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."

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