gently. "And I am reading because they did something together, the two of them, for Britain. And it makes yesteryear a little closer to today, that story."

"It ended unhappily for both," said Ambrosius in the same gentle tone.

She looked at the book, quizzical, and she hated that her throat seemed so tight of a sudden. "Sometimes I think it will end unhappily for us all," she admitted, her voice sounding flat in her own ears. He said nothing, so she thought he must think the same, but ducked his head down into the firmness of his arm just below his shoulder, very much like Artos in his appearance. At last she found her voice again. "Did you come particularly?"

"I came to talk to you."

She looked round at him. "Did you come tonight because you think you will not be here to talk tomorrow at this time?"

"I come to talk to you tonight," he said, the light jarring a little in one eye as he raised his head, "because if there is one thing I have learned in all my years of soldiering, it is that God's will is certain, and life is not."

And she waited for him to go on, not saying anything because the tightness had come back in her throat. But instead he fell quiet, and presently he reached over and drew the cord out of the front of her sleeping shift and let the pendants fall into his hand, the tiny horse black and tarnished bronze in the light, the ring a fierce copper with its moonstone a petal of pale blue and yellow, colours muting and converging as he turned it in the light.

"You've come into your own," he said after a while of turning the ring over and over between his fingers. And she, watching the turn of it, saw the storm-grey of eyes in the stone. "It was a long time coming, my little filly finding her legs on her mountain runs - a long time coming... Jason has come to me for you."

She nodded wordlessly, knowing she ought to think of something to say, but unable to find the right words when she needed them most desperately. She knew Ambrosius had always seen the thing that had been between her and Jason, and had known that when his little filly came into her own, that he would be giving her over to Jason. She only wished that it was not happening with the threat of thunder over them all.

"You are saying very little."

"I...can't think of anything to say," she admitted with a catch in her throat.

He let out a little horsey breath through his nose. "It is not many of us who can reduce you to that state."

"Sa ha!" she cried, throwing back her head and laughing in a shaky, uncontrollable way.

And he smiled, so that she knew he was certain she was happy for herself. He put his hands on his knees and hoisted himself to his feet, sighing heavily. "Get some sleep, my little man-raised chit," he said warmly, sliding his big rough hand through her loose mane. "And if we are here to see tomorrow - and the tomorrow after that - perhaps Artos and I, and you and Jason, will make something better of Britain than Theodosius and Maximus did between them."

She looked up through the lamplight at him adoringly. "Yes, Ambrosius."

"I love you."

He shut the door behind him, and in his wake he seemed to have left the room a little brighter, a little mellower, and the dark seemed further off than before.

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