Jenny: The Scarlet of Urgency

There was a firecrest far up in the elm of the cloister garden when Gaius emerged. The early morning wind was cold against his skin, but the cloth still held true. He looked down, running his fingers over the backbone of stitching in the cloth just under his right breast. He had pried that spear-head out himself, and Artos had held the skin together as he had stitched himself up, hands slipping in the blood. The cloth was still stained from the ordeal.

"Good times," he murmured, a reckless smile sparking on his face. "It is good to be back."

Suddenly there came a muffled sound of barking and shouting from within the cloister, and he whirled, remembering the dog that had been sitting by the boy as he passed by. Unhappy noises, almost desperate, he whirled and ran back into the dove-grey shadows, following the sounds of a fight.

He came upon them just as the dog lunged, snapping, and the boy kicked it in the chin. With both his arms broken, he was barely holding his own. As the dog went to lunge again, Gaius flung himself into the melee, wrestling the dog into a headlock. Lucretia was there, all in a fluster, arms around the boy, who was crying, "She made him attack me! The witch made him attack me!"

"Get a hold on yourself, old boy," Gaius growled as the dog, propelled by a strange desire to run at the boy, jumped and writhed in his arms. "Sit down, boy! Sit down!" He tried to get up, one hand holding a massive scruff of fur, but the dog whirled aloft, tore out of his grasp, and sank his teeth over Gaius' hand. With a cry he leapt back - Lucretia gave a horrified scream.

He stood against the wall, holding a bleeding hand. His wife had the boy up in her arms, her face pale. The dog had sunk back to its belly, looking up at him with sorrowful eyes. It made itself as little as possible under his gaze, knowing it had done horribly wrong.

"Get out!" he told it. "Bad dog. Get out!"

The big brindled creature slunk away down the passage, pausing at the entryway with the light at its back, tail swinging slowly and low, as if to return one last apology before trotting out of sight.

"Oh, Gaius, is it bad?" asked Lucretia, setting the boy down.

He brushed away the blood. "It's just a graze," he assured her. "The dog barely sank in. I don't think it meant to hurt me. It was an accident. It could have happened to anyone."

"It tried to eat me alive," the boy insisted.

Gaius frowned down at the boy. Fanciful as the Guttersnipe, he doubted the boy would deviate from his story any time soon. "Habet!" he replied, tousling the boy's hair with his good hand. "You're alive, so go chase down your near-death brush with a bit of milk and barley cake with Lucretia. I have to go to the hall now."

He kissed his wife one last time and watched her pull the boy away, who was beginning in on how the foreign girl had enchanted the dog into hurling itself at his throat, when he had done nothing himself to compromise her own safety, and as Gaius was turning to leave the cloister, he heard the boy exclaim, "So I shan't be marrying her any time soon!"


Someone had opened the door in the vestibule, and the autumn breeze was coming in, strong and cool, heavily scented with apples. Ambrosius had drawn his chair close to the hearth and sat with one boot on and the other half-laced while the maids worked on setting up breakfast behind him, and the new pups tumbled over each other between the legs of his chair. One came to gnaw at the laces he had already tied, and he watched it out of the corner of one eye as he worked at the second boot.

With the fine scent of apples filtering into the room, he returned to thinking about the day's work. In a little while the Guttersnipe would be tumbling out, and after breakfast she would be needing something to put her hands to or she would be underfoot. Jason had gone on early patrol, so she did not have him to attach herself to. The apples needed picking, and the trees were full enough so that she would not need to wander far.

The lights in the vestibule dimmed, and he glanced over to see Domitia come in, casting about as though she were on the run, and looking for someone. He was faintly surprised to find that when she saw him, she ran toward him, offered obeisance, and spilled something like a plea out at his feet. She stopped, coming to a stammering halt, and seemed unable to say more. He waited a moment, searching her face. There was nothing in his valley to warrant such fear, yet she stood indignant, cheeks flushed, and shyly speechless in front of him.

He gave the ends of his bootlaces a jerk and sat back. "Find yourself a moment, child," he told her, "and start again from the beginning."

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