Jenny: Redshank

The boy broke out of the tumble of hounds and pups at the foot of the table, scrabbling over with arms and legs in the air, found his footing, and ran to find Aithne. He berated himself for having lost her. But Frip had got in a tussle over a bone with Io, a fight which had threatened to squash some of the pups. Now he trotted along, anxiously looking at the faces of those gathered, relieved when he finally found Aithne among them.

He crowded in, squeezing onto the bench, finding the Companion Caleb as his right-hand neighbour. He had never sat so close to the young man before: it was a little awful. And Caleb, in a rougher way than he had addressed the boy earlier, moved aside and said, "Hullo! What are you doing, barging in here? You are where my elbow needs to be, boy."

But the boy said passively, "I have my reasons. And I can't eat with my arms broken."

Caleb said, "I'm not feeding you like a child."

"Then I'll starve."

"You have a mother."

"I have a job."

The young man looked back with a face uncannily immobile, as though it had been caught as a painting on a page. Then his shoulders unfolded and he jabbed a piece of mutton with his knife, putting it in the boy's mouth. A little more gently, he asked, "What made you break both your arms, luckless redshank?"

Around the piece of mutton, the boy replied, "Well, I broke the one because I got too near old Goblin's hindquarters. I broke it again falling out of an apple tree, and Master Jason told me to break the other next time I went to break a thing, so of course I had to."

"Of course," Caleb nodded understandingly.

The boy swung his legs in the air above the floor, working at his mutton, happily content. The company suited him. The talk drummed in the air, comfortingly deep in pitch, with the Guttersnipe's pealing laughter from time to time, and with the warm food in his belly, life seemed very pleasant. He did not think Aithne a very bad threat - if she was a spy, she was a very poor one for not quietly poisoning them all by now - so that his task suited him well too in an easy, idle sort of way. She was prickly, but he was used to prickly - women were always a bit prickly. And she could be nice when she wanted to be, and he thought perhaps he would marry her when he was man-grown, and had a horse, and maybe a dog. And he thought perhaps she might like a warrior, and, looking around at the Companions and the Hounds, he could not find himself objecting to being one, so he said to his neighbours, kicking his legs at little, "I think it is very pleasant here."

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