Jenny: A Golden Torc

Strange how slow the heartbeats could become, how a lifetime's worth of thoughts could fill the space between one and the next; each one like a star, and the thoughts the gulf between star and star. Whose heartbeats? His, or Artos'? Or perhaps it was both, both at once - they were close enough, like two plants grown so close as to become a single thing. So Ambrosius felt the slow heartbeats like the languid wash of Middle Sea waves, pulsing through his body, as he stood and looked over the valley as it slowly sank into its nest and quiet once more. He felt the quiet as a formlessness beneath the throbbing, but he saw nothing but the darkness. Like a strange fog, thick and impenetrable, it pressed on his vision. Only twice did anything come through, a little glimmer, a flash as of firelight off gold or amber, nothing more. Sighing, he shook off the fog and saw the valley once more.

The Fox was coming out of the villa stable, the tail of his foxy hood aswing with each stride. The smear of blood had been reduced to a patchy dark red on his cheek, and the smile had gone away. "My Lord Ambrosius," the young man said. "I find you alone."

"You find me alone."

The Fox nodded, seemingly satisfied. "I have news for you, then. News of Hengist."

Ambrosius looked back into the green eyes with a sinking sense of weariness. For the first time in a long time, he wanted nothing more than to sit down and rest for long and long, to sleep for years and not wake. The old wound in his leg began to ache. "Is there any hope that it is good news?"

"Is news of Hengist ever good news, sir?" asked the Fox, his dog-teeth showing. Then he shook his head and went on. "There seems to be something brewing between him and the man who gave me life, a fair golden thing."

At this Ambrosius began to take a sharper interest. "So... This fair golden thing - does it seem likely Vortigern will be wearing it about his throat soon?"

The knife's blade of cunning swept across the Fox's face. "As I know the man, it seems likely."

"As I know the man, it seems likely." Ambrosius rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. "This foreign oak digs its roots deeper into my British soil with each passing year. And this nightshade keeps crawling over my garden wall."

Vortimer cast a knowing, solemn glance at the open vestibule doorway, and the Hawk saw his nostrils flare as he pulled in the scent of - what? fever? dark magic? But like a child's toy he swept himself up again, the lanternlight fierce in his fox-hood. "Your apples have done well this year, sir."

"This year," Ambrosius said, nodding. "Next year... Well, even I cannot see the harvest before it comes."

Vortimer smiled. "Yes, sir."

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