Jenny: ...Before There's Talk of Springtime and Rebirth

There had been a summer, long ago, which he had spent ill and confined to a bed. Day by day, night by night, the pain wracked him in his whole body. He had hated it, but it was then that he learned to endure and suffer quietly through pain. His whole life, Pain and the End of Pain were his companions as closely as his shadow. But near the end of that summer, on one thundery evening with the last light creeping in through a crack in the western clouds, he had woken, swift and quiet, and he had known that the illness was over. He felt like a piece of driftwood finally cast high enough to be safe from the pounding waves, and the first thing he had done was drag in a deep, deep breath.

He let it out slowly, feeling the pain jangle brightly in his leg. He could see the sparse familiar ceiling over his head, a little blurring in his eyes; he could hear the birds of morning outside his window. It was not that summer, not that thundery evening. He felt like that piece of driftwood, spinning through the sand, free of the waves, cold and heavy and conscious. He lay quietly, coming to himself, until presently he was aware of someone speaking at his side.

"In the world of knowledge," Master Lucius was saying from a book in his hand, "the last thing to be perceived and only with great difficulty is the essential Form of Goodness. Once it is perceived, the conclusion must follow that, for all things, this is the cause of whatever is right and good; in the visible world it gives birth to light and to the lord of light, while it is itself sovereign in the intelligible world and the parent of intelligence and truth. Without having had a vision of this Form no one can act with wisdom, either in his own life or in the matters of state."

"So far as I can understand, I share your belief," Artos said.

Master Lucius' head came up with startled pleasure. "You know Plato. are awake."

The Merlin said, "I am not sure which you find more delightful or startling. I remember a little Plato. And Pliny, I think, I am seeing at your foot."

The other shifted and looked down at a second book on the floor. "Yes. Your breathing was beginning to grow too shallow, so I thought I would fetch Plato instead. And see, he has fetched you up out of sleep." Master Lucius rose and came closer. "How are you feeling?"

"Like a piece of paper-window," said Artos. He lifted himself up gingerly on his elbows and looked down the length of his leg. It obligingly redoubled its throbs and flashes of pain as though a summer thunder storm were raging in it. The little bird fellow took up a flash of wine and poured him a glass, setting it to his lips. The fierce vintage burned a little in the back of his throat and bit at the muscles in his cheeks, but it warmed his paper-window body. He let out a gasp as Master Lucius took the glass away.


"I am not sure that is the word I would use." He squinted past the sleep still clinging to his eyelids and gazed about his room. He had some vague, dark feeling that something had come in, something wicked and menacing. But there was only the bird fellow and his ink companions. It had only been a dream. A dream of what? "What day is it?" he asked.

Master Lucius returned to his chair, dragging it a little closer to the bedside. "Just the next day. Truthfully, we all expected you to be gone away longer than this. The Guttersnipe was with you all night, and she looked pale as alabaster when we made her rise and leave you this morning."

She would, he thought. She would fight for him like a tigress and stay by him so that they would have to drag her away part by part, and she would fling herself down at his feet and not move until she was certain he was well. Poor chit! He hated that he had given her such a scare. He felt uneasy himself. "And my uncle? The others? The day - how has it dawned?"

"Your uncle was in here just half an hour ago with Jason to check on you. So far as I know, the others are at work putting the valley back in order, and I think the sun came up in the east, same as always."

He flung himself back on his couch with a grunt of pain. It took him a few moments of deep, regulated breathing to calm down the flashing in his limb. As he lay, he thought. Master Lucius thumbed Plato patiently, waiting for him to start conversation, or to drop back into sleep. At last Artos turned round and said, "I need you to do a thing for me. Find the Fox - Vortimer, you know him? Good. Find him and tell him to run his men up the glens of the Blue Shield People. He can take the Arfon mounts if he hasn't got horses of his own. If he has to engage, engage. Otherwise, I am needing to be sure there will not be another attack, since this one failed."

The Greek fellow closed Plato and pressed him alongside Pliny in his arms, rising from his seat. He stood a moment looking back down at Artos, while Artos waited upraised on one elbow, urging him silently to be off. There was a quiet thoughtfulness about him, the Merlin considered, which was like Gaius. No wonder the Guttersnipe had willingly fallen in with him. Then the other said, "Inasmuch as I know Vortigern, I am thinking there will not be a second attack planned. But I will find the Fox - or, he will find me, if what I hear of him is so - and I will tell him, and he will do so."

"Thank you." He watched the other go, then eased back and lay quietly until a more natural sleep took him away.

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