Lys: Energetic

Aithne shook her head. "I spoke of it as others will. For myself, I call it a blessing. There are very few prophets left in the world today."

Having finished her herbs, she stood, brushed her skirt off, and took up a basket of mending. With so many rough-and-tumble types in the place, the basket was rather large. What with one thing and another, the girls who usually mended were unable to catch up to the post-battle influx. Aithne had gladly offered to help, and so now she sat a little closer to the firelight, stitching up holes and rips and working to make the clothing once more worthy of the men that wore it.


Cathair began to feel that if he stayed as he was much longer, he'd either fall asleep or else grow grouchy.

So he stood up, patted his leg for Cu to follow, and headed towards the door. He made sure to catch Aithne's eye before they left, though. He didn't want her panicking.

Outside, he ruffled the fur on the dog's head. "What do you think of a run, Cu? Work off some of that extra energy? Hm?" Cu barked what seemed an energetic agreement, and so the two set off down the path. Cathair had no clear idea of where he was going, but he figured a ramble wouldn't be a bad thing...

Jenny: "What Kind of Man is This?"

Caleb plucked a string and watched the thrum of it, stilling it with the knuckle of his thumb as his fingers moved on. Over the curve of his harp he could see the Guttersnipe and Aithne, and under the softness of his playing he could hear them. At Aithne's words, the brown-flecked girl jerked her head round, eyes hard in her pointed vixen face: she was the sort to strike a blow at whatever was closest, no matter that it was not what she particularly wanted to hit. But like a candle which springs up angry and tall when first lit, and sinks to a quiet, steady glow, her eyes dropped back to her work and she gave her head a mare-ish little shake. "Uncanny is a manner of putting it," she replied. "It is a matter of authority. It is ours to See and Know and whisper winds of spring out of the Land of Summer... You may call it uncanny, if you like."

A spray of golden notes, each perfect as flaming autumnal leaves, fell from Caleb's hands. So like her father she could be, the little brown-flecked girl: cold in a touch of warmth, turning the shoulder while she turned her face, wary and friendly at once. He wondered if the frank Erin-girl would understand: so few people did. She was, with all respect and love for country people, not much more yet than a country girl, seeing the world in black and white and straight as the furrows of a field. But men could furrow more than fields, and there was a blur of indistinct colour between the white of the eye and the black centre. The Guttersnipe managed without thinking about it to hold on to her valley roots with a fierce vengeance and at the same time move among the tangled knotwork of their British scene. She had done it since childhood: it was natural for her. But Caleb was not sure Aithne would ever come to that place where the darker dimension of men's minds became an important reality - no more important than the furrowed farmland that sustained them, but just as real. If the Guttersnipe was not careful, the Erin-girl would never understand the coolness, but always mistake that detached thoughtfulness for disinterest, when the Guttersnipe, like her lords, was only going away within herself to think.

Lys: Uncanny

Cathair's mind turned to the men in the hypocaust- his fellow soldiers for many months. He'd formed bonds with some of them- the kind of brotherly friendships born of battle. He wondered, how many had been just as deceived as he?

He had purposely not attempted to find out who died, who escaped, and who was taken. If his brothers were below his feet, he would be placed in a quandry. Better not to know, and speak for them when- if- the time came.

He thought about Cunorix- the great deceiver. Aithne would chastise me for calling him that. On the leash of Vortigern and thinking he was a partner in the scheme. And soon he would be dead. If Arthur did not command it, Cathair would see it done. He did not know how, exactly, but he would.

And tomorrow morning he would speak with Lord Ambrosius about a house for Aithne. It was possible to make a life here. And she deserves it- needs it. He would do everything and anything for her.


Aithne listened. There were many words spoken in low tones, and she caught many of them. None of them said much, by themselves, and even cobbled together there was little to be known.

But she knew.

Her mother had called it uncanny. Her father had called it a blessing. She had thought it a fun way to pass the time.

"An edict." she said, quietly. "An order to kill anything that seems uncanny. And we are uncanny, are we not?" she asked. She wondered if the Guttersnipe would think her swift deduction uncanny...

Now she knew what Cathair's reserve was all about. If they came after Lord Ambrosius, they would come after her next. Her, the Guttersnipe... She wondered if Vortigern would stand by and allow his own daughter to die...

Jenny: Elemental Power

Strange how paper-thin one could feel, battered and worn as if by a long storm or illness, just surfacing and too tired, too worn, to beaten, to care if one had survived or not. Gwenhywfar felt remarkably light; she was not sure what held her down in her chair other than sheer lack of will. Where her mind wandered, she was never sure. She stared into the heart of the fire beside her, silent, lost, thin and tired. So tired! A flicker of a thought came into her mind: so tired of fighting every day, so tired of being Andromeda on the rocks, lashed with the unceasing, hungry waves. She wanted to ebb away into leviathan's mouth and not have to fight any more. The fire, curiously bright, blurred at the edges, sharp and stinging in the middle, seemed to reach out and beckon to her comfortingly, though she had no strength or will to answer even if she had wanted to. She let it mingle with her and felt the elemental warmth glow inside her, but too tired to take the strength from its blue-white core. So tired of fighting, so tired, so tired...

Ship-bap! Ship-ship-ship-bap-bap-BAP! Crackacrackcrackacrackcrack!

She turned her head, in dream or waking she was not sure then, to see a dark blur of a figure in one of the hall windows, so drenched in the far shadows that she could not pick out its nature. A faint, detached sense of panic came to her from somewhere. She watched it, listened to it, unable just then to move or think much.

A boy's figure broke from the shadows among the pillars and moved to the window, running on silent bare feet. He was thin and growing to be tall; he reached up easily and unlatched the window, swinging it open. The fires flickered and writhed in the draught of the windy, stormy night. Gwenhywfar barely stifled a shiver. There was a blustery flapping of wings between the casements, and the boy pulled in a sodden owl, furious and protesting. He hushed it by clamping his hand firmly over its beak.

"Hush, son of Ahriman - child of the devil!" the boy said angrily. He stepped away from the window, still handling the bird as one might handle a pup, shutting the window as he did so. Then, crouching by one of the pillars, he said in a gentler tone, "Ah - ah! You have it. Good, good boy. Mm...!" He ruffled the creature's feathers round its head, crooning to it, taking from its talons a long sharp object. The firelight, weak among the shadows, managed to catch it and flash off in steely blue. Seeing it, Gwenhywfar felt as though it had rammed her through the breast, and she could not stifle the noise which lunged out of her throat. In a moment the boy was on his feet, the owl crying loudly. From her own feet where it had until now been sleeping, the cat rose in a flurry of claws. The bird shrieked, the cat screamed, the world seemed a hollow bubble of light sharply divided from the shadows. The boy ran at her faster than she thought possible, the knife poised to kill. At the last moment she jerked out her hand to arrest his advance.

The bracelet on her wrist, made of gold and hanging with filigreed rowan leaves, clinked and chimed with her violent movement.

Only his eyes and chest moved to show that he was not frozen in his place. The cat drummed angrily by her skirts; the owl sat fluffed to twice its size on his shoulder. But she looked only at the boy, and his big uncanny black eyes flickered from the thing on her wrist to her face, the firelight reflecting in them, yet never illuminating them. A tiny flame of triumph burned in her unpierced breast.

"There are Laws, Mordred," she said firmly. The fine rowans leaves were tinged crimson at their tips, veined in silver light. "You are bound by them."

"Were that I a man!" he said, voice swift and low and warm; "older and strong: I would break your little bauble - and then I would break you."

"Go back to the haunts of your wildcats, boy."

He turned his head, as the owl would do, his body stationary, and looked at her out of one fierce large eye. "This knife is old, and it has slept for long and long, and not once tasted blood. Yours would be sweet to it tonight - aye, tonight! with the east wind gathering with the wolves on the moor: a potent night, a potent blood, amber princess."

Her taffeta skirts rustled loudly in the hall as she rose, the bracelet and the knife between them still, crescent moon and golden circle of sun at elemental odds. "By deep heaven, boy," she murmured, as swift and low and warm as his own tone, "you are a little foolish frog to be playing with the war-horses."

"So?" The boy had to tip back his head to see her face, one half of his countenance in shadow, the other uncannily pale and ghostly in the light. And still there was no fear in those eyes, eyes from which it seemed an immortal and tangible hatred looked out on her. "But the foolish frog is small and hard to kill, and I will not always be too small to run among the war-horses. Let your deep heaven be 'ware of that, amber princess! Heaven is deep, ah - but so is hell."

To him she had no answer. She sensed in him a bloodthirst she had never seen matched, and he stood upon the brink of whipping up the east wind and the wolves and the shadows of wolves, things which a man could not see, but could feel always watching, formless forms upon the edges of one's vision. Foolish frog! did he not know he was too small to hold such shadows in his own leash? So she kept her peace, and let the hatred and the lightless lit eyes smoulder, and suffered the crawling feeling of the shadows against her skin. And when the silence stretched out long enuogh for him to know she would make no answer, he stood a step back, mocking her with a gesture of palm to forehead, and quit the hall on his silent feet. The owl continued to look at her, turning its head with its eyes fixed upon her own countenance. She looked at it, knowing she would hate herself should she look away.

"Mraw!" said the cat, and leapt into her arms. She held it close, finding comfort in the harsh prick of its heedless claws on her skin. She noticed then that the hall had fallen dark, and the fire had become a sullen wolfish sprawl of pulsing ruby light in the hearth. Dark, so dark! Darker still the night - darker still the future. You were formerly in darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.

She sat down, tired, but not so tired as before. The prospect of journeying south to Saxonland was at once bitter and sweet to her mind.

"Artos!" she murmured huskily. "Artos, I need you now..." She dropped her head in her hands, and the cat gently licked her cheek.

Lys: Listening.

So. An incriminating letter? What was there about Lord Ambrosius that would require his death? Nothing, that she could see. It was, perhaps, possible to fool some people, but the circumstances taken as a whole indicated something beyond what he might have or have not done. They pointed to a pack of convincing lies, or some ill-made ruling, born of malice. But why would Lord Ambrosius hold it in his own possession? She understood his reason for not destroying it, but she wondered why it was there in the first place.

Still, she found the status of the room to be "let it lie", and so did not continue her line of inquiry. Instead she sat, worked, and listened for any choice words to be dropped. She thought she would never get used to this way of life. At home, everyone was in everyone's business. Nosy wasn't half an explanation for it. There was nothing wrong with asking.

Here, it seemed almost as if everyone conciously avoided other people's business. As a slave, she had learned to keep her questions to herself, or ask other slaves. But here, she was free, living among the lords of the valley, and still, it seemed, too much inquisitiveness was frowned upon.

So she fell into her old ways of listening and making connections between bits of unrelated information. For all her penchant for jumping to conclusions, her information gathering rarely led her wrong. She already knew more than she'd been told. She imagined by the time the day was over, she'd have the whole story and then some.

Jenny: The Garden Wall

The Guttersnipe had no opinion to voice on Cathair's account. She could not yet like him. Master Lucius, warm and friendly, if a little hesitant, she had reached out to almost at once. He had been to her the brightness of the sun in a dark cold place, a steady and somehow familiar figure, as though she had come upon his friendship long ago in her dreams as a child, so that meeting him had not seemed a new thing at all. Domitia's young man held for her all the coarseness of a stranger, warm-hearted through he may prove to be under that hard turtle-type shell. She looked on him with a cool wariness that Gwenhywfar had unwittingly taught her. He had potential, he might even prove himself well in time, but he was not her concern, and like a handful of pebbles she let him slide and fall away from her grasp to the ground, attentive to other things.

The tiny clicks of the black-and-white draughts pieces filled the quiet around them, adding to the softer, more thoughtful music of Caleb's harp. She was desperately grateful for those noises. They walled off the outside world for a little while longer, a thin muffling barrier between herself and the howling dark. This was what it was like to grow up, she thought. Before she had been too small to see over the garden wall into the landscapes beyond. She had always wanted to know what lay beyond the wall, somewhere constantly in the back of her mind, though she had been happy to play in her garden. Now she was older, taller, and she had seen the world over the wall, and it was as beautiful and as dangerous as the wild expanse of the northern moors: raked with the winds, tawny and bristling with warm pink ling, brindled with the racing shadows of the clouds. And so big, so far and so big. She sat inside her garden with the wind howling out on the moors and pretended, a little, with the flush of shy womanhood on her cheeks, that the moor was not outside, and that her garden was the world.

"It is a long story," the Guttersnipe said at last, keeping her words under the gentle thrum of Caleb's playing. "There are many who hate us, and now they may have a weapon in their hands against us."

Lys: Indifference

Cathair bore the look with something akin to indifference. In his mind, it was an honest, valid question. And while she was the lady of the villa, so to speak, her opinion had little bearing on the exchange, so far as he was concerned.

He sat back and observed, only half of him truly attending. The main half was busy trying to determine what to do about this new menace.


When the Guttersnipe returned to her seat, Aithne spoke to her in low tones, not meant for others' ears. "Please don't mind him, Guttersnipe. He... he is neither bard nor Roman, and so does not understand. I can tell you without a doubt that he meant no disrespect." Looking over at him, she added, "Sure, and he has a good heart, for all his bluster."

She bound a few herbs together into a small bundle. Later it would, perhaps, be used for a tea. After this short pause, she asked, "Just exactly what has happened?"

Jenny: Pieces of a Game

Having no more to say on the matter, Lord Ambrosius turned back to Lord Artos, who sat forward in his chair, brows clenched into dark, shadowed thought, chin on his palm, elbow on his knee. He glanced up, brows flickering quizzically, as his uncle looked at him. "Well, cub," Ambrosius said huskily; "are you ready for this?"

Artos flung himself back in his chair, gripping his thigh with his teeth on edge. "There is a certain sense of poetic justice in the notion that the men beneath our feet will water with their blood the fields they have scorched... Yes, Uncle. I am ready."

"Then tomorrow evening we will bring them out and hear what they have to say. Perhaps one of them will know a thing or two about the knife. Until then, it is the Sabbath. Rest as much as you can." He said it with obvious dry irony, the grey in his eyes flashing pale and blue as steel will do when turned in the light. He moved to his chair and sat down, easing himself a little as though he had an old stiffness which time only compounded, and as Master Lucius watched, the glanced up and caught his eye. "Master Lucius," he murmured in a tone that reminded the Greek vaguely of Gwenhywfar. "Do you play draughts?"

"I do, sir. I am accounted fairly good at the game."

At once the Guttersnipe put her things aside and rose, stepping lightly into the corners of the room to fetch the draughts board. She had to pass and pause by Cathair, and Master Lucius, following her movements with curiosity, saw the swift, low look she gave the Irish bull. He had seen Gwenhywfar give such a look; but Gwenhywfar had height and the trappings of a queen to aid her: he wondered how the Irish bull would take the little fighting cock's reproach. She returned, head high, with the heavy chequered draughts-board made of cherry-wood, well worn and used, and set it on the table between the two of them. She returned to her place, and Ambrosius shifted forward to arrange his pieces. Master Lucius seated himself, laughing wryly to find himself in such a familial position across from the great Hawk, and began to do the same.

Lys: Bah

For Cathair, Lord Ambrosius might as well have been speaking Greek, for all the sense it made.

Aithne, however, seemed to understand. She nodded in agreement, with a sense of newfound respect and approval about her. So whatever it was must've been pertinent.

He had the vauge idea he'd been chastised for butting his nose into matters above him. Bah. Bards- they are their own club. Much as I love Aithne...
But Lord Ambrosius was also his lord and military superior, and as such he deserved and required respect, which Cathair gave readily.

So he simply nodded and relinquished the matter. His mind was now mostly occupied with keeping Aithne safe. He would protect Lord Ambrosius to the end, but there were closer ties, and he did not think even his lord would object.


Aithne had awoken to find herself in the midst of heavy talk. She still wasn't quite certain what had happened, but gathering the threads of information, she was able to make out that there was a dangerous document in the wrong hands- one that could spell disaster for Lord Ambrosius, and consequently, his followers.

And there was something in it that Cathair was not telling her. She could feel it radiating from him- a fear which she'd never sensed from him before. It worried her. She also knew he would not tell her for a long time yet. He would hope to spare her as long as possible.

So she rose, slowly parting, to reassure him if he needed it, and made her way to the Guttersnipe's side, sitting down by her and taking up that part of the work which she knew. When things went back to semi-normal, she would ask the girl for the details.

Jenny: Words

Ambrosius made no more move than a big dog-wolf would when a pup has barked in its face. Master Lucius wondered that Cathair had even the nerve to throw such a charge at the Hawk's feet until he remembered that Cathair came from a world beyond the Roman limes, and the Greek wondered how Ambrosius would make the young man understand a world which was, in all things, unfamiliar and, in many things, hateful. In the blustery, whirling world that was opening its mouth and howling at Ambrosius, one barking pup was of no concern, and Master Lucius saw it in the eyes Ambrosius turned to Cathair.

"Your father-in-law is dead," he said after a little pause, and it was odd how his voice sounded like a stone dropping over a tomb's mouth - as though his words made the man's father-in-law deceased. "Your father-in-law, your chieftain, is dead and his unceasing Word has returned to the Mouth that spoke it. But for you, Cathair of Erin, his Word-Among-You must remain, and you must continually honour it. You must never destroy a man's Word."

Lys: Druids

Cathair cursed hotly, only just under his breath. Aithne stirred, and he realized he'd inadvertantly tightened his grip and sat forward, jostling her. Damn them! Ignorant, superstitious fools... He wasn't terribly pleased with his own side, either. Why was it that the great ones always had to keep their one weakness locked up, when it was so blasted easy to destroy?

And now it was most likely in the wrong hands. How someone had managed to get to it, he had no idea. But there was an anti-druid edict running loose in the land, and the woman he held in his arms was close enough to one for a mob's judgement.

I'll keep watch, Aithne. May God strike me dead if I allow you to be taken off again. His hand closed over the hilt of his knife, and it gave him an odd sort of comfort to know it was there. It was to be a waiting game, then. He hadn't minded too much before- he would've sent Aithne to the hills when the battle came, and they would not have bothered to look. But now, it seemed, she would be in more danger than he, and that was enough to make him want to ride out right now and hunt down the cursed knife and he that stole it.

Aithne stirred again, blinking open sleepy eyes and looking up at him, slightly disoriented. For a moment, she looked like a newborn foal, trying to make sense of her world. Then she came fully into waking and sat up, looking around. "I fell asleep again?" She turned to him. "Oh, Cathair, I'm sorry. Here..." She slid off his lap and back to her place beside him. "I don't know what's come over me. I guess... you're just... comfortable." she blushed. Then, tucking her hair back in place, she asked, "What did I miss?"

Cathair set his jaw. "Our Lord Ambrosius just signed his own death warrant." And yours. "Pardon my bluntness, sir, but why in the name of all that is holy did you not simply destroy the cursed thing?"

Jenny: Devil-in-the-Dusk

He knew what she met, but he wondered if she really understood. The little fighting cock sat primly in her feathers surrounded by her familiar people - warm, friendly people, Master Lucius considered - and seemed a world apart from the half-stripped, barbaric little creature which had led them in the woods. It's the native in her, he supposed. They touch things so far back they do not even know how they do it. Still, when had she ever taken the welcome-cup and found it poisoned? When had a friend's smile turned to wolfish fangs in the dark for her? Just then she cast up a brown-flecked, open face, smiling, to Artos above her: wholly disarming and sweet. Despite all, her gold had never turned to dragonfire in her hands.

Now, Ambrosius... He turned his head as the lord entered the atrium, Gaius behind him. Ambrosius had tasted that cup and found that wolf-face smiling back at him through the dark. Artos too, for the two were one in everything. There was something between the two of them now, something dark and secretive, which had only got worse as the week went by. Not having the vast distractions of the world to deal with, Master Lucius had sat and watched the thoughtful brooding tension between the two of them. Quite naturally, Vortigern's bid for power through bloodshed would set the two lords on their toes; but it was something else that Master Lucius felt. He could not put a finger on it, nor did he ever dare to ask though he had sat by Artos' bedside for many hours through the week. He missed Gwenhywfar coming to him and confiding in him; he found he missed the challenge. Tacitus was all well and good, and Pliny was company enough for hours, and he knew he would never break open all of Paul's philosophical eggs in a lifetime. But he missed knowing. Unlike the others, he found himself rather dreading the pending winter. They could come and go as they pleased, free with two solid legs apiece: he was a prisoner almost constantly, confined to his wandering mind, hedged in by the thorny walls of fierce, quiet pain. They could come and go and appreciate the restful winter, knowing they could go out again in the spring: to him it was just another compounding of his prison.

"Are we all here?" Lord Ambrosius had stopped at the end of the hearth, thumbs in his belt, looking them over. Instinctively, Master Lucius glanced round; Gaius was sliding onto the bench by Bedwyr, and they did seem to all be assembled. Jason broke off his talk with Artos and pulled his stool around to face Ambrosius. The Guttersnipe laid aside her flowers, her face rather pale. Satisfied that he had their attention, Ambrosius went on. "There are several developments of which I want you all to be aware. We not only have Vortigern to worry about. In the space of a week - nay, less - it is entirely possible that the whole of Britain has turned against us."

Master Lucius was vividly aware of a violent gesture Kay made with his knife.

"Among the men who came to kill us and burn our roof down over our heads was my brother, Artorius. Not only that, but a knife of mine has gone missing."

There were quizzical, guessing looks from everyone but Gaius and Artos. The hand that the Guttersnipe reached out to Jason with was trembling.

"Some of you will have met Lord Alan - Jason and the Guttersnipe won't have, but the rest of you know him well. Some years ago, I received a gift from him, the gift of a knife. I nearly lost possession of it shortly after I got it, and I did everything in my power to retrieve it. It was no ordinary knife. Bound up in the hilt was an edict from Stilicho. You are all aware that my father served under Theodosius' reign. Theodosius was a good man, and under him Stilicho rose in the ranks. I would have nothing against Stilicho, save this: while he held to the Nicean documents, he remained superstitious and suspicious of anything remotely smelling of paganism. This edit which he issued was as follows:

" 'That all executors of arts unlawful, harmful, devious, unnatural, magical, spiritual, and demonic - namely, witches, warlocks, occultists, diviners, seers, and druids - must by royal decree be cut off and executed themselves by decapitation or by burning, as is lawful for the souls given to the fires of hell.' "

There was a long moment of silence. Master Lucius understood it immediately, but he saw the comprehension slowly creep into the faces of the others. He could not wait for them. He turned back on Lord Ambrosius. "But sir, Stilicho has been dead for years. The whole mess in Rome and Italy saw him killed. How can you be sure the edict would hold?"

"It will hold," Ambrosius said grimly. "There are people who will see that it holds."

"I am not understanding," the Guttersnipe said in a thin, brittle voice. "I am not understanding. What do witches and warlocks have to do with us?"

Artos gave a swift, bitter laugh. "You beautiful!" he said. "You innocent. You don't see that people look on us as magical, as though we trained the powers of air to see for us? Who can look us in the eye? The wolf will sooner spring than look a man in the eye for long: he knows his overlords. And who is persecuted so hotly as the man who has done nothing wrong?"

"We are not witches!" the Guttersnipe protested, as though she had not heard the Merlin's truth. Master Lucius turned his head away, unable to look at the stark, blood-drained horror on the girl's face.

"Hold fast, Guttersnipe," her Lord Ambrosius said. "There is not much we can do but pray. It may be that our hour in Britain is coming to an end, and God has given the White Isle over to darkness at last. But I hope not - I pray not. We are in the twilight, and all we can do is keep the beacons burning for as long as we stand."

"But it is hard," Caleb said gently, "when our own fires burn us."

Lord Ambrosius nodded wordlessly.

Lys: Guardian

Aithne gave him a playful shove. "Cheeky! You're impossible. I've always said so."

He nodded, mock-soberly. "I know. I've heard it enough times..." Then, as something of a gesture of peace, he supposed, she leaned close, laying her head on his shoulder. "But as impossible as you are, I'm glad you're here."

She breathed one of those contented sighs he'd come to know and love in the past week. It was as though she'd been on alert constantly, never sleeping, for who knew how long, and now that he had arrived, she was allowing herself to rest and relax. She had gone so far as falling asleep in his arms more than once of late. He doubted even she had known how tired she was. Shifting, he pulled her into his lap, where she curled like a kitten in his arms- right down to the soft, quiet purring.

I'll watch your back, Aithne. Though you have nothing to fear here, I'll keep watch.

Suddenly she twitched, drawing him out of his thoughts quickly. Alarmed, he looked to Cu, who had followed his mistress inside. But the dog was lying down at their feet, a picture of peacefulness. He breathed a sigh of relief and kissed the top of her head. She was drifting off already- he could feel her becoming more heavy in his lap. But there was a cozy feeling in having her there, and he counted the pins-and-needles legs he would have later as a small price to pay.

I'm keeping watch.

Jenny: True and Tarnished Gold

The Guttersnipe turned from Cathair as a figure broke off from the thick shadows in the vestibule, shutting the door in the wake of a chilly draught. "Ah, there she is," she said lightly, and returned to the plants in her hands, listening in the back of her mind to the quiet discourse between Domitia and her Irish bull. Overhead, Jason was explaining chainmail-work to Artos, who listened intently, fingers itching for a bit of work; next to her, Caleb let the notes of his harp fall idly into the warm stillness of the room, each string dropping a warm golden orb of sound into her ears so that with his meandering, pathless music, she felt dressed as Gwenhywfar in queenly jewels: idle, soft, each note perfect and self-sufficient. She listened to the music as one on the outside, knowing that the music existed all on its own apart from her inclining ear. So soft, so golden, so perfect. The golden droplets mingled with the blue flowers in her hands, and she Saw. She Saw as idly as Caleb played, as gently and as peacefully, yet with that poignant, enigmatic feeling of sorrow - a sorrow as of loss.

A rocky shore broken up with clumps of lonely green plants, and up the steep hillsides, ascending to a wine-yellow sky, the trees of death, the cypress trees. Gulls whirled above a deep green-blue sea. No northern sea, that ocean. A southern sea: the Middle Sea, the sea that wore the great empires as a mantle around her through the ages. Under that saffron sky the plants were burnished faintly copper, the rocks flushed pink; and among them bounded the wild goats - and through their midst a single man walked, more lonesome than that isle, more contented than the wild goats that scattered from his tread. The sun was going down in a fierce, roaring blaze of glory in the west, turning the deep blue sea to blood-stained glass, and the uplifted eyes looked far, far beyond that horizon, to a thing which he held in his hand.

"Why, now, what is this? I have never seen it before."

She came back to see Master Lucius leaning over her, a short staff in one hand to keep himself balanced. He was pointed at a selection of long crocus-shaped flowers by her knee, each bloom a perfect wash of lavender hue. "Meadow saffron," she answered readily. "It grows only in the south here - you will not have seen it up north. We use it to make rat-bait. It is highly poisonous."

Caleb's notes fell into the quiet between them. Master Lucius drew one of the blooms out from the others and held it up; the firelight touched the tip of each petal and made the gold within the cup flame to life. "You could not guess," he murmured, "that such a lovely thing could be so deadly. The changeful northern blue, the gold... It is beautiful."

"There is a thing to be learned in that," said the Guttersnipe, and she took the blossom back.

Lys: Pleased

Cathair blinked, surprised to be spoken to by the Guttersnipe. After a moment, he chuckled. "With Portia, last seen. They were off on a no-men-allowed venture. But she'll be back." he said, confidently. He knew he really shouldn't crow about it. It wasn't all about him. But it was the one thing changed about her that he actually liked- the fact that she stuck so close to him. Eventually, he figured, he might be annoyed by it, but for now, he was happy to be there when she needed him. And it looked like she was gaining her feet again...


Kneeling in the now-silent chapel, Aithne poured out her thanks to God, her smile yet to fade. It was amazing how much such a gift could mean to someone. Could mean to her.

Half an hour later, she stood and made her way to the villa. Reaching the door, she entered and saw the Guttersnipe and Cathair talking. Now there was an unexpected occurance. With a quiet general greeting to those who looked her way, she sat down next to Cathair and grinned at him.


"You seem pleased with yourself." he said, giving her a peck on the forehead. Truth be told, she looked stunning. But then, even this morning she'd been beautiful...
He picked a stray hair off her sleeve and said quietly, with a mischevious smile, "My only worry is that you'll be so warm you wont need me anymore."

Jenny: Red Glass Beads

"You made the cloth earlier in the year, didn't you?" Artos was rubbing his thigh, craned round in his chair to ease his weight off one side. "Did any of the cotswolds shipments come up?"

Jason said, "Tucker was busy and busy earlier this year with the cloth. We turned out quite a load; midsummer the merchants came through and we bundled a lot off on them."

"My uncle was telling me that. Old Hunno must have told him."

The Guttersnipe looked up, cupping the little blue chicory-flowers in her hands. Jason sat with his long legs pulled up on a rung, arms draped across his knees, a thoughtful smile on his face. "One of the merchants had a handful of red glass beads. I wanted to see if I could set them in a belt, maybe when life slows down a bit during the winter months."

"Maybe it will snow this year," said the Guttersnipe. Caleb chuckled and stoked his harp. Then, realizing it was relatively quiet and peaceful, she looked beyond him and around, quizzical, missing Domitia. She caught sight of the big Irish bull in the corner, looking back at her as quizzically. She wondered how long he had been watching. Turning on her cushion, she called across to him, "Where is Domitia?"

Lys: Sabbath Thoughts

Cathair entered the room, not knowing whether he should be there or not, but having little other choice. His attempts at finding Sabbath-appropriate occupation had failed, so here he was. He wondered what sort of a God would force his followers to rest for a whole day. On the surface, it seemed a good thing. But his hands and feet itched to be occupied.

Still, God... you're better than the rest.

He found a seat in a corner, half in, half out of the gathering. If he was wanted, he was there, and if not, they could just ignore him.

He wondered, not for the first time, what Aithne was up to. Or, more exactly, what Portia was up to. The woman had a look in her eye that reminded Cathair of his mother just before Christmas.... always with that "I know something you don't" look in her eye.


Aithne, having deposited her new things on her bed, wrapped her father's cloak around her new dress, and walked up to the villa feeling cozy warm. The smile had yet to leave her face. She doubted it would do so any time soon. Warm! Warm and pretty. A gift from God, indeed. There was no other explanation.

Stopping, she turned back towards the cloister and the chapel. This was a blessing that deserved immediate thanksgiving.

Jenny: Blue Broken Sky

Water spattered from Jason's cloak as he flung it off onto a bench. The Guttersnipe stepped round him and moved to the warm, cheerful glow of the fire, which was beginning to fill the whole room with a hollow saffron light as the darkness deepened outside. Artos was there, seated in his chair with a block of wood and a knife in his hands. For a brief moment she saw him wholly occupied with his work, then he flung up his head and saw them, smiling.

"You have emerged!" Jason called as he hung up his cloak.

"Yes, Wulf hauled me out here. I had had enough of being cooped up in my room, and the fire here was so inviting." Artos turned to the Guttersnipe as she approached. "Well, how was the service that I missed - again."

"Good, as always," she replied mockingly, bending to kiss his cheek.

"You hate me," he replied, pushing her aside so he could see Jason, who came up on the Guttersnipe's heels. She left them momentarily to shoo damp Frip away. "She throbs," he told the young surgeon, who was already squatting down to get a look at his leg, "but I am thinking it is only the weather."

Jason clenched his brows together. "She is looking rather well," he said, prodding a little further. "There is no heat, and the stitching is holding." He rose and set a hand on the other's shoulder. "Thank goodness you're lying up for the winter on that leg, Artos. We would be taking a blow if that had happened earlier in the year."

The Guttersnipe left them before she could hear Artos make any answer, though she knew it was true. And she was relieved that they had the whole quiet time of winter before them, at least for Artos' sake. She hoped that, for once, it would be wild, blustery winter in which only goats and sons of goats could be about - and perhaps even they would be holed up for the cold months.

Within the storeroom she took down the bundled shafts of herbs which had been drying, and took up a wicker basket clinking with little glass jars inside. Luncheon was being prepared, and she moved among the rich smells of kitchen-work as she went back out into the atrium. Caleb had come up, slinging off his greased cloak and crumpling elegantly down on a cushion to idle away with his harp. Jason had dragged a stool up and sat by Artos, discussing the sheep. Kay and Bedwyr sat at the table: Kay was balancing a knife on his finger and Bedwyr was watching it with an expression of detached boredom. She passed them by and arranged herself on a cushion next to Caleb, and drew out a shock of chicory with its dried flowers still faience-blue on it, and began to pick the leaves off one by one, crumbling them into a little jar. The flowers fell about her skirts, broken off, brittle as they were, like pieces of broken sky.

Lys: Blessings All Mine, With Ten Thousand Beside

Aithne stayed close to Cathair all through the service and after they left. She thought it might seem overly-romantic to some, but mainly it was simply a wish to stay near the closest source of heat. And it didn't seem as though anyone was taking it amiss... Hopefully the afternoon would bring warmer weather- it usually did this time of year- but until then, she stuck with Cathair.

Halfway back to the villa, Portia came up and took her arm. "Time you came with me, Aithne."
Cathair looked at her, then at Aithne, confused and curious. Aithne smiled up at him. "You'll never guess. Portia has offered me her warm things- she's getting too big for them now. Isn't it wonderful? An answer to prayer."

Cathair found himself having to swallow down sudden pride, balking at the idea of taking charity from one of Lord Ambrosius's servants. But Aithne was right- it was an answer to prayer. And there was nothing wrong in it. The wrong would be in scorning a gift from a fellow Christian. So he smiled as genuinely as he could, thanking her with a nod. "You two best be off, then. I'll find something with which to occupy myself, meantimes."

Aithne gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and went off with the woman, who was already chattering about various things beyond a man's ken.


"Ooooh!" Aithne, already robed in a saffron wool gown with long, warm sleeves, admired the various bits and pieces Portia pulled out for her. She'd protested some of them- pregnancy did not make one too big for a decorative comb, for instance- but Portia had shushed her, as usual, and eventually she decided to simply accept with a smile that which was given her. It was obvious Portia delighted in the whole affair.
Aithne now had two warm gowns, an underdress of brownish-red - not nearly as brilliant as the Guttersnipe's, but still prettier than what Aithne was used to of late, a girdle, a huge shawl, a pair of socks, and warm, fur-lined shoes. It was all serviceable stuff- nothing fancy save for a splash or two of color, but Aithne felt like a princess.

"One more thing. And I'll take no protests, so you may as well save your breath." She reached into the bottom of the trunk and pulled out a beautiful linen gown of damson-purple. Not the expensive type that came from Rome. No, this was a darker shade, a British shade, made from sturdy British fruit. It was worked with fancy stitching around the neck and wrists and hem, and there was a belt to match.

Aithne's breath caught at the sight of it. "It's beautiful..." she breathed. Portia smiled modestly. "It was my wedding-gown. I made it, as I imagine you made yours, back in Eire?" Aithne nodded slightly. "It was mine, and now it is yours. I grew out of it before even began growing, but it should fit you fine." She set the gown down and took the girl's hand. "We're your family now, and here we look after our own. I won't see a member of my clan married in her work clothes when I have a perfectly good gown for her."

Aithne was in tears. Happy, but crying at the blessings heaped on her at once. She wiped her eyes, laughing a little as Portia held the dress up to her. "Oh, Aithne... it goes beautifully with your eyes... Cathair won't be able to take his eyes off you."

Aithne blushed and laughed again.

Jenny: The Time it Takes to Swing the Axe

The rain had slackened to a damp, all-pervasive mist by the time the service was over. Gaius had, as always, delivered the message with that curious calm that he had - a calm that was like the immense and constant urgency of ocean waves. Ambrosius stood in the forecourt, arms folded against the chill of the mist, listening to the young man's voice in his memory.

"We are faced with a threefold enemy: the devil, mankind, and ourselves. For a moment, look at it from their point of view, and you will see who dire our war is. Not hopeless - never hopeless, for all hope is in Christ, and Omnipotence cannot be defeated. But all that is holy, our God, our faith, our regenerated spirits, is held in utmost and vitriolic contempt by the wickedness of this world..."

It was as if he knew. But he could not know. They had not thought about it for years.

Jason and the Guttersnipe tumbled out of the cloister, brushing past him, and headed up through the cloister garden for the villa. He watched them go, withdrawn into himself: arm in arm, the young man's sealskin slicker bright with the damp, the girl's gown a smudge of sullen colour in the grey surroundings. He found himself thinking, At least I leave her in good hands. Then - Fires, Ambrosius! You're not dead yet. And he turned to see Gaius stepping out of the cloister to his side, a look of puzzlement turned to him. "Walk with me," Ambrosius said, and moved out into the damp garden. Gaius, silent and obedient, moved with him. They moved under the dripping oaks and laurels, following the quiet clumps of holly and low-growing tansy along the path. By the end of September, just about all the flowers had lost themselves to the loam beneath their leaves, but the foxgloves still shone out in the white murk, saucy spires of flaming red to light their way along the path.

Ambrosius turned to gaze up at the ivy tumbling over the stone side of the cloister building. Gaius stopped too, looking with him. "Gaius," he said at last, now that they were out of earshot of any from the forecourt. "Gaius, do you recall the Knife?"

The young man glanced round, but he was aware of no surprise in the other's face. Gaius was rarely surprised. "Yes, sir. I recall it well."

"It is gone."

Gaius let out a long breath. "I had a notion you were going to end with that... Vortigern?"

"I cannot be sure," Ambrosius replied. Which was worse? For that matter, was there a difference between the two, or were they one in this thing? "My brother was here."

Gaius' eyebrows flickered upward, and his face blanched: the visible manifestations of surprise and, Ambrosius thought, not a little fury. How blindly loyal they could be! they, who had never met Artorius, who only caught and shared the current of dislike that pulsed between himself and Artos for the man. He could see them when he told them, he could hear the discordant clank of notes from Caleb's harp as the young man stopped playing, could see Kay toss up his head, face white as Gaius', could see Bedwyr's single hand slowly clench and unclench. Blind, loyal, men who would follow him to the death, hate what he hated, love what he loved. He did not want to imagine what they would do if Vortigern and Artorius succeeded.

Gaius murmured, "It was a long time ago, sir. It may not hold today."

"They will make it hold." Ambrosius should his head. "There are enough people who hate me and want what I have. They will make it hold, if they have to rip the lawbooks to shreds to do it."

The Companion set his hand on Ambrosius' shoulder, gripping hard. A gust of wind blew a spangling of water-droplets around them, making a soft, desolate music. "The Council has not called session yet - chances are they will not until spring. We have a little time."

A little time. It was not very comforting.

Lys: Warmth

Just as Cathair said the words, large, shining drops of rain came falling down from the sky. Beautiful, Aithne thought. She had always loved the rain and fog- the fog especially reminded her of home- but the air was cold with the rush of water, and she pulled her cloak tigher, drawing a fold up over her head. "Fine, you call it? Aye, fine indeed, for a fish!"

Cathair laughed and took her arm. "Come back to the cloister- it's almost time for chapel, if that bell means anything." She gladly followed, the both of them moving swiftly, with Cu bounding ahead and back as though he was herding cattle.

By the time they reached the cloister, the warmth of the cider had been all but used up. The rain mostly rolled off the once-waterproofed wool of her cloak, but there were spots where it had been worn down and now soaked through to the gown underneath. She willed herself not to shiver again, not wishing to worry Cathair any more than he already was. Even so, she could feel her legs shaking, and her teeth were about to betray her and start chattering...

"Aithne, your fingers are like ice!" Cathair exclaimed, having just taken her hand instead of her arm. She laughed it off. "That's nothing compared to my feet!" she said, half-joking.

Even so, standing under the overhanging thatch of the chapel roof, Cathair pulled open his own cloak and drew her in, making her put her hands between them. Wrapping the cloak back around her, he said, "Now, let's work on getting you warm again." She smiled. He was always warm enough for the both of them, she remembered now. Midsummer, him stripped to the waist on the practice fields and her wrapped in a shawl while gathering herbs. Nestling in, she breathed a sigh. She was still in awe that he was here- that he had found her, and she thanked God for the blessing.


Cathair held her tightly, rubbing her back to bring some warmth into her. It seemed as though it had gone from summer to autumn in the space of a week, and it came back to him how easily she could catch a chill in the winter. Thankfully, her seizures were few of late, but he felt the thinness of her clothing and thought she'd have another health threat soon. I suppose I can accept sharing her small room in the cloister, if it means she's warm... He heaved a sigh of his own, heavier than hers, though he tried to mask its reasons, kissing the top of her head.

She looked up at him, smiling happily. So much faith in him, so much encouragement... He bent down and kissed her, and she, surprisingly, reciprocated, wrapping her arms around his neck in a very girlish manner.


For the first time ever, so far as she could remember, she didn't want to be the one to break off. The warmth that spread through her made her toes curl. In the end, though, it was a polite but insistant cough from one of the churchgoers that brought them both to their senses, reminding them they were a corner away from the chapel door. Aithne blushed, burying her head in his cloak until the old woman had passed by. Cathair was laughing quietly, and she quietly bopped him before they turned the corner and entered the chapel.

She had much to be thankful for.

Jenny: The Doorway to Britain

"Guttersnipe... You are far away this morning."

She looked up to see Jason coming in through the vestibule, casting back a sealskin hood jewelled with water-droplets. Hearing his footsteps, Portia emerged from the kitchen and gave him his own mug of hot drink, and left as he approached the Guttersnipe at the fire. "Far away. Is something troubling you?"

"Far away and long ago," she replied. "I was minding Easter-tide, that is all. It always feels like Easter-tide when the year is crouching down under winter's hoarfrost to me."

"It is a death-time," Jason admitted. He set one foot on the lip of the hearth, leaning over the fire with his mug clasped in both hands. Frip, who had come up with him through the gentle rain, stood to one side and shook himself thoroughly, scattering little diamonds of water all through the air. Then, having heated his face enough, Jason turned about and sat down on the hearth-side with his back to the flames, long legs at odd, uncomfortable angles to his shoulders as he sat so low to the floor. The dog flung itself down with its head between them. The Guttersnipe put her hands in her lap and refrained from patting the damp, furry head. "Have you been in to see Artos this morning?" he asked presently.

She shook her head. "Not yet. May he have some lambs'-wool this morning?"

"I think so. He is getting tired enough of tansy. Yesterday he said it was so weak that even a Frank would spit it out. But I think it is safe enough to move on to stronger beverages. The man is sore as a wolf, and just as hungry, though - wolf-like - he doesn't let on about it."

"Poor old badger," said the Guttersnipe, shaking her head. "Poor old wolf! But he is on the mend now."

Jason drank the whole mug of scalding liquid and set the sweating vessel on the slate slabs beside him. "He knows he can't be down long, even with winter closing off the road-ways shortly. There is still the possibility of forcing down the Second Road or the Fosse Way, if you needed to, and the Midlands are pleasant enough that Vortigern could push for the old Trinovante territory if he has to. Mild British winters! They make the fields soggy and leave the metalled tracks fair. Winter is the time for politics."

"What are you saying, Jason?" asked the Guttersnipe, quite bewildered. She had not thought beyond Artos' drink and breakfast, and Jason was making commentary of the world.

The young man shrugged. "I am not rightly sure. Just that there are swords and there are pens, and when the winter puts the sword in the sheath, the pen comes out. Vortigern will not rest - you know him," he added, cutting his glance sidelong at her.

She frowned, remembering the harsh, cunning features of the king's face. "I hardly know him. I know as much as anyone: that he is devious and grasping, and that so long as the way seems right to him, that is the way he will go - no matter that the way leaves our White Fields turned to red behind him!" she finished savagely. Then, more quietly, "Do you think he will use the Saxons?"

"I think it only a matter of time, Guttersnipe. They have been howling at our gates for generations now. Vortigern is their open door into our Island."

"Curse the man!" she said.

"The world turns and it turns," said Jason, "and we turn up the dirt as we climb under the loam. Come on, now." He rose and extended his hand to her, lifting her up. "It is time for meeting. Run and tell Portia to send Artos his lambs'-wool and we will be off."

Lys: Catastrophe

Aithne came outside to find that Cu had treed, not a cat, as she suspected, but a young man, with a rather large bundle of what she guessed to be sausages, from the way Cu was acting. He was desperately trying to hold the bundle clear of the dog, who had apparently not yet jumped. Cu could leap over Aithne while she was standing upright.

"Cu! Leave the poor man alone!" But the dog, completely focused on his toy, ignored her. "CU! DOWN!"

To his credit, the dog did crouch, almost sitting, but it was only a moment before he was back up again. By this point she was on her way to grab his collar, though she wasn't sure if she'd be strong enough to hold him down. "Get up on the wall!" she yelled to the man, hoping to give them both time. He managed to do so- just. Cu was looking to spring. She knew the signs. She had almost reached him... Too late! All in an instant, the dog sprang, the sausages toppled, and the man, thrown off balance on the low wall, windmilled to no avail. Before anything could be done, she watched him tumble backwards to land off-center on the wall of the well, and tumble down inside.

She stood a moment, blinking with disbelief, then ran to the edge and looked down. "Are you okay?" she called down, praying she'd get an answer. It was quiet... Then there were sounds of splashing and spluttering and she started breathing again. "I'll get help! Just hold on!" She knew there was no way she'd be able to pull him out herself.

She cast about for someone strong enough, wondering where to go, and decided the safest bet was to run towards the paddock- there was always someone strong to be found there...

"Help! Help!"

Someone was running up the path to meet her. "CATHAIR!"


Cathair had almost gained the villa-yard when he heard a sound that struck dread in his heart- Aithne screaming for help. He ran as fast as he could, nearly running into her. "What is it? What's wrong? Who's-"

Aithne was babbling. "A man- down the well- Cu jumped- sausages..." He got enough of it to realize she wasn't in imminent danger and that there was some trouble at the well. Running to it, he found Aithne's huge dog chewing ecstatically through a canvas bag, and heard all manner of curses coming from the well. Letting loose one of his own, he grabbed the dipping bucket- attached to a thick rope- and lowered it down. "Can you grab on?" he yelled down.

"Just drop it down here, already!" Cathair did so, and soon he was hauling the man up while Aithne did her best to drag Cu away from the bundle. The young man came back over the side, soaking wet, and none too happy. Aithne, doing all she could to keep Cu in a sitting position, apologized profusely. "I'm so, so sorry! I don't know what got into him... He's usually so well-behaved..." The man waved her off. "Just keep him away from me from now on, okay?" Picking up the remains of his pack, he walked on, soaking wet and squishing in his boots.

Cathair looked at Aithne and she blushed deep red, shying away, as usual ashamed of something that wasn't her fault. He walked over to her and helped her up, taking a firm hold of Cu's collar as he did so.

"Nice day, isn't it?"

Jenny: Firelight

"She has temper enough to keep her warm," the Guttersnipe observed, setting aside her empty mug. "Poor chit! coming from a servant's position. I always said she was high-strung. I wonder if her Erin Isle is warmer than our Albion. I must doubt it. They are so far out on the edge of the world there - it must be windy and wild! Go ahead, Portia. Fetch her what she needs. I fear I have little to lend: so many of my things my lord Ambrosius gave me, and I cannot part with them. But I will see what I have."

She rose and left the woman to make her way out to the atrium. The pale light, very white and soft, that drove in through the soft rain and mists, made the room seem as the inside of a seashell with only the colourful, cheery bloom of the fire at its heart to warm it into life. She sat on a cushion by the fireside, looking into the flame as its warmth beat upon her cheeks. Down at the heart of the fire, under the bellies of the logs, were the embers that were like living glass beads, flaming, pulsing, so like the valiant beat of Mars' light on the far night horizon. They were so warm and beautiful to her that it hurt.

"Take heart," she mumured to herself in cadence to the crackle of the logs, "take heart - what heart ye can. I hunt among the graves tonight. Do not be dismay, but take heart. The council is in session and they call me. I hunt among the graves tonight. Fear not! for I am Man. I shall set their darknesses ablaze! for I am Man."

She leaned down and set another log upon the fire, and sat back, meditating, listening to the rush of rain overhead.

Lys: Christian Charity

Between the hearth and the cider, Aithne was finally warmed through. She thought how nice it would be to simply stay there for the whole day, a little grass snake basking on a warm rock.

But just then she heard Cu barking outside. She knew his bark, though not everyone else did. "What is that dog up to now?" In the past few days, he seemed to understand that there was a reprieve in the air, and had devoted himself to doggy pursuits- including making mischief, much to her chagrin.

With a sigh, she stood. "I suppose I'd better go see what's up. Pray he isn't terrorizing the chickens again." She made her way outside. Cu wasn't a bad dog, but he did like to play with anything that moved...


Portia watched her go, then clucked her tongue once Aithne was gone. "Poor girl. About to be married, and she and her man without so much as a proper change of clothing between them, much less a roof to go over their heads." She drew a loaf from the oven, then wiped her hands on a towel. "And she was telling me yesterday that a bride in her land is supposed to come to her husband with household goods and coin of her own to give him. Poor thing- she was trying so hard to make it sound as though it didn't matter to her..."

Even with child, Portia never stopped moving, it seemed. She stirred the lamb's-wool and the cider, making sure they didn't boil. "So it had me thinking... We women should help her as we can, shouldn't we? Don't we do the same for our own girls? I'm not saying we make any fuss over it, but if you don't have any objections, I'll ask around and see what the women might be able to part with." The Guttersnipe was, for all intents and purposes, the highest ranking woman in the valley, of course. It was up to her whether such a large venture would be acceptable. And for all Portia knew, someone else might be doing the same already.

And then maybe her man won't have so much to worry about...

Jenny: Now, This Is The Law of the Jungle

A peaceful day. How he treasured peaceful days! there were so few of them to populate his life. From his window Ambrosius could see much of the length of the valley blanketed by the autumn mists that rise up from seaward and drench the Welsh valleys in their thick white woollen swaths. The herd, having returned and waiting to be taken to the fertile pastures in Arfon, stood out of the mists from time to time: coal-dark bodies, sometimes ambery; once a grey mare moved among the mists, looking to be born of it, and disappeared from sight. The girls were in the byre, for the cows needed milking whether it was the Lord's day or not, and their tawny native skirts made them look like a flock of robins cheerily whirling about the farmland. The cloister bell tolled: they had an hour before meeting.

He turned from the window, cupping his mug of lambs'-wool in his hands. The steam wafted in the cool room much like the sea-mists. He sat in his chair in the thin light that spread like wings throughout the room, not seeing much of anything before him, gazing contentedly into the ghostly swirl of steam. There was, for him, aways a pang of longing in the glory of mornings such as this. The beauty seemed always to go through him, beyond him, no matter how close he came to it. It was as though it was a familiar person in a crowd anxiously searching for his face, yet missing him always. How long? he wondered. How long must I be at war - and at this closer war which no man shares but is all my bitter own to me? For that Other Peace! For that Other Peace... But for this lesser, moon-radiant peace, I give you thanks.

He set aside his drink on the mother-of-pearl tabletop, and across the table he drew to himself a little long box of wood: not a lovely box, but a securely fastened one. His fingers lingered on its latches, half-wondering if he ought to even open it.

Suddenly, from behind him, Champion said, You had better open it, Ambrosius.

Cold in his middle, Ambrosius rose and flung back the little lid. A shank of sheep's wool lay on the bottom of the box, but of the knife there was no sign. "Oh, God," he hissed, "don't do that, please..." Then he whirled on the Bird. "You did not tell me this!"

From its silver perch, the Bird turned away its head, sad. I tell and I do not tell. But it is not I who choose what must be told and what must not.

He stared back down into the emptiness before him. On that blade hung life and death, and now - He wished he could have destroyed the thing, or could have at least buried it deep where no one would find it. But one keeps one's friends close, and one's enemies closer, and so the knife had sat on his table these years, untouched, silent. Now whose fist carried it? He sat down, head in his hands, thinking hard. There was nothing he could do just yet. Artos needed him, and the problem of the captives needed tending. Beside the box lay his map, and his eyes moved to it. Do not hate your child, he told the familiar outlines of shore. I have done everything for you. All my thoughts have been of you. For the sake of my bloodline which has committed itself to keeping you from the dark, don't turn against me now.

And there he had to leave it, begging the Almighty not to let the knife fall into the hands of the Council.

Lys: War and Peace

Aithne gave a small, knowing smile. "Another bard, it seems. Soldier, healer, priest. There are not many these days who are that complex. There is more to him than meets even the discerning eye..."

She looked to the doorway, then back at the Guttersnipe. "I should like to tell Cathair that, if I can. I think he would have more respect for the man if he knew." Then she hastened to add, "Not that he does not respect him, but... Cathair is a man of war, and he doesn't always remember that peace isn't a feminine idea. To know that Brother Gaius was once a warrior may help."

She shivered again, and took another sip of her cider, which was just coming down from being too hot. She found, while she wasn't worried about her appearance so much anymore, the promise of warm clothes made her wish for the afternoon to come quickly.

Jenny: A Soldier

White clouds of air fumed in front of Gaius' face. He was moving fast enough that it blew past him. He ran, bounding, dogging the figure ahead of him. They were across the shallow river and running headlong through the uneven tussocks of sodden soil. The man swerved - Gaius swerved - heading for the almost sheer wall of mountain ahead. With each swing of the other's arms, Gaius could see the knife flickering ominously in the grey Valentian light. On Gaius bounded, clearing the wreckage of someone's last kill: a tumbled carcass of roebuck.

They met at the foot of the hill. Gaius lunged, grabbing at the other's tunic. The man whirled. Gaius narrowly missed being slit in the gut. He leapt away; the man sprang up the hillside, running on all fours. Gaius was after him, yelling he did not know what, forcing himself on. With the incline so severe, he needed both hands to work, grabbing at heather and tearing his palms on gorse, sending pheasants rocketing into the sky around them. Conies sprang upward and ran away as the two ploughed upward, one after the other, the desperation of killing driving them on.

The man stumbled and went down, bouncing back down several feet, crashing into Gaius. The Companion got the man round the neck and together, under the other's momentum, hurtled back down the hillside, clawing down slabs of slate, bruising ribs on the tough tussocks of grass. The knife whirled in the air. Having no time to draw a weapon, Gaius used his fist. They crashed to a halt on a pocket of earth, and over and over Gaius beat the man until he was senseless and the knife limp in the hand. One more time - crack! the neck went out and the head rolled to one side, listless. Gaius yanked the knife out of the hand and shoved it in his belt, panting, gasping painfully for air. The cold air dragging into his lungs burned like fire.

"Aaugh..." He kissed his bruised knuckles, flexing the tingling joins. Then he left the body in the hollow on the hillside and slid back down, landing with a thump in the heather, got up, and ran on.

"Gaius was a soldier - he still is. He is one of Artos' Companions," the Guttersnipe explained. "He was our first surgeon; he taught Jason all he knows. After he took up his posting here, we would keep each other company, both of us feeling rather keenly the being left behind when the others made the spring flighting."

Lys: Do Not Worry

Aithne watched the Guttersnipe come in. The girl looked like a princess. A lady, at least. Aithne was painfully aware of her shortcomings- huddled in her old cloak, her dead-white toes peeking out of her sandals, her hair down and flyaway in an attempt to keep her ears warm... and the Guttersnipe looking like a cardinal in the snow, all brilliant reds and warmth.

There were so many more beautiful and better-dressed women in the valley... it was times like this that Aithne found it hard not to wonder if Cathair's head wasn't being turned elsewhere. Not to the Guttersnipe, of course, she being spoken for and all, but others... But then she remembered the time by the paddock and it was hard to continue thinking that way. Still, she didn't want to shame him in any way...

The Guttersnipe's question broke through her thoughts and she chastised herself. Do not worry about the body, what you shall wear... "I... I can't really say. This is only my second Sabbath here, and truth be told, I wasn't all that awake last week. I tried to pay attention, but I was so tired..." She took a sip of her cider. "What I did make sense of was very good, though. Easy to understand, but thought-provoking. But I'm afraid I was a disciple in the garden last week."

She gave the girl a wry smile. "As for a better teacher, Brothers have been so scarce in my life these past few years, any teacher is welcome." Her brow furrowed. "But I suspect teaching was not his first pursuit, was it?"

Jenny: Quiet Morning

"Mm che!" the Guttersnipe protested as she hurled herself out of bed. Teeth chattering, she stood upon her thin sheepskin rug and dug through her trunk for her clothing. Over her best cloth gown - the one of rich dark red - she clasped her belt, then dragged her surcoat of brindled deerskin over her head, hauling her larger belt on over that to keep it close. She put her feet in her rabbit-skin boots, ran her fingers through her hair, shoved up the mass of it with a single pin of silver, and made her way hurriedly to the kitchen where Portia would be making a batch of lambs'-wool to drink. Because she was so small, she was never allowed much of the drink, but the smooth apple-tasting beverage, warm and frothy, was to her the drink of every autumn.

She found Domitia in the kitchen on the stool by the oven, curled up like a cat. On Lord's days, anything that could be made beforehand was made the previous night; only the bread was baked in the morning, eaten in companionable quiet before service in the cloister. She pulled up a stool alongside Domitia, took a piece of bread and a mug of lambs'-wool, and said, "It is so gloriously quiet this morning. And so chilly! You can smell autumn." The kitchen cat leapt up on her lap and circled while she held her drink and breakfast high out of reach. She turned to Domitia. "Not that it really matters, but what do you think of Gaius' teaching? People say he is young - people outside of the valley - but I do not think he is. I have not heard a better teacher."

Lys: Plans

Cathair woke with a kink in his back. "This can't go on much longer." he said to himself. All week he'd been trying to figure out some way to establish himself somewhere. He couldn't bring himself to ask Aithne to share a stall in the barn. If he was going to marry her, it would be with a proper roof over their heads.
He kept telling himself it wasn't a matter of pride. He just wanted to provide for her. She'd gone so long without a home of her own... she didn't deserve to live in a place that made slaves' quarters seem like home sweet home. And somehow living as man and wife in a cloister did not sit well with him.

"A house. Just a house will do. Then we can work on the rest." It was half a prayer at best, but it was all he had at the moment- his head full of trying to find a way. He had the funds- just- but the time it would take to build a home, and the trouble of finding a bit of land on which to do it...

And on top of it all, it felt as though all business of the valley- all that sort of business, at least- was stopped up until the young lord was well. He could, perhaps, ask someone for advice, or even go to Lord Ambrosius, though he felt that might be bothering him with something below his notice.

Still, he was Ambrosius's man, and it was his lord's place to say what he could and could not do...

He brushed the hay off his clothes and exhaled forcefuly. That settled it. He would speak to Lord Ambrosius tomorrow. Today was the Lord's Day- no business to be enacted today. But Lord willing, by tomorrow evening he would have this settled. Smiling, he made his way outside. He'd waited over fifteen years for her. The One God had finally brought them together again, and he looked forward to the goal.


Aithne woke with the sun. Sabbath. Just over a week since they'd come to the valley. Everything had settled back to order- except for the prisoners, that is, and the wounded still hobbling about. Every so often, Cathair would move his arm the wrong way and wince ever so slightly. Aithne doubted anyone else noticed. But he was taking better care of it than she expected he would.

She swung her legs out of bed, thinking to take a short walk before breakfast. The cool stone beneath her feet made her draw them back quickly. Autumn was sending out its advance forces, no doubt about it. She pulled her father's brat around her and quickly warmed up. The One God had sent it to her just when she had most need of it. She quickly slipped in to her dress, noting how lightweight it was. It was a summer gown to begin with, and between it being secondhand and the wear and tear she'd put it through, it would be seriously lacking in a few weeks. Her other dress was not much better. And socks. I'll be needing socks soon. She thought, as she tied on her sandals.

Feet shielded against the cold, she stood and wrapped the cloak as warm as she could, securing it with the penannular Cathair had purchased for it. I could ask Cathair to buy me clothes... She could, yes, but she knew he was saving every possible coin to acquire a house for them. If there was any other way to accomplish it, she was going to find it first.

Stepping out into the frosty morning air, she decided against the cloister walk, instead making her way up to the villa kitchen. It would be warm, at least, though there would be minimal bustle today. The exertion itself warmed her, but she was still glad to come in and get something hot to drink.

No sooner had she entered than Portia came over, all a fuss about how cold she looked, and all but dragged her to the stool by the fire. Aithne laughed. "I'm just a little snake looking for a warm rock." She was grateful for the warmth on her back. "Mother used to say she sometimes thought she mis-named me. With how much I'd shiver in the winter, 'flame' didn't seem to fit."

Portia eyed her critically. "Hmm... Come to my house this afternoon. You look as though you'll be needing something warm to wear." Aithne began to protest. She couldn't take Portia's clothing! But the woman waved her off. "With the babe on the way, I'll be too big to fit in anything I have now. Besides..." she smiled knowingly. "You'll want to be at your best for your young man, I'm thinking."

Aithne blushed, but smiled back. "Thank you, Portia. You're an answer to prayer."

Jenny: The Lord's Day

Rain was hushing softly against the window overhead. A cool, evening sort of light filled the room when the Guttersnipe opened her eyes, but she knew that it was morning; it smelled like morning. From some warm place the scent of baking came to her, and for a few moments, lying in her rugs on her bed, she felt like a child waking on the first morning of a holiday, and she remembered that it was the Lord's day. It was hard to believe that only a week ago, a week and a few days, she had come down the Beacon-road to rejoin her people, that her people had nearly all been killed. It seemed so distant and surreal. The only thing that kept it real to her was the knowledge of the men in the hypocaust, waiting - though they probably did not realize it - for Artos to be well enough to sit in judgment over them, as was right.

Artos. She shifted, pulling the rugs close around her shoulders to shut out the chill. There would be no fire in the hypocaust until he was better. The fever had gone down, and he was well enough to sit up in bed and in his chair, and he could move about his room with the help of Gaius' shoulder. He told his uncle that in a few days he would be well enough to sit out in the atrium, and it would not tire him. The Guttersnipe was not sure anything tired Artos. It had only been the fever that had sapped his strength, and she understood that. "God bless Gaius and Jason," she murmured, picking at the threads in her rug.

They had worked to bring in the apple harvest, which had been a good one. They had buried the boy the evening after his death under one of the apple trees, and the Guttersnipe had thought that fitting. He would be with the apple trees forever, drenched in their silvery, loving shade. She hoped he liked that. Only yesterday the droving of sheep up from the cotswolds had come in. Soon it would be slaughtering time, and the valley would be full of the smell of roasting, smoking meat. The thought of it made her warm inside, and in no hurry to plunge out into the cold of her room. The boys had been catching fish and the little thin, silver bodies were all strung up out of reach of the dogs, and they had been out hunting for wild fowl in the hills. The Guttersnipe had spent the evenings either shelling beans from the cloister garden or plucking grouse, carefully saving each feather in sacks for later use. Domitia had helped, and she seemed to enjoy the work. Other times, when Caleb was not playing, she had played for them on her new harp. The Guttersnipe thought Domitia had become a better bard for having her father's harp under her hands. It was the spirit of the thing, the chit reasoned. Domitia was feeling the potency of her father's memory in the harp.

Jason had plied her hard through the week, trying to learn what was in her new trunk. He was too fine a fellow to look in it himself, but he badgered her mercilessly, laughingly, sometimes guessing far closer than the Guttersnipe liked.

"Is it Maximus' family money?"

"No, of course not."

"Is it a body?"

"It might be yours."

"Is it your dowry?"

"Not...really, no."

"Oh ho! Look at those cheeks. Is it jewellery? Is it a dress?"

"Brute! I promised not to tell and I won't!"

He had told her she was gloriously pretty when she was angry, and she had told him he was a brute, and he had stayed lounging on one of the kitchen stools snitching from her pastry mix until he could dawdle no longer and had to return to work. She purred, rolling over, well bound in her rugs, warm with the thoughts and the smell of breakfast. She ought to get up, soon, eventually. If only she could reach her slippers without getting out of bed.

Lys: Time of Darkness

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The ceremony depicted here is entirely fictional, drawn more from the general traditions of Celtic bards and druids than any actual ceremonies and rites. Consider it to be something peculiar to Aithne's clan.

Aithne was, frankly, relieved to see that no one had followed. They were close enough, though, for the general bustle of the villa-yard to be within hearing. She felt trepidation- it was supposed to be a community gathering, sure, but a gathering of people standing in respect, knowing the man and the rites, not people oggling as they passed...

Cathair's hand at her back was reassuring. The knife he handed her, though, struck dread in her heart. But she set her teeth and took it, simultaneously tightening her grip on the harp- firmly pressed against her shoulder and immobile. With vicious strokes she deliberately cut each string. The sound it made was like the scream of a ghost- a banshee's wail- the sound that pierced one's heart or else turned it to water.

But she bore it, though it felt to her as though, for the moment, she was her father's murderer. The sound had caught some attention, she noticed, but there was no more turning back. Tears coming fast, heart burst afresh, she spread her hands, showing the blade and the broken harp, and cried out-

"Woe, woe, woe!
Weep and mourn, all you who hear,
Weep for the Clan with no Voice!
The harp is broken, the song fades.

Who will remember the times past?
Who can recount them to us?
Our past lies forgotten; there is no one to sing of our deeds.

Where is he that kept our law? He that upheld us in war?
The knowledge of the world is lost to us.
We are like blind men, being led about

Weep, cry out, oh voiceless clan!
How can your silent cries be unheard?
The future lies unseen and unsearched. We are a people adrift!

Behold, the harp lies silent, broken, untouched.
The soul of the clan has fled, and we are lost!
Dubhan... the Bard is... dead..."

Her voice broke as she said it. The full weight of her father's death fell on her and she almost fell to her knees. Cathair reached out to steady her, but she motioned him back. She would finish if it killed her. Drawing herself up, she called out the traditional ending of the lament.

"…Who will take up the harp?
Does the Soul of the People still live?
Bring him forth!
Or else we continue in darkness…"

She looked around. Obviously, her father's successor would not be here. He would have been named at home- from among the clan. Cathair, as the only other clan member, stepped forward.

"Aithne DerDubhan takes up the harp. The Soul of the People still lives."

Her knees almost went out again. She was not the bard. She could not be the bard. Her father would not leave the clan without a bard for so long. Not for a minute longer than necessary. "Cathair..." But he gave her a warning look. Finish the ceremony. So she lifted her chin and answered him. "The Soul of the People lives. Our time of darkness is ending." Handing him his knife, she wrapped the harp within her cloak. It would remain covered until she could make or aquire new strings for it. Once that happened, and it was played again, the "Soul of the People" would be considered no longer silent. Slowly, she was recovering from her tears. It would be awhile before it all settled in...

Cathair took her hand and helped her down from her steep perch. Once they reached level ground, she turned to face him. "Tell me, Cathair. Tell me who is the bard. My father would not and could not have named me."

"Cynan DeOsin serves the clan now." he said, matter-of-factly. "But your father sent you these things because, if circumstances had been different, he would've chosen you."

Aithne nodded. "Cynan was a good choice. He was a better pupil than I, by far. They call me a bard here. I suppose I am more of a bard than most." She gave him a wry smile and told him what she had thought about on the way to the hill. He nodded at her. "You certainly are a bard. I have no idea what you just said."

At that, she laughed. Those words were almost exactly what she used to hear her mother say to her father. And to herself, on occasion. Taking her hand, he led her back to the villa. They returned to a scene much like the one they had left- it was as if nothing had happened- save that it was much darker now and the fire and lamps were brighter.

Cathair maneuvered her over to the hearth, motioning her close. "Come here." he said. "I have something for you." He reached into his pouch, and Aithne, setting aside the harp and cloak, drew very close, curiousity driving her. Holding out his hand, and taking hers, he dropped the contents of one into the other, smiling as he did so. "There. The dark days will not be so long."

She looked down, and there, in her hand, sat the harpstrings she was wanting! With a gasp of delight, she flung her arms around Cathair's neck, kissing his jaw as she did. "Oh, you're wonderful, Cathair! Only you would think of that..."

He smiled mischeviously and pulled back. "Well, are you going to put them in, or not?" Blushing, she sat down and uncovered the harp. She hadn't strung a harp for ages, but her hands did not forget their skill. She tied, twisted, and played each string, tuning it to the proper pitch. Soon, she was completely lost in the work and had forgotten anything else in the room.

Jenny: Strange Customs

As the meal drew to a close, and Ambrosius was setting aside his great iron-set drinking-horn, inlaid with the fierce red gems from the islands beyond Egypt, empty, finished. Master Lucius was still deep in conversation with Gaius about the Oscan dialect, which the Guttersnipe did not know Gaius was vaguely familiar with. Jason, at her side, was idly pushing away a bare bone on his plate, his face distant from the crowd. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Domitia and Cathair rise as one and pass on out of the atrium into the roaring furance glory of the evening. She frowned; Caleb, catching the train of her gaze and watching too, frowned also. But when their gazes came together, she smiled straightly and shrugged, and they turned back to the table, content to let the Erin-people conduct themselves after their own manner, content not to question.

Lys: Blurred Lines

Sitting there, with Cathair's surprisingly gentle hands combing her hair, Aithne nearly dropped off to sleep more than once. Finally, Cathair handed the comb back to her and stood, saying if she was going to keep it up, she might as well just lay down and sleep again.

She laughed and shook her head, following him outside. It was nearly suppertime, so they made their way back to the villa. The mood at the table was somewhat subdued, but not terribly so. There were so many seasoned warriors at the table... They had grown used to seeing such things and could rejoice at their victory. The loss of their fellows did not sting quite so much as it did for the more peaceful among the crowd.

Cathair, she found, was able to slip into the coversation fairly easily, though they both noticed the reserve amongst the others. He shared their pursuits, but this time yesterday he'd been on the other side, and she knew the only thing that kept him safe at this table was Lord Ambrosius's acceptance of him.

She suddenly hoped the Guttersnipe never heard who it was that killed Aidan.

The meal ran down to a close, and Aithne could see the light at the window had turned a golden orange. She turned to Cathair, who nodded, knowing what she meant.

The two rose and excused themselves, going to the corner where the harp was covered by her father's brat. Aithne picked up the cloak, exhaling breath she'd been unknowingly holding since she left her seat, and put it over her shoulders, folding it in the bard's style.
She didn't know how, but somehow her father's scent still remained. Numerous years of riding in a bundle on Cathair's back, and still it smelled like Da- all damp wool and herbal fires.

She buried her nose in it and inhaled, feeling almost as though she was breathing his spirit... A pagan notion, sure, but one she could understand. She took up the harp, stroking the beaten places- it had seen more battles than this one- before even Cathair had taken it with him. Her father had told her the tale of each and every scar, and she could tell them in full bardic rhyme.

The lines were blurred for her, she thought. She was an in-between, like the shore- neither here nor there, or the dawn- neither day nor night. She was a bard, but not a bard.

And she was about to perform a funeral that was not a funeral.

How very apt. She thought. She had been wondering if she was doing the right thing before now. But now she knew.

Quietly, unobtrusively, she made her way outside, Cathair following behind her. The hillside, on the edge of the trees, was the place to continue the pattern- neither forest nor plain, neither hill nor valley. A nothing that meant everything.

Jenny: Have Rooted Me In British Soil

By evening the moonstone paleness of the sky had turned to a spangled tiger's coat, blazing with red and orange glory in the west where the sun was going down, turning the surrounding hills to the crimson of full grapes. Their slopes, streaked with honey light and the darker stains as of spilt wine, rose up out from among the shadow-drenched valleys where the chill winds meandered, blustery and autumnal, smelling of apples and cool uplands; and in the coolness before the storm which was approaching on the eastern fringes of that tiger-sky, a chaffinch was bursting into song. Its thin, wine-yellow notes were tossed along on the wind, falling through the orchard with the yellow of the old leaves cast off and blown about, flung in golden banks against the old garden wall.

Down the southern hillsides wound the small home-herd of cattle, the lead bell clanking softly in the twilight. A small herd-dog ran among them, driving them on for the dark tumble of forest and the little village. As if in answer, calling the herd home, the bell in the cloister ran out: each note was clear, like beads of molten silver dropped singly into water. The chaffinch's breast swelled with song. Soon the maids would be on their stools in the long stone-and-turf byres milking the cows, singing and laughing, for life was good. Fish and hot-cakes would be sizzling on the warm hearth-stones, and the animal-fat lamps would the lit in the little mean houses, apple-leaf tongues of flame going up to light the worn and pleasant faces of the toiling folk as they sat down to their suppers.

In the pastoral valley over which the tiger-sky raced on, its purply clouds driven by the wind, over which the chaffinch spread its piebald wings, there was the self-satisfied pleasantry of solitude. One could not guess, save for the scorched earth of the northwest pasture, that the evening before had nearly seen the endless roll of tranquility, rolling as of waves upon a beach, snuffed out forever. The folk of both stations, both lords and laymen, settled back into the habitual pulse of the valley as valiantly and instinctively as, blown aside by a sudden gust of wind, a harebell will spring erect again when left to the gentleness of a breezeless summer day.

A dog barked in the garden, and the chaffinch took off from its apple-bough and darted with blurred black-and-white wings on the upward bluster of wind across the valley.

Lys: Submission

Aithne and Cathair stepped into the small stone chapel that was one of the first buildings in the cloister. It was quiet, cool, and somewhat dark, so that if one's soul was clean, one had a feeling of blessed peace, and if it was not- the feeling of a tomb.

Cathair felt a little of both.

Quietly, he pulled away from Aithne and went forward, kneeling at the altar. Holy God, you know me- my secret places are not hidden from you. Yesterday I killed many men in battle; many good men who knew you better than I. And most damning of all, I killed a boy, an innocent child looking to protect his charge. He heaved a sigh. That boy had been all that kept him from killing Aithne herself. God of the Sun, I have deprived a widow of her only child, her first son.

He took a deep breath before continuing. He was not used to going before the One God without a priest to guide him. Brother Parthalan said that it was perfectly acceptable, but he still felt this notion of speaking directly to a god to be a chancy venture. Especially with how bold one was supposed to be... I... I claim the blood of your Son, Jesu, which was poured out to cleanse me of my sin. Through it I ask forgiveness for my wicked deeds. He hoped he had got the wording right. So many years without Brother Parthalan's guidance, with barely a priest to be seen, much less spoken to, made his prayers rather rusty. I thank you, All-Powerful.


He'd almost forgotten that last part. Rising, he turned and started. Somehow he'd forgotten Aithne was with him. But there she was, sitting quietly on the bench nearest the door. It looked as though she'd been doing some praying of her own.

He took her hand and she smiled at him. "Feeling better?" she asked. To his surprise, he found he was able to nod a yes. The burden that had weighed so heavily on him was lifted. No longer was guilt pounding "Murderer" into his heart. He would mourn the boy, but the accident no longer had a choke-hold on him. He could call it an accident.


Aithne had sat and watched him pray, knowing what he was praying about and echoing his prayers. There was so much hurt in the valley, and so much for them all to face- she prayed that he'd have the peace he sought. And when he rose and took her hand, and she saw the burden had been lifted, she silently raised her thanks to heaven.

Kissing him on the cheek, she led him out to see the rest of the place. "These are the sleeping cells for the brothers and sisters of the cloister... though, come to think of it, the only brother I have seen is Brother Gaius, and he is not much like Brother Parthalan. Sometimes I wonder if he really is a priest or not...

"And this-" she opened one door, "is mine. For now, at least. I was put here when we arrived because, I think, they had no other place to put me." She went inside, feeling a bit awkward. "It's good enough, though. And much better than what I'm used to." Rummaging in her bag, she found a comb with which to untangle the knots in her hair. She turned to go, but Cathair stopped her at the door. "What?" she asked him. "I can comb and walk at the same time."

To her surprise, he took the comb out of her hand and moved her to the bed. "Sit down. If you don't mind, I'd like to comb it for you."
Her head whipped around to stare at him. "What?" he asked, much in the same way she had. "I've curried horses before, if you want qualifications. And can't a man want to help his... love when he is able?"

Her brow furrowed. "Cathair, last time you took an interest in my hair, it was to yank it as hard as you could."

But he just smiled and took the comb from her. And Aithne found there was something tempting about the novelty of it, and submitted to his wish- hare-mad that it was.

Jenny: The Leavings of the Wolf

Kay sucked in a hissing breath. "Oo... That's not pretty," he murmured sympathetically. He straightened from his position and let Gaius in.

"No, it's not," said the surgeon, crouched down to wrap the wound. "It still burns a bit, by the look of it."

Bedwyr, half-slumped on Gaius' bed, cocked one eye open and grimaced as he watched Gaius apply the bandages over top of the poulice. It did hurt, with a throbbing, hot, remembering sort of pain. Most curiously, he could still feel the hand. Whenever he opened his eyes, he expected to see the hand still there; only, when he moved, there was no hand, and the awkward lack of weight from his left side threw him off balance. As Gaius laid the bandages on, he drew in his own sharp breath, bracing.

Kay whirled and crashed down on the side of the bed, sticking his long legs out. "Well, Tyr!" he said, "that was quite a blow. I should think you have Artos beat for wounds now. But don't worry. Gaius will have you patched up soon enough, and we'll figure out how you can throw knives with your teeth."

The dodgy fellow smiled at him. Kay always managed to be comforting in the oddest ways, even when he was jerking one's sickbed around and playing ominously with his stockwhip. Bedwyr, vision blurring a bit with the pain, managed to smile back. "Just...don't go easy on me," he said, finding to his horror that his voice was uneven.

Kay let the whip fly across the floor, cracking in the quiet. "When have I ever gone easy on you, old dog-wolf? Don't be a bore. Now - " He sighed and got to his feet, coiling his whip back up into his belt. "I suppose I had better find that new bard-girl. She'll need the details. Bedwyr, the Handless Hero." He began to walk away, singing a broken tune. "So bravely put his hand - his left hand, though, he could spare it - in the mouth of war, in the mouth of war. And War, he bit that hand clean off, swallowed it down, it made him sick! Bedwyr the Handless Hero, better than old Tyr-oh! he put his hand (the one he could spare) down in the wolf-mouth of war!"

The whip cracked in the hallway to punctuate the end of the song.

Lys: The Blood-Price

How long they stood like that, Cathair wasn't certain. He didn't want to break the peace that had settled on her- didn't want to interrupt it to tell her what he had to say. But it had to be done eventually, and preferrably before evening came.

"Aithne..." Slowly, she looked up at him, faintly reproachful, he thought. "I need your help with something" When her gaze turned curious, he led her down the path a little, to a bit of low stone wall where they could sit. He took both her hands and turned to face her as they sat there, and asked quietly, "Do you remember the boy who was with you in the battle?"


Aithne recoiled. Suddenly she remembered what she had forgotten for so long- it seemed so long, at least- Cathair had killed Aidan. Her heart began to tear again, and she was thankful she was sitting as she nodded. "I remember."


She shrunk in on herself. Cathair saw it happen and wondered, if this was how she took it, what would the boy's mother say? And the father? Somehow Cathair doubted there was a father. He was not sure why. But there had been something in the boy's manner... indefinable but there. A grown-up-ness of a sort that did not come from a boy whose father still lived. Strange how one could see a person for only a few seconds and glean so much about them before they died.

He gripped her hands a little tighter, willing her to stay with him and listen. "I need to talk to his parents. I must pay them an eric if nothing else. He... he should not have died. I wish to God I had not loosed that arrow!"

He bent down in hopes of catching her eye again. "I need to speak to them, but my Latin is horrible. I know I'll make some mistake- make things worse. I was hoping..." What was he doing? She was near tears and he was asking her this! "Would you translate for me?"


Translate? Recount the horror of it all, from his point of view? Re-live it? But even as part of her rebelled, another part knew she could not say no. He was her Cathair. How could she do anything but stand by him?

It would be hard. Oh, it would be hard. But she would do it. Steeling herself, raising her head and holding his hands tight, she nodded, biting back the hurt that was in her. "Of course I will."


It was not long after that they sat before Aidan's mother- Cathair had been right in assuming she was a widow- slowly, gently, and painstakingly telling her what had happened. Cathair listened to Aithne's translation with some awe. She managed to take his matter-of-fact words and turn them into something gentle, even soothing.

Even so, the poor woman took it all in without movement. Cathair recognized the signs of shock, and after awhile stood to go. Eventually the woman would come to herself. And in the meantime... he drew his purse and took out the lion's share of the gold found there. It was enough to buy a female slave- that was the price of an eric, and he added more out of conviction to do so. But suddenly the woman flew up into his face, knocking his hand aside. "Do you think I want your money?" she hissed. "Do you think you can pay for the privilage of killing my son?He was my son! Mine! And you stole him from me!" She dissolved into tears before his eyes, and two women entered, easing her back to the chair and soothing her as best they could.

Another turned to him. "You have done as best you can do, sir. Do not be distressed. She is out of her mind with grief now, but it will pass eventually. No one counts it as you do- 'twas a stray shot in battle, and the man who sent him out is as much to blame as the man who shot him."
She looked over his shoulder and towards the villa. "And I can promise you no one will be going after him."

Cathair listened, and nodded, but even paying the blood debt did not take the sting out of it. Not for him, not for the boy's mother, nor for Aithne either, he thought. The woman was still right. He had done the best he could. For the moment, at least. It was in his mind to look after the woman in any way in which she was lacking, in the future- when she could look at him and not see only the blood on his hands.

He turned to go, his steps heavy. Then, out of nowhere, Aithne came and slipped in under his arm, walking with him, bearing his heart up on her own and pushing on without complaint. The gesture encouraged him like nothing else could have.

"Come," she said, "I will show you the cloister now."