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.

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