Jenny: A Touch of North Wind

With nothing to do except tag along behind Aithne, the boy stood kicking his heels, listening to the sounds outside. They came like the seashell-sounds of waves: rising and falling, roaring and drumming away to a murmur. He noticed the Guttersnipe, decked out in her fine cat-skin dress, very pretty and pale, holding herself all inside herself like a thing caught in amber; he noticed her going about her work without a word. He saw Master Jason going about the familiar work of the surgeon, finding a sort of comfort in the shiny tools that had poked and prodded him after he had valiant flung himself out of trees; Lucretia, Portia, little Minna who was dry and old as an apple leaf: they were all losing themselves in their tasks, content to let the world rage outside while they made, for the moment, a bright bastion within the villa for life and the keeping of life.

It was all very good for them, he considered, having a good thing to do. But what of himself? Following womenfolk. He kicked at the table leg. Master Jason had a man's tools to work with, but he had nothing. One part of him wanted to go to the Guttersnipe and crouch down at her feet and look up at her face and say, "We will keep you safe, Lord Ambrosius and Master Jason and I." But that other part of him, that part of him which was older than he would ever have chance to imagine, wondered, knowing it could never ask her, "You care for Lord Ambrosius, and you care for Master Jason... But do you care for me?"

He could never ask, because she would only give that harsh little mocking laugh of hers and shove him away and tell him not to be silly, to know she cared for him, of course. But he wanted her to care as she cared for Lord Artos, and knew she could never do that, because there was no one like Lord Artos. Certainly not himself.

He kicked at the table leg again.

"Is it that you are trying to break your foot this time?"

Jason was looking at him disapprovingly. "No, sir," he said, shamefaced. He wanted to ask if there was anything he could do, but pride kept him silent. He stood quietly by and watched without seeing as Jason moved the iron in the fire.

Finally the young surgeon sighed. "The wounded are not going to drag themselves in. Take Domitia and see if there are any beyond the garden - don't stray into the orchard."

He stood there a moment, staring rather blankly back. It was a huge task. The task of a man. But all he felt was a numbness - rather, he felt nothing. The closest he could come to feeling anything was a sort of dull, throbbing horror. But he squared his shoulders and turned on one heel, striding across to Aithne. Strange how his words came out when he spoke, a little deeper and a little more distant than before. "Master Jason is sending us out to look for the wounded and bring them in. You're to come with me. You look strong enough for the work."

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