Jenny: The Man With a Shadow Made of Light

With the Fox's arrival the tide had turned. No - from his vantage point on Cyrus looking over the roiling mess - no, Ambrosius thought, it had turned back like the waters of Jordan. Not for them, not yet, to pass under Jordan's waters and the waters of death to the far green shore beyond. They were running on dry ground still, the great white sky above them and the shadows of their running under their feet: running on, bloodied and weary, but running still.

Ambrosius touched his knuckle to his lips, feeling the warmth and dampness of his ring against his skin: a gesture of intimate salute. "To his own master," he murmured, dropping out of Latin into his native tones, "he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. He will make us to stand in the glory of his presence, having run the race with faithfulness, having come to the beginning out of the end." He cast up his gaze to the sky and found it a broken patchwork of clouds and blue-black freckled with stars. The moon tore through the ragged van-guard of clouds and poured itself out in molten silver on the turf, fighting with the louder, brighter glow of the fires. It flooded the pasture, turning the stream into a thread of silver, and the wood beyond into a frosted wolf crouching long and low across the land. And as the wind picked up, blowing the mizzle out of the clouds, the moon's light turned the driving softness of the water into a veil of pearly white. There was a depression in the ground beside him where a horse had been flung and had risen, dark like a shadow; but as the moonlight and the mizzle fell on it, it cast itself out beside him like a shadow made of light.

Through the misty rain Champion dropped, flinging out his wings to catch Ambrosius' upraised arm. "Hello, old friend," he murmured, stroking the tabby-streaked face. The Bird said nothing, content to strike his head against Ambrosius' gloved palm and, animal-like, drop his eyes closed in happiness. Then it was time for them to go down together, for the Merlin and the Fox between them had made an end to the invasion and those who had not died or crawled away into the night were held in sullen captivity at the base of the hill. With the mizzle turning the field into a smoking expanse at his back he rode down, riding out like Annwn from the mists and darkness into the ring of torchlight.

Artos and the Companions pulled their horses together with Nutmeg at little ahead, and as one saluted him. The Fox sat loosely and happily apart on his snorting, sweaty mount, feet dangling by his stirrupless saddle; he, too, raised a hand to Ambrosius, his smile made a little grotesque with the smear of blood on his cheek. Artos was keeping himself upright with supreme effort; Bedwyr was twisted to one side and missing a hand. They had all, under the surface of relief, a grim expression; Ambrosius could see them holding back a despair born out of utter exhausion by the the burning fervor of their hatred.

From them he turned his gaze to what they hated. He gave them only a passing glance, having his own people to attend to in a moment; but he saw out of their unfamiliar faces two of distinction: a young one and one just past the softness of youth; one hollow and cold, one full with obvious derision. Having seen enough, he said, "Kay, Caleb - take these to the hypocaust and set a guard over them. We will attend to them later. The rest of you, we are in some disarry. There is time to sleep when the valley has been hushed to calm again."

It was then that he saw them wake into the realization that it was over. On all their faces was the look of one born out of one world into another, the waking from some struggling nightmare into the moment hanging in the balance just before the sun comes up. It stirred a smile inside him, too far down to reach his lips; for him it was not over: for him it would never be over, he considered, until they laid him to rest beneath his Eryri hills.

In the following bustle Vortimer got off his mount and strode over, his arm through the reins, to greet him. "Hail, sir!" he cried. The smile on his face was oddly grim. "That spear was thrust a trifle close to home, I am thinking."

"I am thinking so myself," replied Ambrosius, getting down off Cyrus. Artos rode over, easing himself over the pommel of his saddle to take the weight off his legs. At that moment he wanted nothing more than to see to the cub's needs, but he had to look the Fox dead straight in the face and see what the other did. "It was Vortigern's doing."

Though the Fox's face never changed, Ambrosius saw the mask-like coldness come suddenly into it. The eyes iced and the smear of blood was suddenly hideous. Then, showing up his teeth in the light as he spoke, low and carefully like a dog giving warning, the Fox said, "So... Was it so? Yet somehow I am not surprised."

"Are you not? Truth to tell, neither am I," the Hawk returned evenly. He took great care, making a show of casting aside holding the young foxy man at all accountable for his father's treachery. "You did well tonight. It is good to have you at my back."

"Maoch," the young man said, jerking his head aside. "Your Bird came out of the bright yonder nowhere to me - and what was I to do but follow?" His smile was a little less grotesque. "It is a thing I owe, though I did not think of the owing when I came."

Ambrosius answered with a slight nod, and finally it was time to see to the cub's needs. By now Artos was in a sweat, all his weight flung forward on Nutmeg's withers, his leg at odd angles with the saddle. Gaius had gone with Druce to help the others put the valley into order again, so it was only himself taking the mare's head and saying, "It is time to come down, cubling."

His nephew bared his teeth in a faintly mocking, mirthless smile and nodded. He heaved forward in the saddle and swung his right leg over - Ambrosius could see the concentration gathered clenched between his brows for his hands were slippering with sweat and blood and one slip would probably tear his leg open further than before. It was going to be a longer and a harder fight than before, and Gaius was going to have his hands full with the work of it; but he was proud of his grey-eyed Merlin. Artos managed slowly and he did not tear his leg further, and he lent the other his shoulder, and together they went up the slope to the house while the Fox took their horses away.

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