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.

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