Jenny: True and Tarnished Gold

The Guttersnipe turned from Cathair as a figure broke off from the thick shadows in the vestibule, shutting the door in the wake of a chilly draught. "Ah, there she is," she said lightly, and returned to the plants in her hands, listening in the back of her mind to the quiet discourse between Domitia and her Irish bull. Overhead, Jason was explaining chainmail-work to Artos, who listened intently, fingers itching for a bit of work; next to her, Caleb let the notes of his harp fall idly into the warm stillness of the room, each string dropping a warm golden orb of sound into her ears so that with his meandering, pathless music, she felt dressed as Gwenhywfar in queenly jewels: idle, soft, each note perfect and self-sufficient. She listened to the music as one on the outside, knowing that the music existed all on its own apart from her inclining ear. So soft, so golden, so perfect. The golden droplets mingled with the blue flowers in her hands, and she Saw. She Saw as idly as Caleb played, as gently and as peacefully, yet with that poignant, enigmatic feeling of sorrow - a sorrow as of loss.

A rocky shore broken up with clumps of lonely green plants, and up the steep hillsides, ascending to a wine-yellow sky, the trees of death, the cypress trees. Gulls whirled above a deep green-blue sea. No northern sea, that ocean. A southern sea: the Middle Sea, the sea that wore the great empires as a mantle around her through the ages. Under that saffron sky the plants were burnished faintly copper, the rocks flushed pink; and among them bounded the wild goats - and through their midst a single man walked, more lonesome than that isle, more contented than the wild goats that scattered from his tread. The sun was going down in a fierce, roaring blaze of glory in the west, turning the deep blue sea to blood-stained glass, and the uplifted eyes looked far, far beyond that horizon, to a thing which he held in his hand.

"Why, now, what is this? I have never seen it before."

She came back to see Master Lucius leaning over her, a short staff in one hand to keep himself balanced. He was pointed at a selection of long crocus-shaped flowers by her knee, each bloom a perfect wash of lavender hue. "Meadow saffron," she answered readily. "It grows only in the south here - you will not have seen it up north. We use it to make rat-bait. It is highly poisonous."

Caleb's notes fell into the quiet between them. Master Lucius drew one of the blooms out from the others and held it up; the firelight touched the tip of each petal and made the gold within the cup flame to life. "You could not guess," he murmured, "that such a lovely thing could be so deadly. The changeful northern blue, the gold... It is beautiful."

"There is a thing to be learned in that," said the Guttersnipe, and she took the blossom back.

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