Lys: Scorched

Aidan. Aithne's keening trailed out at hearing his name finally. It did not seem his name... not his earthly name, at least. It seemed to her as though the Guttersnipe had named him as he left for heaven- a better name than he'd had while on earth.

She was still reflecting on this when there was bustle at the door. Everyone flew to their stations before she even had a chance to react. Still dazed, she watched it all happen, as if dreaming.

The stench of burning flesh brought her completely to her senses, and she gaped when Bedwyr went right back out, his bloodflow barely staunched.

The others went back to scrubbing and cleaning and preparing for more people. Like Bedwyr's arm, her heart, having broken over the boy, had been scorched shut again, and it felt a little numb and throbbing. She watched with a detatched feeling, and before she knew it, she had quietly taken hold of Cu's collar and slipped back out after the men, in search of wounded.

The worst that could happen would be that she joined Aidan.

The world being what it now was, she didn't mind much.

Jenny: Clean Iron and Tempered Steel

Jason bent down and murmured something in the Guttersnipe's ear. She did not ever remember afterward what he said, or even if she had heard him at all. But she knew that she had done what he wanted, for she remembered laying the boy down in the shadowy corners of the room, draping a rug over his body. There was the softness of the swan's feather in his face, and the sadness of the goose's autumn flighting. She brushed back the curls that tumbled over his brow, and whispered a little brokenly, "We'll name a child after you, Aidan."

She did not remember anything after that, though she was sure she worked, until several people loomed in the vestible and everyone picked up whatever sharp or heavily blunt instrument came to hand. But it was only old Hunno and Bedwyr who were shouldering in, both of them sweating like spent horses - Bedwyr looking spent himself. No one had any time to ask why the Companion was here and not on the droving southward. She remembered with a cold sense of detachment looking at the empty place at the end of his left arm and seeing how the tiles were being soiled by the spurting blood.

Then Jason took command. With the help of the old man and wispy Minna, they wrestled the shivering Companion into a chair and the surgeon turned to the fire. She remembered Master Lucius handing over to her the leather casing to one of his scrolls, and she put it in Bedwyr's teeth. Then she flung her arms around his shoulders and tightened herself like a vise as Jason put the clean hot iron to the wound and the smell of burnt flesh turned the air sour. Bedwyr groaned and shuddered like a horse, but he held his ground. When he stopped shuddering and the Guttersnipe unlocked herself, when his eyes opened a fraction to look out at the bleary world, Hunno had gone back outside and other than Master Lucius, the others had returned to their tasks.

"A long road to come back to this," said Jason.

Bedwyr's jaw worked a moment as he tried to find his voice again. "A long road. The Fox found us, and we left the horses with one of Lord Alan's men to come north."

Master Lucius said, "It sounds as though you are just in time."

They listened, and it seemed as though the sounds of the battle were changing. There was not the sense of desperation in the noises that drifted to them from the valley and the surrounding hillsides. The tide was turning.

When she looked down, Bedwyr was gingerly rubbing his hand over his left forearm, feeling the emptiness. So she said, in her old style of flippancy, "You are looking good so. You have Artos bested for scars and honours."

The Companion gave back a mirthless smile. Then, flickering a glance up at Jason, he leaned forward and took up his sword which had been cast aside in the confusion and haste. Jason saw the gesture, seemed to hesitate, then he nodded. So with his arm still burning and smelling, freshly bandaged, the young man stepped back out into the dark to rejoin Kay in the fighting.

Master Lucius said, "Are they all bred that tough around here?"

"Just Artos' men," said Jason. He had tossed aside the soiled iron and was washing up an instrument, laying the clean ones on the cloth the Guttersnipe held out for him. "And sometimes I think it is less of strength and more of sheer will."

"That's the stuff of legends, I figure."

Lys: Lost

No sooner had Cathair met his fellow warriors and opened a pass than a new force joined the enemy. Cathair knew their added fighting skill would be nothing compared to the heartening effect they had on the small band. He was all but certain that the battle was already lost- Cunorix would not be collecting his lovely prize. And if all the men fought like their leader, it was very possible none of them would be collecting rewards.

He sat in a shadow, his horse breathing hard beneath him, and watched, as others watched, the arrival of this new commander. When the smoke cleared enough to see his face, he started. He looked like a young version of Vortigern! It is the Fox, then. Well. Won't this be a nice little bee in Vortigern's bonnet.

He felt sorry for the beautiful woman at Vortigern's villa, though. If by some chance they won, the death of her brother would be a blow, especially as it would mean she'd have to wed Cunorix.

The thought took him back to the woman and the boy. Were they siblings? He wished he'd been able to find out how much damage he'd done. If they were to lose the battle, if this was the day of his death, he did not want to go to the Judgement Seat with innocent blood on his hands, unconfessed. God, allow me to make restitution before I die...

He wheeled his horse and plunged back into the fray.


Aithne's weeping had turned to keening. It was the way the women of her clan grieved. It was a mournful sound- a chilling sound- Brother Parthalan had likened it to banshees' cries.

And so she was keening. Keening for her loss, keening for the boy, and more deeply, keening for the loss of the bit of heaven that was the villa. With his death, it seemed the peace and love that had so delicately rested in this valley had been shattered. Outside, that other world she had told him about had come pouring in to this one, trampling and soiling the good and pure.

The destruction tore at her heart, as though it was her own body being trampled.

She was keening for Britain.

Jenny: Counter Fire

They were mostly foot soldiers, which gave the small band of horsemen some advantage. The lines had wavered for a moment as the Oversea warriors had seen them all fling their horses unwaveringly through the fire: it was not a trick taught beyond the Pale. But then the line had flung itself back at the horsemen and the fronts had crashed and ground together. From the height of his mare, Artos slashed and pounded his way forward, leaving a mangled, uneven pedigree on the flattened turf behind him.

A face showed up out of the confusion. He sometimes caught the faces, just for an instant before he blanked them out, looking up at him with all kinds of expressions: fear, anger, sometimes even a blossom of awe as they realize who was upon them. But this one was different. This one - his sword hung in the balance, poised, stationary. The man stood splayed in the grass, an old and haggard face uplifted to his, and on it was no blossom of awe, perhaps a mingled fear and anger, but chiefly a look that was horribly like seeing his own reflection looking back at him - looking across bearded and hoarfrosted years.

"Strange how the world turns," his uncle had said once.

The recognition unfolded on the other's face; and with it, fear - profound fear that closed itself in a shell of anger for protection. And Artos felt an anger of his own, but it was of a different sort. It was a free and glorious as the crown of yellow gorse caught in a golden sunset, as sharp and as fierce. He raised himself up in the saddle, cut against the raging backdrop of the fires and the dark, and swung forward, digging with his signet ring into the man's face, laying it open to the bone for him to be remembered by.

The man reeled into the dark, out of his vision, and he kicked Nutmeg round, leaving the man where he belonged: in the dark, in the recesses of his mind. But he had little time to think about the meeting. Out of the smoky dark above him came what he took to be a shaft of light at first, then a body of white, and then a Bird was hurtling by on the wing, so close its pinions brushed his sweaty cheek. The air was pierced by its wild hunting call. And then, rising with a mizzle-scented wind, came the drum of hooves and the rolling hoarse thunder of voices. From the direction of the old Beacon a storm seemed to pour, and then up out of the moony dark into the red light burst the first wave of riders, their leader a fantastic young man with the fire in his hair and the hunt in his eye, white teeth flashing as he laughed. The Fox. The Fox! Champion had done his work.

The red-headed young man tore up through the burnt turf and passed him, laughing, tossing a salute across the distance. And with the relief of fresh troops, mounted on the hardy Arfon horses, Artos tossed the laugh and the salute back and plunged in, rejoining the fight.

Lys: Horror

Cathair rode away shaken. He had nearly murdered a woman, and the boy... he was not certain of the boy, but the whole experience haunted him. And he could not shake the impression that she had looked like... But it couldn't be. And he couldn't wait to find out. This far in, he had to keep alert for the enemy. Realizing how far ahead he'd come, he turned back and started doing his best to open a path for his fellow soldiers. The battle was going hard- these half-Romans were better fighters than he expected. But it would not be long before he and his fellows gained the victory...


"He will not be needing the horse and the dog now."

That was it. Aithne could not... She could not be strong any longer. She wanted to be- she didn't want...

She fell to her knees and cried out, tears streaming down her face. "NO!" she screamed, gritting her teeth and pounding the bench where the boy lay. "NO! Not him... he shouldn't... he was... not him..."

She pressed her fists into her eyes and wept, a mixture of disbelief, anger, and heartbreak. She'd tried to push him away so many times... It was madness to send him out there... If she hadn't moved out into the open to look more closely...

She could not be quiet. She knew it was the last thing that was needed, but she could do nothing else.

Jenny: A Man

Jason flung down his instruments and bolted across the room as Domitia staggered back in carrying the boy's body. After having seen to the boy's needs for so long - scored knees, broken arms - he felt as though something in him were torn loose when he saw the arrow. But he had learned how to force that down under the cool surgeon, to look at the thing and see what needed to be done, and to do it, and to feel afterward.

There was nothing that could be done. He knew that. He slipped his arms under the body and took it from Domitia, who was barely, and bravely, holding back her hysterics. The Guttersnipe was there, white as a sheet, and he took them in very little. The body was very light to carry, empty like an autumn leaf - and he the wind, carrying it down to drift to rest on a tabletop, crisp, cool, lifeless. There was nothing that could be done. The eyes were closed, the mouth void of any pain or regret. It came to him that look the boy had given him the moment before he had turned to go outside, and he wondered if the boy had known. Brave little soldier! He had gone anyway. And now he really was gone.

Putting his hand over the boy's face, he murmured, "He will not be needing the horse or the dog now."

Lys: No...

For Aithne it all happened in slow motion. She'd scoffed at the idea in the past, when warriors told stories of their close shaves, but now she understood. In the seconds of actual time, she had thoughts enough to fill months.

The rider bearing down on her.

The disbelief that he would shoot a woman.

The realization that he would.

Telling herself to move before he did.

Then feeling a jolt as she was knocked out of the way, her breath forced from her. She heard a whistle as it happened- the arrow had been loosed. She rolled into the shadows, and the warrior seemed to think it not worth his time to hunt her down. She looked back, back to where the boy had shoved her. He should've come back by now.

She looked back and she muffled a scream. He lay with the arrow protruding from his chest. He'd taken the arrow for her.

And he wasn't moving.

Tears streaming, not caring whether there was another rider coming, she ran out to him, crouching down in a puff of skirts. "Boy... Lad... wake up... come on, Imp, don't do this to me..."

But he would not respond.

With one last look around the clearing, she gathered him up and fled back to the atrium, re-entering at full tilt.

"Someone help me! He- he's..." She laid him on the table and looked up into Jason's face, pleading with him to tell her that her fears were unfounded.

Jenny: The Land of Summer

Beyond the curve of the garden wall where the hill came down they could see snatches of the fight: not much more than flickering figures and firelight and the constant uneven ring of battle. The air, normally sweet and clear, was filled with the tang of burning turf.

"I don't see anyone," he returned. "I don't think the fighting has reached the villa yet. They've held them off thus far."

They passed beyond the shed together where the first of the apple trees came down and scraped against the old wood. Out here the smoke gave form to the darkness, and there were little wisps of flame in the air. The boy coughed them out of his lungs.

Suddenly the fight seemed to burst upon them out of nowhere. Down from the tree-mantled slopes came the mutter of unshod hooves, and from the darkness burst a warrior on a shaggy dun pony, leaning over his mount's neck, a big, burly, dark-haired man with an arrow notched on the string. For one clear, shining moment, the boy thought, Master Gaius always taught that they had no skill in archery! And then he saw that, in the confusion of the horseman and the smoke, and the answering charge swinging round the side of the hill to cut him off, the man was taking aim for the one thing that stood out to him: Aithne.

He had kept to the shadows like a hunting cat, Aithne always less so, anxious to be about her task. Now her diligence was going to get her an arrow in the throat, and he propelled himself forward into her side. Pain flashed up his arms as he took her out with all his force, the world a confusion of thunder and lightning over his head. Then he felt something dig into his side, something cold, like the fangs of a dragon. He felt something come loose inside him, felt something give way.

The silver of the apple leaves sighed overhead.

Lys: A Thing of Power

Aithne stared at him. Strong, perhaps, but small. And what was the boy to do, with two broken arms? For a moment she stood uncomprehending, disbelieving. But she shook out of it and told the boy to wait a moment.

She turned and went over to the Guttersnipe and the bandages. "I'm to go out and help the wounded in. I should take some of these, just in case..." she took a breath and held it a moment. "In case some are very close." Close to what was obvious.

She gathered some bandages into a bag, and slung it across her body. "Guttersnipe... Guttersnipe, before I go, I just wanted to tell you..." She put a hand on the girl's arm. "My name, my real name, is Aithne." Stepping back, she raised a hand. "God keep you."

Aithne turned and made her way to the door, the boy following, as did Cu. She did not begrudge him- he might be needed to help her take them in.

Once outside, the scent of fire and turf and smoke filled her lungs and nearly choked her. Her eyes stung with it, and she shielded them so as to search more thoroughly. They made their way closer to the battle line, staying near buildings and constructs as often as possible.

"Do you see anyone, boy?"

Jenny: A Touch of North Wind

With nothing to do except tag along behind Aithne, the boy stood kicking his heels, listening to the sounds outside. They came like the seashell-sounds of waves: rising and falling, roaring and drumming away to a murmur. He noticed the Guttersnipe, decked out in her fine cat-skin dress, very pretty and pale, holding herself all inside herself like a thing caught in amber; he noticed her going about her work without a word. He saw Master Jason going about the familiar work of the surgeon, finding a sort of comfort in the shiny tools that had poked and prodded him after he had valiant flung himself out of trees; Lucretia, Portia, little Minna who was dry and old as an apple leaf: they were all losing themselves in their tasks, content to let the world rage outside while they made, for the moment, a bright bastion within the villa for life and the keeping of life.

It was all very good for them, he considered, having a good thing to do. But what of himself? Following womenfolk. He kicked at the table leg. Master Jason had a man's tools to work with, but he had nothing. One part of him wanted to go to the Guttersnipe and crouch down at her feet and look up at her face and say, "We will keep you safe, Lord Ambrosius and Master Jason and I." But that other part of him, that part of him which was older than he would ever have chance to imagine, wondered, knowing it could never ask her, "You care for Lord Ambrosius, and you care for Master Jason... But do you care for me?"

He could never ask, because she would only give that harsh little mocking laugh of hers and shove him away and tell him not to be silly, to know she cared for him, of course. But he wanted her to care as she cared for Lord Artos, and knew she could never do that, because there was no one like Lord Artos. Certainly not himself.

He kicked at the table leg again.

"Is it that you are trying to break your foot this time?"

Jason was looking at him disapprovingly. "No, sir," he said, shamefaced. He wanted to ask if there was anything he could do, but pride kept him silent. He stood quietly by and watched without seeing as Jason moved the iron in the fire.

Finally the young surgeon sighed. "The wounded are not going to drag themselves in. Take Domitia and see if there are any beyond the garden - don't stray into the orchard."

He stood there a moment, staring rather blankly back. It was a huge task. The task of a man. But all he felt was a numbness - rather, he felt nothing. The closest he could come to feeling anything was a sort of dull, throbbing horror. But he squared his shoulders and turned on one heel, striding across to Aithne. Strange how his words came out when he spoke, a little deeper and a little more distant than before. "Master Jason is sending us out to look for the wounded and bring them in. You're to come with me. You look strong enough for the work."

Lys: Gideon

Aithne sighed. He was the surgeon, after all, and the one who knew the Guttersnipe best, with perhaps the exception of Lord Ambrosius- and that was a thin perhaps. It was his say whether she was fit for duty or not.

She nodded assent. "Then what are your orders, sir? I know my way around a sickroom and know more than a bit of battle wounds, but nothing on this scale. Tell me where-" The clamor outside drew her attention, bringing her chin up like a dog on point. Cu actually was on point beside her.

There were shouts, poundings, death-cries and screaming horses. And it came to her that it had been going on awhile, but she had not noticed. Her face went pale, and she clutched the fabric in her hands more tightly than before. Cu barked and growled, which brought her out of it. She grabbed his collar, thrusting the fabric on the nearby table and kneeling to be face-to face with the immense dog. "Hush, Cu. Hush. You are needed here, as I am. You need to help guard us, not run out to battle, brave one." She gave him a hug- a very sentimental thing to do, she knew, but she did it anyway- and stood, brushing off her dress. "Now stand guard." she said, firmly pointing towards the doorway.

Cu seemed to stand taller than his already long legs usually allowed. He trotted to the door and sat there patiently, watching it and now and then growling, though he held his bark.

She smiled at the sight. But the battle sounds were growing louder, and she prayed there would be no more blood shed than necessary. She turned and leaned on the table, silently asking for strength- for herself and for all.

Eyes closed, she spoke under her breath. "Christos, be victorious. Make Lord Ambrosius like Gideon. Take this tiny army and turn it into something larger and more frightening- make it your tool, and save your people!" Another prayer rose within her, and she knew it was not of her own thinking. She prayed it nonetheless. "And save the Gauls as well, God. Let them turn to you before they come into your court."

Jenny: The Hawk from the Hand

Looking up from heating a piece of iron, nose full of the smell of it, Jason cast a glance across the room to where his girl was methodically going through her basket of sewing articles. He gave a short snort and turned back to Domitia. "Once you have thrown the hawk out of your hand, or slipped the collar from the wolf, there is no bringing it back until it comes back. And she will come back." His face closed with darkness and foreboding. "We are all where she is, anyway..."


Artos locked the balls of his feet in the stirrups, feeling Nutmeg well up with tension beneath him. The fire licked up toward the stars and ate at the turf with the hunger of an evil thing. Thank God there was no wind! Now beyond the fires he could see the movements of warriors, flickering in and out, figures of the flames. The fires spread from end to end of the pasture, a wall of bright leaping death cutting them off from the west. But in him there was a bright, high laughter, the laughter of one ready to toss away his life as though it were nothing, tossing it away for the sake of everything, and looking at his uncle's face, he saw the laughter there too.

They rose as one, the little band of horsemen, cresting the half-stone, half-turf wall, raw as it was and crumbling with uncertain newness; the horses flew like swallows across the ditch and the wall and into the pasture, eyes throwing back the light of the fire, swords throwing back the light of the fire. Hoof-thunder filled the air. The figures of fire and darkness ahead of them flickering into view faster and faster as they ascended the pasture.

Big Cyrus led the way. On the edge of his vision Artos saw the stallion gather, saw his uncle fling up an arm over his face. The fires parted a moment, like a curtain rippling in a breeze, and the black horse went through. Then he was upon the fires and Nutmeg was gathering herself, sweating, reeking with the stuff Jason had rubbed into her hide to keep her from burning. The heat swept into his face, the smoke roared up his nostrils, hammering into the hollow spaces of his head. For a moment he could see nothing but the flames reaching for him, swarming around his head and his mare's body - then he was through, coming down into the cool dark beyond and running, running as the others came through after him like angels of death ripping clear out of another world.

His sword came down, spilling a shining streak of blood into the light of the fire. A body dropped, another was mowed down under Meg's hooves. He looked up and saw a wave of Oversea warriors coming for them down the hillside in the light and shadow.

Lys: Absent In Spirit

Aithne thrust a basket of bandages in the Guttersnipe's hand and directed her to a place across the room, giving her a little shove. Faith, the girl was most certainly not here.
She quickly put her own basket in place and sought out Jason.

"Jason... Jason, the Guttersnipe is... well, you know- she is out there among the men even when her body is not. Normally I wouldn't care. It is her way. But someone that distracted is dangerous in here." She looked over to where the girl was setting the basket down. "I suppose I'm wondering if you know of a job for her?"

Jenny: Flint and Steel

"I am here," the Guttersnipe replied, knowing even as she said it that she was not, knowing that Domitia knew. She was as Champion on Ambrosius' arm, wings splayed to the rolling gait of the horse, looking into the darkness and hating it, looking for the mark.

Where is Champion...?

She came back with a jerk to the smell of hot iron, realizing that Domitia had asked her something. "" she replied, moving mechanically after the other girl.


Beyond Gaius' wall there was nothing but the formless black, the pasture swelling in a pale wave up between the hillsides, quiet, menacing. Overhead, beyond the reach of the torchlight, the stars pricked out in a diamond-scatter of brilliance, with the feather of moon heading the milky train. Small things, small, beautiful things one noticed. The stand of woods at the bend of the stream where it came down and poured white over the shelving rocks were pale silvery forms above them. A horse shifted, blowing hard; a bat weeked overhead; the stream murmured by ceaselessly.

"Anything yet?" Artos asked.

His uncle shook his head. Beside him, Gaius curled his reins in his hands. The boys, all of them slingers and archers in their own right, stood behind them in the quiet outside of the ring of torchlight.

Suddenly Cyrus flung up his head and squealed, and far off at the top of the pasture a tongue of light went up, small, uncertain at first, then growing higher and spreading.

They had fired the turf.

Lys: Distraction

Aithne looked up as the Guttersnipe came in. The dancing light of the braziers reflected off the girl's face, showing tear tracks that would've otherwise stayed hidden. She wanted to go and hug her, but she knew it was not something the Guttersnipe would understand- or, if she did, wouldn't care for. No, only Jason had that privilage.

So she walked up quietly and said, "So. You are here, too?" A pause. "I'm glad of it, if you are. I don't like to think of you out there..." She trailed off a moment, then, with forced cheerfulness, added, "And besides, your Jason is here."

Aithne realized she was trying to distract the Guttersnipe, and she wasn't even sure the girl needed distraction. So she gave a little huff at herself and restarted. "Want to help me get these rolls arranged where Jason wants them?"

Jenny: A Veil of Cotton

The Guttersnipe had laid everything out in order. He had only to drag his harness over his head, careful not to raise up the red anger in his leg any more than necessary, grimly memorizing in the back of his mind what would happen if he could not grip Nutmeg's barrel with both knees. Behind the cool soldier's movements throbbed the cold sickness of anxiety. There was nothing he could do, nothing except give up his own life, but again and again he had to push away the cold sickness with a calm fury.

A strap ducked into its buckle like a rabbit into its warren.

Catching up his helmet, black horse-hair crest spraying, he strode out with a little limp to the atrium, head up, pulling in the electric scent of battle in the air. Someone stopped at the sight of him, face alternately paling and reddening as he passed by. He knew what they were all thinking, watching him, and he felt the weight of their dependence like his cloak upon his shoulders. They looked to him and his uncle as their champions. Without them, all was lost.

How could he tell them all was lost, even so?

Snippet was standing by his mare's head in the yard, face down into the muzzle, whispering soft, crooning things. She tossed up her head, eyes wide, as he approached, and he noticed she was pale. Her hands twitched; she wanted to fling her arms around his neck and hold him as she had done as a child when he had gone away. But she held her ground, chin up, and only reached out to take the helmet from him as he went to mount. The light seemed to pool around her, flashing off her amber and off the coral-studding of Nutmeg's bridle. Small, pretty things that one noticed before battle: they might be the last things one ever remembered in this world.

She held Meg's head as he hauled himself astride, a familiar move made awkward by the stiffness in his leg. But the stitching held, and the anger in the wound only shifted like a sleeping dragon, and he settled in to the creaking leather. When he took up the reins the Guttersnipe jumped aside as the war-mare came to life beneath him. For a moment everything hung in the balance as he fought to use his bad leg, then the world steadied, and he was firmly in his seat, breathing out a heavy breath.

"Don't you get yourself killed," the Guttersnipe told him in a voice rather louder than normal.

Taking his helmet from her, he saw the paleness again, and how tight her countenance was, as though she had drawn a veil of Egyptian cotton over her fear so that he would not see. But the cotton was Egyptian, and he did see; and it came to him, very clearly and quietly, quite unattached to the present urgency, that she was proud of him. And it was the quiet part of him that reached down and touched her cheek, touched the flimsy veil of cotton. "Best you lend your hands to Jason, Snippet. He will be needing them."

She stood stalwart in the yard, the torchlight flaming golden around her, and nodded without a word. She lingered so a moment, a thing of the night and the glow, and then she stepped back and turned to be swallowed up in the fierce light of the vestibule doorway where her man was waiting.

His knuckle had come away damp.

Lys: Holy War

Aithne concentrated on drawing the water, but her concentration came hard. What with the snatches of conversation she'd heard in the atrium, and the general uneasy feeling of the valley as a whole, she felt as though every movement was being watched- watched and laughed at as a pitiful attempt to win a lost day.

There was an evil out there that was not just the Gauls, not just Cunorix. There was a holy war boiling up around them, one they could not see. She did not think she wanted to see it. It was more than enough to feel it. Her heart quailed a moment, but she thought it better than the terror of seeing the whole truth.

She took comfort in her smallness, for the first time that day. She would break her pot and blow her horn, and let the One God rout the enemy, both seen and unseen.

These musings brought her to the end of the bucket-filling, and she stood in the atrium with her hands on her hips, not unlike Lucretia, surveying the goings-on and trying to find a new task.

Jenny: Red on the Kingfisher's Beak

"Snippet, come here."

She got off her low couch and crossed the tent to Artos' side, seeing as she came the knife that he tumbled between his hands. With the torchlight peeking in through the cloth walls, casting eerie shadows among the things on the battered table as the wind blew, she felt a sense of weary depression. A hard day, a long day of training - could he not let it rest? But when he glanced up at her, she knew it was a wholly different kind of training he had for her.

"Snippet, what is this?" he asked her, holding out the thing in his hand.

She pinched her brows in wary thought. "It is a knife, Artos."

"What is it?" he asked again, voice low and thrusting. She did not have to look up from the knife to know how he was looking at her: intently, darkly, as Champion could sometimes look, that dark and formless thing behind the grey of his eyes taking form at last.

"It is death."

"It is death."

"It is death," she went on, rousing herself to the lesson, "as a kingfisher on the bough over the river is death, waiting for the mark. Artos - "

His thumb closed over the knife and his hand came up, fingers splayed to stop her plaintive disagreement. She bit her tongue and waited for the next part of the lesson, feeling as she waited that the flickering shadows were suddenly larger and more terrible than before, that the wind, if she listened, might hold at its heart the sound of a far-off country, a country one could not reach without leaving a diamond-pale body behind...

"What if you are the kingfisher, the fish, and death all in one?" he asked her gently. "Could you be that, if you had to?"

"Artos - "

"Could you?"

She looked back into the grey of his eyes, stormy-grey, flecked with white and blue, and the faintest glow of yellow as of autumn leaves in a gale. And suddenly that dark and formless thing was sad, and she felt swallowed up by its sadness.

"I could," she said in a detached sort of voice, "if you needed me to, Artos. If I had to, I could."

Nutmeg was waiting in the paddock, rather anxious without her rider. She ruckled down her nose as the Guttersnipe came up to her side and pulled her reins off the post. The dogs had dropped to a quiet - a quiet which the Guttersnipe found even harder to bear - and all around her the Welsh hillsides were drenched in solitary darkness, quiet too, waiting, brooding; the sight of their familiar shoulders turned sour in her belly, knowing that the kingfisher was perched among them, waiting too.

"Come, girl. Step up! Step up!"

She took Nutmeg back up the slope to the house yard and stood holding her head, waiting for Artos to come out to her.

Lys: Problem Solved

"My hair?" She eyed the thing dubiously. "I'm not sure I can do it and not cut my hair off." Her eyes narrowed as she tried to find a solution. Hitting upon an idea, she started back to the atrium, with the buckets in hand. She was not going very fast, what with the weight of them, and the boy caught up with her easily. She furrowed her brow as she looked at him, referencing his earlier question. "Do we kill ourselves? Certainly not! Do you take me for a pagan?" She set the buckets down by the empty ones and detoured to the kitchen. Once there, she rummaged around a bit before finding a small leather pouch- it was good thick leather, too. She tied it to her belt and stuck the knife in it. "There." she said. "No chance of inadvertantly slicing anything now."

She clapped the boy on his shoulder as she passed. The problem of the knife was done, and she set back to work on the water, grabbing two more buckets and walking quickly back to the well.

Jenny: Toiletry Accessories

The boy took the knife back before Aithne dropped it. Scoffing a little with the corner of his mouth, he held it out to her, holding it properly. "It won't bite you, not unless you make it do so. Do your women kill themselves before they can be taken? The Guttersnipe says women would. She doesn't know about now." Before Aithne could answer, he added, "Put it in your hair, if you have nowhere in your gown. In your braid - but don't cut your hair off; put up your braid with the knife."

Lys: A Thing of Death

Aithne listened to the Guttersnipe's instructions, horrified and sickened at the idea of it. She was not anything near a... what did they call it? A pacifist, but it was a task she'd rather leave to another.

Just then, the boy ran up, naive excitement in his eyes, and handed the weapon it to Aithne. She thought she saw a hint of regret that he was not allowed to be the bearer of such a weapon. For a moment she considered giving it to him. But she would not be responsible for making a child fight. She would rather do it herself than leave it to him, however much he seemed to want it.

So she took the knife, holding it as though it would come alive of its own accord, then cast about a moment before asking, somewhat helplessly, "Where do I put it?"

Jenny: Reckless Steel

"You don't have a knife?" The Guttersnipe glanced round, and was relieved to see the boy, as if magicked out by Domitia's worry, coming from the direction of the solarium. Pointing back the way he had come, she called, "The trunk in my room - fetch out the knife you'll find under the cloak!"

He whirled on his heel and disappeared.

"Hopefully you won't need it, but you had better be prepared any road," she told the other girl. Straightening, she gestured to her right side under her ribcage. "Give a good thrust and twist up here, and you should go a long way to rupturing the liver. I don't think I know of anyone who can live with the insides of his liver spilling around in his body. If you come up behind someone, give them some steel in the kidneys. In and out, don't stop to chat." She gave Domitia a comforting smile and took a firm hold of the other's shoulder, while not feeling much comfort herself.

Then she saw Artos on the fringes of the gathering, in the doorway, his head up, nostrils distended like a horse's as he took in the bustle. She murmured something vague to Domitia and broke away to run to his side. He watched her come with eyes that saw right through her, and there was much of him that did not seem all there.

"Caleb felt eyes in the north hill-lands," she told him, "and the dogs are mad with the scent of intruders. I've closed off the solarium, and the kitchen should be shut too."

"That leaves only the vestibule. God forbid they should fire the roof with you all in here," said Artos.

She jerked one shoulder. "We are all prepared to take that risk. There is nowhere else big enough for Jason's work." She did not add it, nor did he, but she knew they were all wondering if Jason would even have any work, or if he would merely be crouching by bodies and closing their eyes...

"Snippet," Artos asked quietly. She looked up into his face. "Snippet, is Nutmeg saddled?"

"She is."

A moon-sliver of a smile lit up the olive-darkness of his countenance. "Fetch her up for me, then."

Lys: A Time of Testing

Aithne jumped a little when the Guttersnipe approached. She'd been paying so much attention to her task, she didn't notice the girl until she shouted about the solarium.

"A knife?" Aithne asked. "I haven't got so much as a needle." She emptied the pail into the bucket and lowered it down again. "Why?" Her hands stilled at their task. "I don't think I'll be able to use it for anything..."

The idea of knifing someone, even someone about to kill her, seemed beyond her abilities. She'd heard that things sometimes change when it comes to the point, but she would not stake her life on the possibility of it applying to her.

Then, with an odd shift in thoughts, she asked, "Where is the boy? I sent him to find you long ago. Did he deliver my message?"

Jenny: The Villa

The Guttersnipe waited for Jason to fetch his kit, then she fell in step with him as they ascended the slope for the house. The western sky had been quenched to darkness, and there was only the bat's blur of smoke and the flooding of torchlight. The stars seemed very remote. She did not think to look for them.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

Jason hefted the metal case's strap further up on his shoulder. "Oddly confident," he said presently, "and a bit...empty."

She knew what he meant, though she felt none of it herself. There was that eager craftman's look in his eye, as though he were almost happy to be putting his trade - one of his trades - to work. And not a bad work, that: fixing people, mending living things that breathed beneath one's hand. She wished she had that to look forward to, but all she had was the weight of the knife in her boot and the task Artos had taught her, the task of killing. She could look a man in the face as his chest bloomed with bloom - could she look a man in the face as she struggled to keep the blood in him? Glancing aside at Jason's steady face, she found herself thinking back to those sleepless nights when her Lord Ambrosius lay hanging in the balance between living and dying, how she could not look the thing in the eye and feel anything but terror in her belly.

Jason suddenly returned her look, the thrush-nest crest of his hair shining in the torchlight, and he took her hand comfortingly, smilingly, as though he knew. And he probably did.

They parted in the vestibule. They found the atrium torn apart and put back together, ready for the surgeon's work. "Finely done," Jason was raising his voice above the bustle as the Guttersnipe went to join Domitia, "but get me some braziers and fire them hot. And someone fetch me some clean iron!"

"Someone board off the door in from the solarium! Have you got a knife?" the Guttersnipe asked Domitia.

Lys: Cassandra

Lucretia put her hands on her hips and eyed Aithne, as if summing her up. "Hmm... I heard you patched Druce up earlier today. Is that so?"

Aithne nodded. "Yes..."

"Then you come with me. There'll be plenty more patching to do, I'm thinking."

A little puzzled as to exactly what they were going to do, Aithne followed Lucretia out into the atrium. Benches and tables and blankets were in various stages of being arranged, and water pails stood by the door. "Better start filling those... Jason will need them."

So. The villa was to be the surgeon's place. She'd been taught various treatments in the healing line, but she had a moment of trepidation, seeing things laid out thus. For a moment she saw the Guttersnipe laid out on one, and Caleb on another... Then she shook her head and gritted her teeth, forcing the vision out of her head. It will not happen. God is with us. All the same, she knew it was possible. God's plans were beyond her. But it would not do to dwell on it.

She picked up two buckets and headed for the well, focusing her mind on the task at hand.

Jenny: Sunsetting

Caleb had come down from patrol, his mount's flanks still heaving a bit from the run. "There is nothing to be seen," he had said, giving Ambrosius the salute; "but there is someone out there. You can feel eyes looking back at you. I did not much like staying out there long on my own."

The Guttersnipe could feel it herself. She was not sure if it was the eeriness of the dogs' baying - baying at nothing, baying at the warm feather of moon in the air - or if there really were eyes this close, watching her from across the distance. She narrowed her eyes and looked up the broken line of the valley toward the northwestern head. The western sky was barred with gold and orange under drapes of blue. In the stillness of the air the smoke from the torches lay low around them, shivering like a cloud of midges, blurring the glory of the sunset. Cyrus flung up his head, uneasy with the sound of the hounds, and the torchlight and sunset and whirling smoke made of him a wild thing, a twilight-thing, and Ambrosius was saying with a half-laugh,

"They are not known for skill with the bow, but watch for javelins. They will not break on us until full dark, so keep the torches burning high. Keep clear of the turf. Jason, are the mares ready?"

Glancing over, she caught Jason just rubbing his hands off on his tunic. "Yes, sir. They have each been rubbed down and should be ready." He looked each one over, blowing soft and long through clenched teeth. "I hope they have no need of it."

"Hope! but don't count on it," said Ambrosius wryly. Then he swung up on Cyrus, an obvious but inspiring figure, and gave them a general nod before urging his mount in the direction of the sprawling village.

This time tomorrow, the Guttersnipe thought, it will all be over.

Lys: Domination

Aithne sat in the kitchen, as recovered as she'd be, what with the bustle going around. She stood up and closed her eyes a moment, willing her head to clear. And it did. She'd learned to control it when it was only a nuisance.

"Now then," she said to Portia. "What are we to do? As the Guttersnipe would say," she smiled wryly, "What are our marching orders?"

She knew they were not supposed to just keep going as if nothing was happening. Not anymore. And her practical side had now fully taken over- pushing her illness back as warriors push back wounds until they can be tended.

"Tell me what to do."

Jenny: Seeing to the Last Things

Torn between following the Guttersnipe's commands and delivering a message which smelled of importance, the boy hovered on the edge of flight, uncertain. Finally he whirled without a word and ran through the kitchen and garden and down the turf slope to the paddock at the base of the hill. At least he could be sure he would not be getting a whipping for this.

He found the great ones gathered with the horses, all except Lord Artos. The dogs were still making a racket, but to him, the torchlight that was beginning to come out of the lowering shadows, ringstreaking the red cloaks of those gathered, seemed all very beautiful, like pillars of fire.

He darted around big black Cyrus and dug in his heels as he came alongside the Guttersnipe, a fierce and fantastic figure in the midst of the red cloaks. She turned on him and raised her voice to a sharp, worried pitch, but he said, "Hear me out, before you smack me!"

No one else seemed to pay attention, listening to Lord Ambrosius' tones under the barking of the dogs, but the torchlight welled up to a living amber in the Guttersnipe's eyes as she looked back at him. "Go on."

He took a deep breath, fumbled for a moment in his memory, then painstakingly gave her word for word what Aithne had said. There was no change in the amber, but something large and dark which brooded behind it seemed to cup that amber, to shift and harden, and it was that which made her always a little frightening to him, though he had not thought about it until this moment.

"And that was all."

She turned away, the amber flickering out as her face went into shadow; the torchlight fell on her hair and made a reddish nimbus around it. She seemed to be very far away to him just then, quiet, and lonesome, as though she were looking beyond the next hill, and seeing beyond it the mouth of a long dark barrow. He curled his toes in the dust and pursed his lips. He wanted to ask her, as he could not dare to ask Lord Ambrosius, what she saw - if she saw - but there was no breaking that look, not until the sleeper broke to waking again. And presently she did break it, coming back to him with the darkness turned to a brooding softness in her eyes, though the amber still flamed with intensity when she looked into the light. "So Domitia has found her courage in that place where we all must find our courage. Go back to her and stay with her, and thank her for me. And if we never have speech again in this world - as though it matters - thank her for the songs she sang to me, and tell her to put the yellow hawkbit on my grave."

Lys: Immanuel

Aithne allowed herself to be led off. She didn't want to be helpless. She cursed her illness for being so uncontrolable.

Her strength returned as she walked, her head clearing with each step. By the time she was deposited at the kitchen table, she was almost recovered. Portia was fussing over her, which drew the attention of Lucretia, who also began fussing, until Aithne waved her off. "You have more important things to oversee. An apple and a few minutes sitting will set me to rights."
She reached for a small one and started eating. It stuck in her throat, but she took small bites and managed to get it down. Before she had finished, she called the boy to her. "I am fine now. I'll be okay. You've fulfilled your task. Now I have another one for you. I need you to find the Guttersnipe and give her a message for me. Tell her this- God holds us in his hands. He will carry us through. Do not fear- the Lord is with us."

The boy looked doubtful. Just then a dusty bale of fur came through the door, sniffing as it went. She smiled. "See? Cu will protect me in your absence." Putting a hand on the boy's shoulder, she looked him in the eye. "The Guttersnipe needs to hear that. Don't forget a word."

Then she turned him around and pushed him gently towards the door.

Jenny: Marching Orders

"Faugh!" The Guttersnipe dropped on her knees beside the twitching girl, confused, angrily helpless as the chaos rose to a howling pitch outside. She balled up her fists, wishing a box in the ear would bring the other round. She was aware of Master Lucius hovering above her, half out of his chair with concern. The boy, too, had flown to her side so that Domitia's face, creased as it was in pain, was dark with shadow.

She raised her voice, echoing in the atrium. "Portia! Portia, I am needing you at once!"

Domitia was blinking round when Portia ran into the hall, drawn by the Guttersnipe's tone and the barking of the dogs. "Take Domitia into the kitchen and give her whatever she needs," the leopard-skinned girl ordered, rising. "Boy, stay with her until she is well enough to come out again. Master Lucius - " Her face changed at once to a softer complexion as she turned about on one heel.

"No need," he replied, already gathering up his papers. "I know my marching orders: keep out of everyone's way. I am rather good at it." He cast her a self-deprecating smile.

She found herself frightened for him to the core of her being, weak and small and bird-like as he was, his life like a blossom of the dog-rose, so easily plucked off and swept away by a gust of wind... So that she found herself retorting, "Don't be stupid, Lucius." Then, softer, "Good hunting to you."

He nodded. Touching the boy's shoulder to wish him the same, she pulled her wild gown up about her knees and ran for the vestibule and the last pool of light in the courtyard, scarlet boots dulled to bloody crimson as she ran.

If only it had rained!

Lys: Trouble

Aithne jumped at the sound, looking up and towards the door.

Then she started twitching. The headache had been a warning, she now realized. She should've laid down, eaten something... but with stress, hunger, tiredness, and now a fright, it was too late.

That was her last thought before they jumbled up and made no sense. She at least managed to sit herself on the floor, rather than fall, as she usually did.

It was some time before her mind and body calmed themselves and she once more made sense of things. She lay there a moment, curled on her side, listening to the dogs. Taking stock of herself, she realized her skirt had tangled up just above her knees, and she tugged it down. She didn't want to get up, but she knew she had to move. The dogs' barking was not a good sign.

She shifted into a sitting position and laid her head against the wall. "I'm sorry.."

Jenny: Cry 'Havoc!'

Trailing in Aithne's wake, as usual, the boy slipped up onto the bench and sat in thoughtful silence, swinging his legs slowly. The bird-man's words struck in him an awful sort of quiet, like the way ripples swell out from a pebble dropped into a pond. The angel is coming tonight. He felt as one of the mares, or a doe, must feel, poised and tense, listening, looking, all the wide world reflecting in wide eyes - or the Guttersnipe, who could stand so and look so, and listen so. He waited for the feeling to break as it always broke for the mares and the doe and the Guttersnipe, breaking into a swift sort of action, sharp as Lord Artos' smile could be, or the winter's sliver of moon. He waited, feeling the ripples, waiting for the kingfisher to plunge into his pool...

Suddenly it seemed as though all the dogs in the valley had set to baying: a wild and eerie noise, marshlight-eerie, and overwhelmingly loud in the wake of the day's oppressive silence.

Aithne: Time


It was the first time anyone had put a time on it, and she found it oddly comforting. She gave a breathy sort of chuckle. Only a few more hours. Just a few more.

She regarded the Guttersnipe, dressed gaily, defiantly. Her head would be unbowed, no matter what happened. Aithne was not sure hers would be as strong. She gripped the table upon which the documents were scattered, as if to gather strength from the two with her.

Her head began to ache dully, and she wondered how long before it would get bad.

"Well then." She rubbed her forehead, eyes closed. "What now?"

Jenny: The Heart of the Primrose

Contrary to Tactius' remarks, feeling as I do that I have some expertise in the matter, the Island of Britain is subject to bouts of chilly cold weather. While the winds through the kinder parts of the year are wont to bring warmth, the frequent rains produce very cold atmospheres. Sparse weeks of sunshine and warmth pepper spring and summer, flanked on both ends of the year with damp and gale-ridden days. The weather is continually changing, fitful and uncertain. What possesses mankind to dwell on this Island is beyond my understanding, but for those who choose to live here, there can be no other home.

Perhaps it is that the mildew has got into the natives' heads and dulled their wits -

Master Lucius glanced up as Domita and the Guttersnipe approached. Both of them exhibited the look of the rest of the valley: a surface calm, a firm and stately face - and beneath that, behind some veil in their eyes, a shifting, tense, wary darkness reflecting the brazen light of the setting sun. It might be their setting, that sun, he thought.

"You are rosy and looking well," he said enviously. "I have not made it past the atrium: the solarium was too close for me."

The Guttersnipe leaned down to look at his maps and charts and scraps of notes spread out on the table. She touched the edge of one tenderly, and it gave back a tinsely crackling, which reminded him too much of log-bark in a fire. "It has been very windless today. There was a little in the orchard, but not much. And it is so quiet," she added in an husky undertone, flinging up a pointed glance at his face. And he knew what she meant. All day the atrium's quiet had been broken only by the scuff-scuffing of maid's feet, and the occasional click of a hound's claws. No jaunty trilling of a bird, no child's laughter. He twisted in his chair and looked toward the empty vestibule where the sky showed up beyond the courtyard walls, deeply blue as the inside of a primrose, and still.

"The angel is coming tonight," he murmured.

Lys: Forlorn

Aithne nodded and turned aside to the cloister, determined to do some washing up of her own. Her clothing choices were slim- neither the gown she was wearing nor her spare were in anything like good condition any more. She suddenly had a wish for her leine and brat- now there was clothing that would stand up to work.

She looked forlornly at her spare- wrinkled, stained, and slightly bloodied from a mishap on the trail. And it was still in better shape than the one she wore now. Suddenly she laughed aloud. "As if it matters anymore."

But it did matter. She would be the only Scotti here, and something of a wish to do her people proud welled up in her again, along with a counter-reminder of her cowardice. She shook her head as though to free it from the contradictory thoughts, then washed up as best she could in the basin in her cell.

In the end she did change into her spare, and added her old red sash, which brightened it a bit. Then she turned and made her way, somewhat slowly, back to the Atrium. The Guttersnipe was waiting when she got there.

Tired already, she leaned against a wall and remarked, "If something doesn't happen soon, I'll be so sore I won't be able to run away, much less fight."

Jenny: A Queen of the Iceni

With the warm last light of the day touching the back of her neck, the Guttersnipe waddled uncomfortably up the kitchen steps and flung down a full basket of apples. She was hot and sticky, and she thought that if she was going to die, she might as well do it washed up. Calling back to Domitia, she said, "I'm going to put on a fresh gown and wash my face. I will see you in the atrium."

She pulled up her feet and grimaced at the dirty undersides of them. She had forgotten about shoes. Ignoring them, she pushed on for her sleeping chamber and shut the door behind her, perching on her stool and pulling off her soiled gown. Today was a day for the leopard-skin dress. With the ends of her hair damp from washing her face, she slipped and wriggled the dress up over her hips and smoothed it out, taking the effect as best she could. She kept on the bangles, adding to their brilliance the amber earrings, and lastly put her feet into her scarlet leather boots.

"There," she told herself. "I will disgrace no one."

She put her knife into one of her boots and stepped out to rejoin Domitia in the atrium.

Lys: One's Place

Aithne jerked her head around at that comment. Nothing at face value? Did no one speak the truth, then?

But she saw the Guttersnipe's actions and had a vague idea of what she meant by it. Her chin lifted in a half nod, and she exhaled, still feeling somewhat drained.

She stayed there a little longer, then shoved herself up, dusting bits of leaves and grass off her skirts. "I suppose we should get back to work, then, eh?" Offering her hand to the girl, she added, "I'm just not used to this not knowing what's going on. Finding one's place in the world- in this world, is harder than I thought it would be."

She picked up her basket, a wry look on her face. "Today, it seems, I'm an apple picker."

Jenny: The Wind in the Leaves

Pulling her head up out of her arms, the Guttersnipe watched Domitia come wearily back up the incline toward her, a subdued and introverted figure. She held herself quite still, like a coney when a fox is trotting by down the wind, and waited. She waited, and heard Domitia out in tones of resignation, and waited a little longer. The fear, the cowardice, that was something she would not address. It was not a thing for her to know, and she felt awkward hearing it from Domitia's own mouth. All she said, with a horsey shake of her head, was, "You will learn to take nothing we say at face value, by and by."

And she put out her hand to the bough bending down at her elbow, and swept back the thick obscuring leaves, showing up a cluster of ripe red apples, to show Domitia what she could not put into words herself.

Lys: A Shift Of Perspective

She looked at him. Looked and listened. And it made sense. She did not even mind being called "girl", because at that moment she was certainly the younger of the two. She had the assurance she needed, though not the guidance she wished for. She had been mildly chastened and her perspective had been shifted during the conversation. Somehow Druce had gotten through where others failed. She had no idea how he did it. He certainly held no love for her or her troubles. But it made sense now, and she was able to accept it with some stability.

Slowly, she stood and nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry... I shouldn't..." She sighed a bit. "Thank you. I think... I think I will be able to bear the wait now."

She almost turned to go, but instead came up to him and, going up on her tiptoes, gave him a small kiss on the cheek. "Thank you."

Then she turned and started off towards the orchard once more.


She reached it a few moments later. The Guttersnipe had not gotten far, and she looked rather downcast. Aithne sat down next to her, drawing up her knees and looking out at the apple-laden trees around them. She was quiet a moment before speaking. "Druce tells me I misunderstood you. I suppose I did- your words didn't sound like you. But I was worried and I took them at face value.

"I learned something out there..." She picked at her dress. "I'm not as brave as I thought. But I see things a little more clearly now, and I think I'll be okay. I think we'll be okay."

Think about such things...
"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee."

She exhaled. "I think we'll be okay."

Jenny: She Beat Him, Sir


There was a scuffle on the threshold of his room, a shadow looming against the wall. He had stiffened, turning round from the window overlooking the garden. It was a soft autumn day, lowering into the evening, and he had only just put aside his battered helmet, easing back into valley life. His nephew's tone quickened in him a sense of dread.

"Artos... What is it?"

The young man had jerked his head to one side, as though trying to toss his thoughts into order. "I am sorry," he began roughly. "I have come home to break up a fight."

He had frowned, watching the young man's eyes closely. They were pale, very pale, like the sea under a sky of stormy cloud. "The Guttersnipe?"

"Yes, sir."


"Calidus, sir."

He felt no surprise. He felt something, something just beneath his breastbone that had hurt in a quiet, throbbing sort of way. But no surprise. The thing he had been watching closely took on a faintly clearer aspect. But a little longer, another glance, another phrase, and he might have the whole picture.

There was a hint of pride in Artos' tone as he went on. "She beat him, sir."

She beat him, sir.

The light played madly with the blade in his hands, standing as he was on the threshold of the house. It dazzled over the steel, running up and down, winking in and out of the battered gems of the hilt. It came to him that the sword was not very lovely. She had seen much service, and had taken a beating. But she was still firm in her hilt and she still sang a bit in the air when he moved her, and she could bite as hard as ever, and he had never needed her to be lovely.

He held it up to his face, gazing down the length of it, testing the sharpness of the edge. "You will be about Jason's size," he murmured. "Big and pretty, I can just imagine. At least you will be a man now, inasmuch as I can call you so. I could not kill a boy."

He slipped the weapon back in its worn wolfskin sheath at his hip and went down to tack up his mount.

Jeanne: Whatsoever Things

So then, she had a man. That was well. Druce nodded to himself, attempting to picture in his mind what sort of a man could keep a woman like this steady: a formidable one, no doubt. He came back to her question with a blink, rearranging his limbs as he leaned on the fence post. "What are you to do," he repeated, musingly. "What you are to do, girl, is follow orders. A soldier follows orders, and you, and the Guttersnipe, and even our broken-armed friend, are soldiers in valley. My lord Ambrosius will give you further instruction when the time comes: never fear. For now, go back to the orchard and, while you are at your work, keep your mind off war. Think on other things - "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely..." His voice trailed off and he turned to look away across the land. Then he continued, softly, as if to himself, "Whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things."

Lys: History

There was an unexpected question- and one she had not heard often in her life.

"Yes... no... that is, I did. It's been ten years since last I saw him. I do not know if he still lives, and if he does, he may have married another by now." She looked up. "We were only promised, you see. I have no real claim. So. I did have a man. But that changed when I was taken."

She sat a moment, remembering. "It was a night raid. One moment I was bidding him farewell for the night, and the next time I saw him he was fighting for his life and I was over a saddle, being carried away from everything I knew.

"I've been through this once already. Cunorix himself brought me over-sea. I don't look forward to meeting him again." She buried her head in her hands. "I've finally found a place that is stable and worth loving, and he is poised to snatch it away again."

Taking another deep breath, she continued. "I'm not like you and the Guttersnipe. I can't go out with sword and shield. What are we supposed to do when the time comes? We, the children and the women? Are we to have weapons thrust in our hands as well? Is there some place for us? What am I to do, besides pick apples and wait for death to invade?"

Jeanne: Fear and Courage

"Do you think you are the only one who is afraid?" Druce asked, his lips twisting in a mixture of anger and amusement. "We all fear it to some degree, girl, and we have different ways of coping - or not. It's no easy thing for a woman to think soberly of war, which, I daresay, is why my lord Ambrosius packed the two of you off to the orchard. You would have done better to stay there."

He sighed, slipping his hands around the muzzle of his horse and turning away from Aithne. He thought for a time, for she was a difficult creature to handle, and at last began again, "You must not twist the Guttersnipe's words. I do not know exactly what they were, but I know her, and I know that she will not stop fighting while there is breath in her body, and with her men around her she has no thought of giving up hope. You misunderstand her. Which," he added with a snort, "is not so hard to do. I know she has not resigned all thoughts of victory. She only looks ahead to a possibility."

Looking at her carefully over his shoulder, Druce softened at the misery in her face; he drew himself up onto the fence and spread his hands on his knees, saying with a curt nod, "She is man-raised, is the Guttersnipe. She has a manner of looking at the world that is peculiar to her, and it will take much time and patience for you to begin to understand her. Jason and Ambrosius know her best, which is understandable." He pointed his chin at her and narrowed one eye, remembering past changes in the woman's face when she saw Jason and the Guttersnipe together, and he asked gently, "Do you have a man over-seas?"

Lys: Reality

As her movement was arrested, and the question asked, the frantic, driving force drained from her, and her knees almost gave out with the loss of it. She sat down on the mounting step next to Druce. "I... I had to get away. I can't handle it anymore, Druce. Before now, I thought of it all in a sort of detatched manner- battle was coming, some people would die. But not people I know. Not..." Her voice fell to a whisper. "Not me." She took a deep breath, but it did not steady her much. "The Guttersnipe spoke of it as though defeat was a foregone conclusion- as though all that was left was for us to make it as hard as possible for them to win."

She hugged herself, feeling exposed, her heart laid out for the world to know. "I've been proud of my Scotti bravery, looking at battle as part of life. But now, I'm ashamed to say..." She looked up at Druce with round, wide eyes. "I'm terrified."

Jeanne: Witch

Druce turned from the horses' pen in surprise to face the person who came flying toward the stables, snapping out a hand involuntarily and catching her by the arm. He drew her up and looked into her face; it was the woman from Over-Seas, trembling from head to toe. He could hear her heart pounding and there was a wildness in her eyes that made him hold her out at arm's length. "Ho, girl!" he said. "What are you about? I thought you were to help the Guttersnipe in the orchard. Where are you running to?" He spoke as gently as his surprise allowed, but the thought flashed briefly through his mind that she was trying to get away from the villa and he wondered if she truly was a spy. "What are you about?"

Jenny: The White Things

Gaius approached him on his own as they finished breakfast and began to depart. With a little cast-away gesture, he said, "I am wanting to take another look at those stitches. Not that it matters..."

"Not that it matters," replied Artos, rising. But he was grateful. Something must have shown in his face, though he had shoved down the discomfort that came throbbing up his leg as he moved it, and Gaius must have caught it.

They quit the atrium and went through the passageways to his room and, Gaius having shut the door, Artos bared his leg to the surgeon's perusal. He thought it should be red and angry, but it had not changed. The stitching held firm, though the probing hurt.

"How does it feel?" asked Gaius.

Artos showed his dog-teeth. "Like a pack of bees is inside it. It feels angry."

The surgeon mused, "It is not looking angry..." Then he rocked back on his heels and frowned thoughtfully. For a moment neither said a word; Artos sat with his arms across his knees, Gaius idly fingering the hem of his own tunic. "You were seeing something earlier," Gaius said finally. "What was it?"

The young man dropped his gaze to the even stitching in his leg, feeling the pain but not the leg, looking at it as though at someone else. "It was more feeling than seeing," he replied slowly. "And even then, I don't know what I was feeling. It was the closest I have ever come to panic in my life, but it was not my panic. It was as though I were looking in the Guttersnipe's face after my uncle came home wounded. Like that, seeing the fear of her whole world crumbling to pieces in her eyes."

Gaius' mouth twisted into thoughtful patterns. Then, as he let out a sudden laugh, Artos demanded, "What?"

The other shook his head. "It is that I derive some comfort out of that. It is someone else's panic. Perhaps we will not all die. I do not know. It is a White Thing, and who ever knows how the White Things work?"

"Give me my breeches," said Artos.

Lys: Screaming

Aithne's momentum carried her fully out of the orchard before she realized what she'd done.

What did she do?

The clausterphobia that had been building up bit by bit inside her had become unbearable. Things were too close, the tension was too high, and if she did not do something big, she would go mad. She cast about, a part of her mind telling her she was being unutterably foolish and was likely to get herself killed, but the greater part of her screaming to do something other than standing still.

She picked up her skirts and ran for what was left of the stables.

Jenny: Behind the Storm-Grey Eyes

Startled, the Guttersnipe could not think of what to say for a moment. Then she swung down out of the tree and landed just as the boy came running up, bewildered.

"Where is she going?" they both demanded of each other fretfully. The Guttersnipe frowned. "That's no way to treat Virgil!"

Clearly divided, the boy asked her, "Do you want me to run after her, or should I stay here with you?"

"Oh, you can go." She forced a smile for him. "I have Frip, and Jason will be up soon. But please, make sure she doesn't do anything foolish." She touched his shoulder and squeezed it, as Artos used to do for her, and gave him a curt nod. He nodded back and bounded off, Cu trotting in his wake.

It was strange how big and quiet they left the orchard. She stood a moment listening to the silence: even the wind had died away. The heat left a shimmer over the tops of the hills. Frip came up, making a little noise in the grass, and propped his head comfortably against her hip, tongue lolling out. She patted his head absentmindedly, but she could not be as comfortable as he. Domitia's words had left her fretful and confused. Give up? Whoever said anything about giving up? "We never give up," she told the dog. She could not imagine doing anything other than what Ambrosius told her: who would dream about not doing what a man who could see beyond the next hill said to do? Surely they might all die - it was more than likely, unless the Lord of glory turned the pending events a sudden and unexpected way. Surely they might all die, but that did not let them off trying. They would fight, and go down fighting, and that would be something.

"Why can't Domitia see that?" she asked Frip. And, feeling suddenly ill, she sat down and pulled her knees up to her chest, hugging them tightly.

Presently there came a distant jingle in the grass, and she put up her head, listening. The valley was so quiet that the jingle came for a while before she saw Jason coming up through the grass to her, ducking in under the branches. "Why, sweetheart!" he murmured, catching sight of her face. "What is the matter?"

She wrinkled up her nose. "It is cramps."

Coming to her side, he sank down in the grass. Frip put his head in his lap. "I am sorry. It is a wretched time to be getting them."

"It is always a wretched time to be getting them," she retorted, attempting levity. But she was failing, and he was seeing that she was failing, so she added, "Haven't you somewhere important to be, something important to be doing?"

He smiled. "But I am somewhere important doing something important. I am here, keeping you from being dark and moody."

It did not make her feel any less ill, or mend the problem of Domitia, whose wick was guttering most fitfully in the airless atmosphere, but it made her feel warm inside to hear him. "I missed you this morning. I got up, and you were already gone."

"I was missing you. It is a long, quiet ride without you chittering away at my elbow."

"You are mocking me."

"I am mocking you." And he folded his arms across his knees, drawing in a deep breath of contentment. "But I am loving you, too. And I think you are minding neither much."

There was the pale stormy sparkle of the moonstone in his eyes as he smiled back at her, so she could presently begin with less heat than she had felt before, "Domitia thinks that it is stupid to be picking apples, when we are so surely bound to die."

The smile vanished from Jason's face. Catching the tenseness of his hands, Frip pulled up his head, whining softly.

"Ambrosius said for us to pick apples today," she went on aimlessly. "And Ambrosius is not stupid." And she began to lose a hold on her coolness.

He took a firm hold of her hand and shook it. "Don't you be working yourself up. Some people face death differently than others."

"But she was not seeing the point," the Guttersnipe protested. "And she was not seeing that sometimes you're not given to see the point. You do it, because he said to, knowing that he knows what he is doing." Her knuckles became white in his hand.

He sighed hard through his nose. "You know that," he told her, "and I know that. We don't have any other life than the shadow of the Hawk's wings. Guttersnipe, I am always having to come behind you and put your thoughts together for you."

She gave a broken laugh and covered her face with her hands. "Can I not box her to get sense into her? No, of course not. She would likely box me back."

Jason got back to his feet and pulled the handkerchief off her hair, ruffling her mane. "Get back to your apple-picking," he told her. "And don't worry: if we all die, you won't have to worry about it. And if we don't, Domitia will see Ambrosius' point."

"I love the way you think," she told him, and let him kiss her forehead before he swung off through the grasses, jingling softly, fading into the woolly silence.

Lys: Futility

She dropped an apple into the basket. "Then why do we pick apples at all? Why do we do anything today, if you mean to simply give up?" She dusted off her hands in a faintly angry manner. "I, for one, would go meet the enemy now, if that is the way of it."

She turned on her heel and walked away, not really knowing why. But she would not waste time on something that apparently had no point. Better to find something worth doing, or saddle Concordia and set off back the way they first came. For their sake, she would not flee the valley, but neither would she idle away her last hours.

Jenny: I Sing of Warfare and a Man at War

The Guttersnipe continued to work as she thought. She rolled an apple out of her hand into the basket, seeing, as it fell, not the clover-dappled grass beneath her, but the spangling light of the solarium in Vortigern's house, hearing her own voice as she read.

"Soldiers," she said, "brave as you are to no end, if you crave to face the last fight with me, and no doubt of it, how matters stand for us each one can see. The gods by whom this kingdom stood are gone, gone from the shrines and altars. You defend a city lost in flames. Come, let us die, we'll make a rush into the thick of it. The conquered have one safety: hope for none."

Lys: Stale Air

She stood, looking down the row of apple trees, her thoughts in some unknown place, then turned her face back up to the Guttersnipe. "How much longer, do you think?" she asked.

A pause. "And what will we do?"

She knew what they would do. And perhaps the Guttersnipe would even join them. But she was not made for battle, any more than Portia or Balba or Lucretia were. What were they to do, when the time came?

Jenny: Indigo, and the Varnished Sun

The Guttersnipe broke off her whistling as she worked and looked down at Domitia. Frowning, she lifted herself higher on the branch and leaned out, straining to listen. She could hear the soft breathy mutter of the wind barely stirring the leaves around her, and the sudden, sharp call of a mare in the valley. But Domitia was right: those noises were only stabs in the fabric of a great quiet which had quenched the valley from end to end. But underneath that, like a sleeper under a pile of rugs, she could feel the heartbeat still throbbing - or maybe it was only her heartbeat, or maybe it was Ambrosius' that had somehow got out and was throbbing in the whole valley now. She was not ever sure. It was like the feel of a thunder which is still too far away to hear. A deep, hot blue sky stretched immovable overhead, the sun burning the coolness out of the wind: a heavy day with no promise of rain, only the heat and the mutter of air.

"It is very quiet," she agreed, relaxed back onto her heels on the branch. She shifted and sat down, swinging her legs in midair. "What's more, it is dry." She turned an apple over in her hand, frowned at it, and dropped it into the basket.

Lys: A Matched Pair

Aithne handed a basket up to her. "I'll pick the low ones, then." She noticed, with some relief, that the orchard did not seem so close as the garden. Perhaps because it is cooler among the leaves. But there was still no birdsong. And with the trees muffling the bustle of the villa, it became more apparent.

She worked on in silence for a bit, enjoying the scent of the apples, but eventually she asked, "Guttersnipe... have you noticed how quiet it is?"

Jenny: Pigeon in the Apple Tree

The Guttersnipe flung open the storeroom door and descended the stairs, candle aloft. With no window, the room was drenched in a sleepy darkness, smelling of garlic and ginger and the mellow scent of flour. The boy tumbled in after her, and they fetched out the woven baskets from the corner. A rat had got in and died in one - the Guttersnipe dumped it out and kicked it away with a hoe. From they others they shook out the dried leaves of last year's apples, and with them stacked inside each other again, they put out the candle and went back through the kitchen to the garden.

Domitia was waiting for them. Arms full, the Guttersnipe joined her, boy and dogs in tow. "It is going to be hot!" she said. "You've got the cake. I will send the boy in for milk later, when we're ready. It will curdle in this heat."

They went up through the garden then, casting longing looks toward the pool, through the wicket gate and up the slope into the shade of the trees. Their boughs were nearly touching the ground, so heavily laden were they; their gnarled arms were crossed and folded over each other, a tangled mass of spicy trees.

The Guttersnipe tossed the baskets on the grass and pulled a handkerchief over her head, tying it up at the nape of her neck. "It will not take us an hour to fill those baskets," she said, eying the trees. Then, having hitched up her skirt, she turned to the boy and planted a kiss among his bushy locks. "That's for good luck. Now don't climb the trees."

"You're mad," he told her, pushing her away with his shoulder. And he went a distance away with the dogs so she might miss the scarlet in his cheeks.

Laughing at him, the Guttersnipe gestures to Domitia. "Up we go. Hand me up a basket." And she ran to one of the trees and began to climb the twisted branches, bare feet digging into the ragged bark. Off flew a robin at her approach, a whirling child's marble tumbling through the air across the green. "Euge!" she cried, having got up as high as she liked.

Lys: A Silent Bird

Aithne chuckled. "The princess is finished, and so all are finished, eh?" But she obediently rose and put the rest of her food into a napkin.

She took a moment to say goodbye to Caleb- heaven only knew what he was to do today- and went out to the garden to sit and wait for the baskets.

A bird alighted on a branch nearby, and trilled out a few notes before suddenly stopping, as though choked off. She quickly turned towards it, and found the bird fine, but silent. And suddenly she realized they were all silent. There was bustle, but it was all human bustle. No crickets, no birds, barely even wind.

It was as if nature itself had caught on to the danger coming- as if the whole valley was collectively holding its breath. She began to feel as if she herself could not breathe, and willed herself to remain calm.

But the valley suddenly seemed confining, and she wondered if it was not to be a snare by the end of it all.

Jenny: Apple Cake

The boy had the apple cake in his mouth and could not answer. He swung his legs violently, chewing with each jerk. And the Guttersnipe, who must have missed it, gave her plate a little shove and rose, saying, "I'm finished. The baskets are in the storeroom. Quick, wrap up some of that apple cake," she added. "We can eat it as we work."

She put her arms under the boy's and dragged him off the bench, saying as he protested, "You can manage an empty basket. Stop struggling, little squirrel! Don't forget the cake, Domitia! I'll meet you in the garden!"

Lys: A Small Part Of One's Self

"And what name would that be? From all I've heard, you haven't got one, imp." She shot the boy a vaguely amused look.

There was apple cake on the table, and she sliced him some, handing it down his way as a sort of truce offering, in return for the one he'd offered earlier.

She had thought the Guttersnipe a bit harsh in her wording, but she understood it. She had so much waiting for her, and no certainty of ever having it. Even prepared for death, there had to be a bit of a twinge at the thought. It was like when a friend died- one was happy they were with Christos, but a small bit of one's self could not help wishing they were still with one.

She sighed. They were a group, they were. Herself included.

Jenny: Fledgling Redshank

"I am always tight across the shoulders," the Guttersnipe told Domitia, speaking with her head away as she leaned round Caleb to look at Artos. Why was he looking so pale of a sudden? But then he was jerking his head aside to talk to Ambrosius, and she turned back to Domitia. "I just need a good swing about on Pharaoh to loosen me up. That was pleasant, though. You have a good pair of hands."

"Master Jason has a better," the boy said, jerking back his head and swinging his legs violently beneath the bench.

"Yes, of course," the Guttersnipe said, turning rosy-coloured, suddenly glad Jason was not around to endure the compliments.

He stopped his saucy swinging. "How have you been knowing?" he asked her. "Or have you been imagining?"

She glared at him across Domitia's lap. "Little redshank," she told him, though she knew he meant no harm. He was itching for a good boxing, poor thing, with his arms out of service as they were. "As soon as you're not broken to pieces - by your own doing, I add - Jason will remind you that he has a good pair of hands."

"Gladly!" said the boy, beginning his swinging again. He stuffed an egg into his mouth and chewed vigorously. Then he wanted to know, "Are you getting married soon? Because the tree in the orchard is my seat. Or it has been since spring. You need to find your own tree."

"It has been my seat since I was five years old!" the Guttersnipe protested. "And you can sit on the ground. You can hardly climb into it with your arms broken."

He kept swinging, looking at her across Domitia's lap out of one eye. "So, are you getting married soon?"



"Maybe if Cunorix doesn't butcher us all and strip off our armour and hang up our corpses over our burnt home, maybe."

He stopped swinging. Subdued, he stared at the tabletop in front of him. She could see the thoughts running darkly across his features, and she almost regretted putting it so bluntly. Swallowing a little, he inched over on the bench against Domitia, getting as close as he could and, still staring at the table, he murmured, "Guttersnipe... Will you name a baby after me?"

She pursed her lips. "I -." Words failed her for a moment. She looked round at Artos, who was still withdrawn, rubbing one ear absentmindedly. "Of course we'll name a baby after you, little redshank," she finished, suddenly exasperated, and not knowing why. "Don't be silly."

He gave a small, satisfied smile, and began to swing his legs again, slowly, thoughtfully, far away where there was a little tumble-haired child running through the dirt after him, and he was happy.

Lys: Half-ness

Aithne caught the exchange- Caleb's voice had brought up her head, and she followed his gaze. She noticed the drawing off as well- it was much like the Guttersnipe when upset. They both of them drew into themselves rather than make it known. She wished she could ease it as simply as she had eased the Guttersnipe's pain.

For a fleeting moment she saw something she hadn't expected. She thought, perhaps, that even he didn't recognize it in himself. In fact, she was near certain of it. But she'd lived with it long enough to recognize it in others. He was feeling his half-ness, if only for a moment. He had not met her yet, she gathered, which would be the chief reason he would not understand it. She hoped he would not have to live with it as long as she had.

Though any moment could be the final one, at this point. We none of us may have to live with anything for long. She found herself wishing Cunorix would attack and have it done. Thinking of him out there, drawing closer but not yet here... she shuddered and turned her mind towards the present, hoping for happier things.

Jenny: Calpurnia's Dream

There was a cold draught in the dark, and she opened her eyes, suddenly broad awake. A glimmer of light sprang up, took, and rose in the flower-shaped lamp. How cold and dark it was! It could not be near dawn yet. The dark and the cold crept inside her as he bent down toward her. Seeing that she was awake, she could hear the sad little smile in his voice as he spoke. "I have to go now, dear."

"But it so early," she protested.

"Yes, and I must go before the sun comes up. I must be on the road."

She reached up through the mellow gloom and put her hands in his dark hair. She began to feel as though she were a boat with its moorings cut, whirling adrift. Don't go! don't go! she wanted to beg him. Caesar did not listen! My Caesar, you must listen! But all that came out was, "It is not fair. The Guttersnipe always has Jason with her, and you are always having to go."

"Shh..." He sat on the edge of the bed, cupping her face in his hands. She could feel the hard callouses, the rein-torn skin, and it was better than anything she knew. "Don't be like this. You are tired and worried. You know I must go; I have so many things required of me: that is why you love me." She could just see his smile by the light of the lamp. "My uncle and I will be back in the autumn. The Guttersnipe is here."

"But I want you..." she murmured.

He gave her a kiss and rose. Looking up at him, the light falling full on him, she had one moment of happiness just to see him, though his face was a little in shadow. Then he drew in a sudden hissing breath of pain and looked down: the inside of his thigh was blooming with blood. He gripped it, the blood spilling over his hands, sinking to one knee.


Gwenhywfar sat up, broad awake, heart hammering in her chest. It was morning, the light streaming in through the cracks in her shutters. She whirled out of the blankets, startling the cat, and ran to the shutters, throwing them wide open. The morning light burst into her face, but the dead thing still weighed in her chest. Trembling, almost too frightened to sob, she sank down onto her knees, fists clenched to her lips.

"Oh God, oh sovereign God, have mercy on me..."


"Artos!" Caleb was looking at him, smiling. "Your ears are red. Who is talking about you?"

He laughed back, shaking his head. But his ears were red, faintly burning, and his leg was hurting more than it had been. Uneasy, he withdrew into himself, hoping to catch Gaius before they divided for their tasks.

Lys: Loosening Up

Aithne pursed her lips, thinking it through. Then with one fluid motion she swung her legs back over the bench and knelt behind the girl. "Arms on the table, please." The Guttersnipe obligingly bent forward and Aithne started in, trying to find exactly where the trouble was. "This would be a lot easier if you were lying down." she muttered. Also with some oil and less clothing. But she doubted the sight of the Guttersnipe laid out on one of the benches would go unnoticed in this crowd, and the latter scenario was downright impossible.

She found the trouble and massaged the unhappy muscles back where they belonged. She felt the girl stiffen a few times when she hit particularly sore spots, but she soon had things more or less put to rights.

She stood up, flexing her fingers, which were now a bit achy themselves. Sitting down again, she said "Well, that should do it." She lowered her voice- not to a whisper or conspiratorial tone, but not loud enough for the whole room to hear, either. "Truth be told, you could do with more than that. What have you been sleeping on, rocks?"

Jenny: A Rich Roman Lady

Caleb must have overheard, for he suddenly drummed his fingers on the table dramatically and moved away. Throwing him a laughing look, the Guttersnipe turned to Domitia. "I am not minding that," she said. "I will feel like a rich Roman lady. You're not exactly who I was thinking of, but you'll have to do for now."

Lys: An Offer Of Relief

Aithne noticed the Guttersnipe's discomfort, and though she knew the girl would probably say no, she asked, "Would you like me to rub your back?" She blushed a little. "I've had training, believe it or not." For some reason, that fact seemed out of place here.

But she knew she could relieve the pressure, and quickly. And she was not one to see a friend suffer for pride's sake.

Jenny: Second Breakfast

The Guttersnipe rewarded Druce with a warm smile. "Yes, Druce," she said obediently, subconsciously dripping at the knees. She left him to wander toward the others and scurried herself into the kitchen with the water that was long past been wanted.

"Sha!" she breathed, plunking down the bucket. "I'm wanting some muscles in my back! Has it been so long since I was dancing on a horse?"

"Go be asking your surgeon about them, then," retorted Portia, snatching up the bucket. "He knows his muscles from his bones."

She liked that idea, but did not say so, and, twitching her nose, she went back out into the atrium to join the others, wishing for a bit of dancing on horseback, knowing she was not going to get anything near it for a while - if they lived to see tomorrow. She rejoined Domitia, sitting by her to keep her company, between her and Caleb. The broken-winged boy sat on Domitia's right, swinging his legs, waiting expectantly for his second breakfast.

Lys: Curiousity Killed the Cat- But The Cat Probably Died Happy

Summarily dismissed. Ah well, it wasn't as though she wanted to be included in such things. It just felt odd to get something of a pat on the head from a man fully five years younger than herself, if not more.

She moved into the room, enjoying the cool morning air that had trapped itself inside. The boy was sitting there, eyeing her oddly, as usual, and she had an interesting thought. She continued to idle, rather than taking a seat, and decided she would sit within earshot if possible, but just within. He was the type to talk loudly with the menfolk, and she thought she might learn the truth in that way. Whether kept from her for her good or not, she still found herself itching to know.

Jeanne: Polish

Druce glanced quickly to the places the Guttersnipe indicated, but he was more careful to watch her face. His own eyes narrowed at her and he shrugged, lips pulling into a frown. "No, we have not much polish today," he said in a low voice, like hers. "But we need not polish to win a battle. Do not you worry about man-things, Guttersnipe." He smiled then, teeth flashing, and nodded toward Aithne. "You two be about your business, and keep your mind off these things."

Jenny: Moth-Eaten

The Guttersnipe looked round as Druce approached, brightening to see a friendly face. At his inquiry, she glanced over the room. "Ambrosius is just there," she said, pointing. "I am not seeing Caleb or Gaius - they must have slipped out a moment. There is Artos: he was fetching something off the floor." She turned back on the young man. "I was told Jason is on patrol and won't be back until midday. His mare would not be in the pen."

And then she twisted her face oddly, feeling the absence of Kay and Bedwyr somewhat keenly. She managed to warm a little to see Master Lucius come in the room, but was dampened by the sleepless look around his eyes.

"We are looking somewhat patch-worky and moth-eaten today," she murmured to Druce.

Jeanne: Man Cub

Druce laughed, not so much at the boy's words as at the expressions on his face that struggled to be manly. He would have clapped the lad on his shoulder, but his broken arms made such a gesture impossible. "So ho!" he chuckled. "You had an eye on her for a bride, did you? I would advise you to look to our own stock here, and not tamper with women from over seas. As for me, I thank you for your consideration; I want no poison in my wine."

With these words he turned from the boy and went instead to the Guttersnipe and her companion. He touched his forehead to them both, but addressed the former as he said, "Where are the menfolk, Guttersnipe? I've seen nothing but women since I came - other than the cub here," he added with a considerate glance at the boy. "I've almost begun to think you have scared them away."

Jenny: The Torqued Man

The boy squinted back up at Druce, then back at Aithne. "I think she means to be a witch," he told Druce, "but she is no good at it. I am not marrying her. You can take her, but good luck with that, I say. She might put magic pins and needles in your bed, or poison your wine - even by accident! So I am keeping an eye on her, and making sure the Guttersnipe stays safe while Jason is away." And he squinted up one eye and opened wide the other, twisting round to give Druce only his face, as the young Erin warrior was said to do when the battle-rage took him.

"Too bad my arms are broken," he added stiffly through the exaggerated smile he gave.

Jeanne: Stranger from Over-Sea

It was not hard to spot the boy, even amid the bustle of preparation; the sun shone off his white bandages and his crooked arms gave him an unwieldy, unmistakable look. Half out of curiosity, half out of amusement, Druce moved to the lad's side and leaned down to speak in a confidential tone. "I see you have not left off your charge yet," he said, arching an eyebrow. "How goes the task of watching our stranger from Over-Sea?"

As he spoke he glanced behind them at the approaching women and the great dog at the newcomer's side. They looked very different side-by-side, did the Guttersnipe and the other: the Guttersnipe was all wild, girlish grace and laughter, not so different from the child Druce had grown up with; the stranger, in comparison, seemed tired despite the straightness with which she held herself. But then, she was older than the Guttersnipe - or so Druce guessed. He narrowed his eyes and listened for snatches of the conversation that passed between the women, reflecting in the meanwhile that he would stake all his possessions on her being neither spy nor witch. A difficult woman, perhaps, but she was not cut out of enemy cloth, and at least there was honesty in her face. So, he reflected; she would be no trouble in the battle to come, and he could rid himself of all worry concerning her and merely watch her progress with interest.

"Eh?" he said in a less quiet voice, turning back to the lad and nudging him.

Lys: Enough

Aithne was silent a moment, thinking it over. Finally, though, she nodded. "It is enough. A part of me is still reserved, but it is enough."

She entered the villa, and her eyes took a little while to adjust. But it was becoming familiar- the bustle and noise of people talking over one another while the food was put in place, then everyone taking seats- still talking.

For a moment, while still sun-blinded, she could imagine herself home. For a moment she thought her eyes would adjust to see her father sitting by the fire, tuning his harp.

But only a moment. Then it was gone, and she was back in Britania, in a villa, not a hall.