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."

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