Jenny: The Time it Takes to Swing the Axe

The rain had slackened to a damp, all-pervasive mist by the time the service was over. Gaius had, as always, delivered the message with that curious calm that he had - a calm that was like the immense and constant urgency of ocean waves. Ambrosius stood in the forecourt, arms folded against the chill of the mist, listening to the young man's voice in his memory.

"We are faced with a threefold enemy: the devil, mankind, and ourselves. For a moment, look at it from their point of view, and you will see who dire our war is. Not hopeless - never hopeless, for all hope is in Christ, and Omnipotence cannot be defeated. But all that is holy, our God, our faith, our regenerated spirits, is held in utmost and vitriolic contempt by the wickedness of this world..."

It was as if he knew. But he could not know. They had not thought about it for years.

Jason and the Guttersnipe tumbled out of the cloister, brushing past him, and headed up through the cloister garden for the villa. He watched them go, withdrawn into himself: arm in arm, the young man's sealskin slicker bright with the damp, the girl's gown a smudge of sullen colour in the grey surroundings. He found himself thinking, At least I leave her in good hands. Then - Fires, Ambrosius! You're not dead yet. And he turned to see Gaius stepping out of the cloister to his side, a look of puzzlement turned to him. "Walk with me," Ambrosius said, and moved out into the damp garden. Gaius, silent and obedient, moved with him. They moved under the dripping oaks and laurels, following the quiet clumps of holly and low-growing tansy along the path. By the end of September, just about all the flowers had lost themselves to the loam beneath their leaves, but the foxgloves still shone out in the white murk, saucy spires of flaming red to light their way along the path.

Ambrosius turned to gaze up at the ivy tumbling over the stone side of the cloister building. Gaius stopped too, looking with him. "Gaius," he said at last, now that they were out of earshot of any from the forecourt. "Gaius, do you recall the Knife?"

The young man glanced round, but he was aware of no surprise in the other's face. Gaius was rarely surprised. "Yes, sir. I recall it well."

"It is gone."

Gaius let out a long breath. "I had a notion you were going to end with that... Vortigern?"

"I cannot be sure," Ambrosius replied. Which was worse? For that matter, was there a difference between the two, or were they one in this thing? "My brother was here."

Gaius' eyebrows flickered upward, and his face blanched: the visible manifestations of surprise and, Ambrosius thought, not a little fury. How blindly loyal they could be! they, who had never met Artorius, who only caught and shared the current of dislike that pulsed between himself and Artos for the man. He could see them when he told them, he could hear the discordant clank of notes from Caleb's harp as the young man stopped playing, could see Kay toss up his head, face white as Gaius', could see Bedwyr's single hand slowly clench and unclench. Blind, loyal, men who would follow him to the death, hate what he hated, love what he loved. He did not want to imagine what they would do if Vortigern and Artorius succeeded.

Gaius murmured, "It was a long time ago, sir. It may not hold today."

"They will make it hold." Ambrosius should his head. "There are enough people who hate me and want what I have. They will make it hold, if they have to rip the lawbooks to shreds to do it."

The Companion set his hand on Ambrosius' shoulder, gripping hard. A gust of wind blew a spangling of water-droplets around them, making a soft, desolate music. "The Council has not called session yet - chances are they will not until spring. We have a little time."

A little time. It was not very comforting.

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