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 She looked round at Artos, who was still withdrawn, rubbing one ear absentmindedly.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.

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