Jenny: Blood Feud

Ambrosius acknowledged the boy's obeisance with a nod and disengaged himself deftly from their group, heading for the villa. Master Lucius broke away as well and followed, his big Saxon manservant three strides behind. He checked his pace to accommodate the little bird fellow, who seemed oddly quiet. He liked the little bird fellow, who knew literature and history and humankind about as well as anyone could, and could be relied upon to make decent conversation. Among his contacts, there were few as educated as this little young man who, denied much of the boisterous life of many young men in his sphere, threw himself wholeheartedly into honing his mind. And, chiefly, the man had looked after the Guttersnipe, which was a thing Ambrosius knew he could not repay.

But the fellow seemed in no mood for conversation, and once they gained the atrium he drifted away with his manservant to a place near the fire, and Ambrosius was content to let him go, and made his own way to Artos' chambers. Approaching, he heard voices.



"Mm... Huh!"

"The vast extent of your vocabulary astonishes me. Don't curl up."

As he reached the doorway, lengthening his stride, he heard Artos' unmistakable dry humour: "This has got to be the most humiliating position."

And Jason, who was bent over the leg, snapped back with, "I've seen women in labour handle it better than you."

Artos saw him just then, coming into the room, and smiled through a pale face. It was clear he was still suffering the fever, and his voice was rough and waterless. Ambrosius felt something come loose in his middle, seeing his nephew awake and close to jesting with Jason. He flung himself down in the chair and hauled it forward to Artos' side, getting a good look at the surgeon's work. It was, for all the tidiness between Jason and Gaius, still a nasty mess, and Jason had the leg crooked up and turned over so he could get to the wound; Artos was resenting it quietly.

"Where is Gaius?" the young man asked.

Ambrosius shook his head. "Down at the cloister, I presume. I have not seen him up here at the house yet."

Muffled with a wad of bandage in his mouth came Jason's helpful intonations: "He is tending Bedwyr's arm. He will be up presently, he said."

Silence fell between them for a while. Artos quietly suffered the indignity of Jason's ministrations, and Ambrosius watched each movement carefully, both of the surgeon's hands and of the patient's face. Now that he was awake, Ambrosius caught something in the eyes which troubled him. It could only be the fever, yet it was a lingering, smouldering sort of sickness which made him think of Rufrius. Occasionally the eyes would drift shut, and for whole stretches of time Artos would be in a fitful sort of sleep until Jason hurt him enough to bring him out of it. He was drifting off again as Jason finished and put away his tools, slinging the strap of his case over his shoulder in the old familiar gesture. "I'll let Gaius come back and check on him," he said, stepping away from the bed. "I'm sure they would like to talk."

Ambrosius nodded and rose as well as the other passed out of the room. But suddenly Artos, whom he had took to be asleep, reached out and grasped his hand before he could turn away, eyes springing open with an odd clarity. "Uncle," he said. "Don't go - just yet."

Ambrosius eased back into the chair. "What is it, cub?" he asked, disturbed. That smouldering had sprung up into the eyes with a ferocity and the face seemed paler and more feverish than before. He set his hand on the forehead.

Artos shook himself. "Uncle, last night - there was a man out there, a man I couldn't kill, though I had the full desire in me to kill him."

With a deepening frown, Ambrosius waited for his nephew to go on, wondering if it was only the fever talking, knowing it was not.

But Artos, unexpectedly, raised his right hand and turned it over to show the back of it, and it turned up caked and bloody, and the ring had cut into his finger. The gem was so covered in blood that it could not be seen. "I gave him something to remember me by, so he might think of me, and care, in days to come."

A curious stillness took Ambrosius. It had been so long ago, and he had been so young, the odds were that he would not remember clearly. But he did remember clearly: a strong, arrogant face, very Roman, which might have been handsome but for the sloe-bitter twist to the lips which ruined the effect. And he remembered the animosity which had burned by common consent between them for the sake of a woman, for the sake of two men. It was a feud, a blood-feud, which had laid long and quiet under the soil for these years, only to be sparked into wild life again by a blow from the cub who stood between them. Looking at the mess of fist presented to him, he could only image what damage had been done.

At least he could not mistake the face he had not seen for so long.

They let the thing lay between them, wordlessly agreeing to stay on the alert for the man with half a face. Ambrosius rose and brushed the sodden hair back from the hot brow. "Sleep some more, cubling," he said. "I will be needing you soon."

"I will be coming," Artos assured him, and he closed his eyes and dropped, like a cat, back into sleep.

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