Jenny: Small Things


"Put a post there - there, a little to your right." Jason pointed and called across the flat grassless space at the foot of the villa's hill between the slope and the Long Barn. Cathair obediently raised the stake over his head and plunged it into the ground, then took a step back to begin hammering it in. At his own corner of the yard, Jason put in a stake and pounded likewise - tang! tang! tang! the notes of his hammer rang out in the valley as he smote the metal pole. There was a strong wind in the trees, rushing along the slopes of the hills in the wild dark overhead. In the valley where his stood he felt a gentle but cold and persistent wind on his skin. The cluster of lanterns which they were hanging from the poles spun crazily, casting bat-flickering shadows round their feet. High up in the hills, far to the north, a stag belled angrily; and he could imagine, though he could not hear, the silent uprush of the wolves on the hunt, the leader of the pack flying full-stretched through the flurrying dark for the white flash of the buck's throat, and the rest of them racing wild round as the big creature came down in one last desperate grunting scream.

He drove the last stake home and stood back. The dirt was a pool of tawny light - his eyes were dazzled by the lanterns - and beyond crouched the mysterious panther-dark, a sort of dark that seemed to know what was coming, to know better than he did, and seemed to wait with a quiet, satisfied sort of expectancy, which steadied the knotted feeling in his middle.

He stooped to shove a rock up against the base of the metal pole. A door banged up the hill. He wondered how long it would be before they had all withdrawn into the paws of the dark outside the pool of light and stood watching Ambrosius and the fine Attacotti warrior facing off. Not like the playing wolfish scrapping which the Companions indulged in from time to time: this would be to the death. With a little mirthless jolt of laughter he left the pole and crossed to the nearest tree and fetched up his instrument case, running his hands over the familiar clean length of it. Strange how, he thought, here on the edge of the world where the lines of law so often become blurred, a single man with no thought nor dream to tyranny can become Law himself, fighting for the head of the pack through other wolves and making himself and his into Something among the free people of Britain. What did they have with Rome? Jason sank down to the ground with his back to the tree. Rome would not help them. Rome had her own struggles.

Not that Britain did not have her struggles. Here on the edge of the world, what lived in the roaring dark beyond was seeping in at the cracks faster than they could bail. Out of the west came folk like Cunorix, from the east the stallion-banner of Hengist and his brother Horsa. The proud catskin folk of the north were shifting uneasily, remembering in their dreams how rank on rank of scarlet soldiers came and burnt their heather year after year after year... And if there was a people who could hold a grudge, Jason thought, it was the Briton people. Them, and the Jews, of course - excepting men like Caleb.

He blinked away the painful spangling of light on his vision. He had been staring up into the lantern. Moonshine! It boiled down to Ambrosius and Cunorix, and however history added up, it always boiled down in the end to a handful of men and the small mundane things that they did which made the world turn. It was as simple as that.

Lys: Awen

Aithne took a deep breath, then sat down on the ground, resting her back against the building. She was at peace, yes, but the experience left her shaken. She'd never done that before- never seen such things, never said such things. Her father had done them, though. Well she remembered him turning into something so unlike her da, fierce and terrible, with the power of God in his mouth. She'd seen massive warriors quake in fear when the Word moved him.

And now she had done it- without thinking, without trying- she opened her mouth and the words sprang to her tongue and would not be held back. She took another deep breath and exhaled.

Should I go to Cathair? She felt the need to speak to someone, but she didn't wish to interrupt him in his work- not now, anyway. It was rare he was called to work with the Companions, and she wouldn't dare interrupt that moment.

"Thank you for sitting with me, Cu. You're a great help to me."

In answer, Cu readjusted and put his massive head in her lap, looking up at her with soulful eyes.

And thank you, God, for sending him to me.

Jenny: A Crocus-Flame Alight

Artos let out a soft whistle. Ambrosius admitted that he felt rather the same. The Guttersnipe who had flared with silent objection when she had been brushed aside, stood completely still, dumb-struck - she recovered in time to flash a triumphant look at Cunorix.

He would never admit it to anyone, not even Artos, but Domitia's words had dug deep into his soul and clenched him tight like Champion's talons in his shoulder: like water in a dry place, like strains of heaven's music in a land without harmony. He knew what the Guttersnipe felt in that first few hollow moments after Domitia's speech: something wholly other than the pale little Erin-chit had erupted into bloom before them, giving no preamble, and vanishing with all the notice of a departing angel. The girl had finally found her wick and had begun to burn.

Then he saw Cunorix's face, and neither of them were smiling now. The Attacotti was looking grim, his eyes glacial in a drawn face. He met eyes with Ambrosius and nodded, his lips parting to show his teeth. Ambrosius gave him no gesture back.

"Kill him," Artos murmured. "If you do nothing else, kill him."

"Oh, I will."

Lys: Hear Me

Aithne heard the words, and a deadly calm came over her. Her hand stilled at its work. She stood, quietly pressing aside the Guttersnipe's hand. Her chin was high, her eyes flinty-cold. Fleetingly, she wished for a proper staff.

She stepped forward, challenging his gaze with her own. When she spoke, her voice was strong and level. The force of it carried into the room, beyond Cunorix's own ears.

"I would expect you to say that- you, who see only with your eyes and forget even that as soon as you turn away. If you considered what you saw, if you had wisdom in your heart, you would know that you do not see a slave, for no man here keeps slaves, but rather a Bard of Eire, whom you stole from her family, yea, from Eire herself.

"And that is not all you have done, Cunorix Mercenary. You have orchestrated the brutal death of another Bard of Eire, robbing her people of knowledge, her most precious possession. For your own amusement and convenience you pitted clan against clan, dividing my island against itself, shattering the blessed peace and creating many a widow and orphan among her people."

She raised her hand in declamation, every bit the bard, the satirist, the avenger of wrongs. "Hear me now, Cunorix of Gaul, for I speak on behalf of Eire and her children. The Holy Writ itself says, 'I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.'

"You have cursed us, therefore you have brought a holy curse upon yourself. Beware! I see your pride, your arrogance. You set yourself up as important among men, as though you were some sort of lesser god. Hear me! Pride is a harbinger of destruction. Watch your footing, O Cunorix, for your downfall is at hand, lest you repent and call on Christ."

She startled herself, though it did not show. Where had that last bit come from? Why did she suddenly feel the need to offer him the only rescue? He would not take it. That was certain. But she was a servant of the One God, and the One God had given her the words to speak.

She pressed on.

"I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. You, our enemy, will meet with darkness in the day time. You will grope in the noonday as in the night. Your hand will be weakend and unable to succeed.

"To God belongeth vengeance and recompence; your foot shall slide in due time. The day of your calamity is at hand! Repent of your sins, Cunorix, for if you do not, you will surely die, and after that comes the true suffering."

She stepped closer. She could almost see it. Her sight blurred, then focused sharply. Yes, she could see them. He had wrapped himself in the darkness of demons, and did not even know it. And they were crowing at his imminent demise...

Her voice lowered into a warning tone. "It is near already. You can hear it, breathing in your ear- a fearsome sound of death and pain, a twisted anticipation of your soul. It waits to devour you, O Cunorix of Gaul. My Lord Ambrosius may easily take your body, but this doom will devour your very soul, and that slowly. An eternity, in fact.

"Fear and tremble, Cunorix, for there is more in store for you than simple death on cold steel."

With that, she turned her back on him and walked away. Then, suddenly, she turned aside to Lord Ambrosius. Raising her hand once more, she hailed him. "My Lord Ambrosius, hear the Word of the Lord Over All: God shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee. He shall redeem thee in war from the power of the sword. Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season. Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good."

With that, she went to the door and out into the yard, leaving the combatants to themselves.

It was not until she was fully outside that her hands began to shake. Cu came up out of nowhere, shoving his head under her hand and whining. He always seemed to know when she wasn't completely well. She stroked his head and back, and presently she felt better. All her fears, all her anger... it was gone. She'd handed it over to God and was, finally, at peace.

Jenny: Faces

From under her lashes, the Guttersnipe was watching Cunorix as warily as Artos was. She had caught Ambrosius' glance for just a moment, for as long as she dared lest Cunorix see, and he had given her through his eyes the briefest steadying look, all seriousness, though the little flare of smile had never gone from his lips. He knew what he was doing. But knowing that did not stop the hammering of her heart in her chest. Oh! she was proud: fiercely, furiously proud of him, as she had been for Artos when he had slung himself half-lamed into the saddle and gone off into the jaws of hell. So proud! And yet the fear, just as fierce, threatened to smudge the dark lining round her eyes.

And so she kept her eyes fixed on Cunorix, finding safety in filling herself with the loathsome sight of him. He moved with decisive ease, like a girl, like a stallion. He kept patiently in one place, shifting on his feet, a cool little smile on his face, doing nothing to provoke the watchful Companions. He knew better than Calidus did, not being charged with unreasoning hatred, to snatch up a knife and fly at Ambrosius. But what would he do? she wondered. He did not strike her as the sort to easily lay down the hope of promised glory: lands, fame, the loveliest woman in the insular country. What was going on, she desperately wanted to know, behind those cool blue eyes?

Suddenly the eyes flared to life, and the Guttersnipe realized they had lighted, at first only in passing, and then with fixed interest, on Domitia, who was on one knee scrubbing at the goresome mess Ambrosius' whip had made of Calidus' ear. Trying not to remember how he had laughed at her across the distance when her own cool mask had come down, she lifted the hem of her skirt and moved at once to Domitia's side, just in time to hear Cunorix muse swift and soft, "Why, you! I am remembering you, the little chit like a broken harp that I caught and sold in Erin. How the gods do weave our lives... Ambrosius' slave! It is something sweet to taste, this fate."

The Guttersnipe flung out a hand between them, gesturing for him to be silent, but having no desire to be pitting with him in conversation. She let her hatred burn at him through her gaze. His own look was all mockery.

Lys: To Work

Cathair jumped slightly when Jason called his name. This is new. And perhaps a bit of a demoralizer for Cunorix and his men. One of his own helping to arrange his death.

He strode forward, more than ready, then paused and turned back to Aithne. She'd been looking a little green earlier...

"Go, muirnait. I'll be fine." She smiled at him, and he set off after Jason, eager to help the man. He may not be able to strike the killing blow, but he had something to do.


Aithne watched him go. Her Cathair. Somehow sending him off thus, even just to go outside, made her feel warm and proud.

But a moment later she shook herself. There was more work than that to be done. The puddle on the floor, for instance. That would only get nastier as it sat. Let the other men see how short a time Calidus's stench is allowed to be remembered.

With some regard for her clothing, she retrieved the necessary items from the kitchen and began cleaning up the mess. She hoped, as it was still wet, that it would come up without much scrubbing. She could not scrub in these clothes. She could clean, however, and that she would do.

Jenny: Two Wolves

Master Lucius hastily swept up his tablet. It appeared they were going to be adjourning to the out-of-doors presently. The impression tablets were wonderful for field-work: he could write down his thoughts in ink later.

Wulf approached, present whenever he was needed, holding a cloak. "It's cold and windy out," he said in earthy grumbles. "It's ungood for your health."

The manservant was probably right, Master Lucius reflected as he dug through his leather pouch for his stylus. But history was being made here. "History is being made here, Wulf," he said forcefully. "History. I'm not staying inside because it's damp and chilly. Damp and chilly! If you waited to see history until this place ceased to be damp and chilly, Wulf, the Lord Jesus will be back and history will be done and gone. Ah, thank you."

He fussed with the brooch at his throat while Wulf, patiently nodding in an understanding sort of way, took the tablet from him and held the stylus gingerly in one huge paw. In the background of his awareness he knew Cunorix's men, who were still bound at the wrists, where being pushed farther back to the edges of the room, out of the way, and Jason was hopping off his stool to fetch old Hunno and Buic to help lay out the fighting area. He called on Cathair for help as he passed, and the two vanished into the night. The Guttersnipe, looking very small and sharp, stood by her Lord Ambrosius as if to take reassurance from his presence. Ambrosius himself seemed not in the least perturbed, though Artos was watching Cunorix's pretty girlish eyes with frank distrust. Ambrosius and Cunorix did not need to look at each other. The Lord of Eryri actually had his back to the warrior as he took his sword from the Guttersnipe, who had fetched it, and Cunorix was idly watching what was being done to his fellows. But they were looking at each other, all the same. Master Lucius knew that the moment they had laid the wager between themselves, they had not taken their eyes off each other.

This was history worth writing about!

Lys: Arrogance

Cunorix! Cathair's blood boiled that the man would be given a fighting chance. For a moment he wished he was a less honorable man with a less honorable lord. His dagger would be resting in the mercenary's heart right now if it were so.

The man was full of arrogance. He knew what they were capable of, and knew the ways in which they would hold back. He danced along the line, never going too far, knowing so long as he kept to his side, they would hold back their power.

How I ever thought he was worthy of allegience...


Aithne's resolve hardened as she listened to Cunorix taunt her lord. This was the man who'd orchestrated the complete destruction of her family- who'd pitted tribe against tribe, simply to fuel his own ends. And looking at him now, Aithne was not entirely certain it wasn't just for his amusement.

She thought she not only could, but would want to see this man die. Oh dear God, forgive me. Your will be done.

Jenny: Draughts

Now that Calidus was removed, Master Lucius noticed the atmosphere was remarkably lighter. Jason shifted from where he was perched on a high stool, finding a most comfortable position, and a sort of openness unfurled between Ambrosius' brows. The chief enemy was away. Cunorix, invader and stranger, was something the Lords of Eryri and Arfon were accustomed to dealing with. Ambrosius gestured and sat down again, and Curonix stepped forward with all the eager pride of a stallion being shown off before a buyer. Ambrosius, catching these motions, moved his whip to his knee and did not look amused.

"Who are you and where do you come from?"

Cunorix spread his big hands. "I am Cunorix, and I am a mercenary, and I am not afraid because you broke a dunghill cock's neck with your whip."

The Lord of Eryri actually smiled, and it was a real sort of smile this time. "Since you came against me with all of your best men, I do not doubt that, mercenary. The pay must have been very good."

Cunorix flashed back an open smile in return. "If you were anyone else, you would be flattering yourself beyond your due. My master is in the habit of it - I know the smell of it. But you, Ambrosius, Last Roman in Britain, do not flatter yourself beyond your due. The bitterness of my defeat is well-mixed in my mouth with the sweet taste of meeting you in a fight... And yes, the pay was very good."

Master Lucius looked to the Guttersnipe, but she, caught once, was not to be caught again, and she did not meet his gaze nor waver as she looked back at Cunorix. He was left alone to his own thoughts about Gwenhywfar. Brave girl! she was free of the threat of Cunorix now. She did not need to worry. He wondered if she knew, in that strange way that she could know things, that the noose was drawing shut around the mercenary's neck.

"Cunorix Mercenary," Ambrosius asked, "what am I to do with you?"

The man knew he was being toyed with, like a mouse between a cat's paws, but with all the swagger of his kind he enjoyed even that attention. "Do? Put a sword in my fist, and let me die tasting that sweetness a little more strongly - or taste your blood, which would be sweetest of all."

To Master Lucius' surprise, Ambrosius seemed to actually entertain the thought. The face was a still mask, the grey eyes faintly paling; the corner of the lips was touched with a smile. Cunorix waited, one hand held out in an almost theatrical gesture.

"Uncle - " Artos said in Iceni.

The young Greek kept his eyes on his lord's face, breathless, wanting to speak and completely unable to. What was the man doing? Victory was in his grasp! But then his moment of disbelief gave way to memories of yesterday and the brutal, chilling game of draughts Ambrosius had run him through. It was reckless in appearance, but perfect in its whole. Cold and brutal. That was Ambrosius.

"You know I am not a man to put a man's head on the block because he went to war. Let it be fair. I will touch swords with you, Cunorix Mercenary. And as I am an honest man - " he got to his feet. " - be sure you do not make foul play." The smouldering storm came into the grey eyes. "If you do, I will make sure you remember your death for a very long time."

Cunorix touched the heel of his palm to his chest in mocking salute. "The words of the peace of Rome endure through the ages," he said.

Lys: Filth

It was done. Aithne knew by the sounds and the silences that it was all over. She heard Kay's heavy steps out the door. Only when they faded did she step away from Cathair and return to her place.

There was a red pool on the ground where Calidus has fallen. "So much for a clean floor..." she muttered.

Beside her she heard Cathair's low chuckle.

Jenny: No Angel, There Is Blood In Her Cheeks

"Kay, if you please," said Ambrosius, rolling his whip back up around his fist. The Guttersnipe barely heard him through the drumming of blood in her ears. It must have been the same for Artos - they had both jumped at once: the uprush of darkness on their vision, lashed with a red sort of light and, as though it were happening already, the fractal image of Calidus springing with the knife. She had felt a panic where he had gone on the defense. She had never seen such an image before, and it took her a moment to smooth her feathers.

Across the room she caught the eye of the fair enemy warrior, watching her closely, the eyes two black-rimmed slits of mocking ice. He had seen her moment of disarming. Her cheeks flamed. She tipped up her chin, dropping her eyes to where Kay was hauling the fallen body over his shoulder and striding from the room with it, refusing to look back into the warrior's taunting face.

Lys: A Harsh Mercy

Mercy? The Hawk would give mercy to this boy? Cathair unconciously started forward, coming to himself when Aithne stumbled because of it.

Whatever it was it seemed to scare the wits out of Calidus. Cathair wondered if this 'mercy' wasn't less merciful than death. He smiled. He didn't mean to seem to enjoy the man's downfall, but to see the pride be put in its place was in some way satisfying.

Then all hell broke loose.

Cathair pushed Aithne aside and behind him as the blade flashed in the firelight. His own hand was ready on his dagger, about to spring in if necessary. But the Hawk easily deflected and disarmed the boy. He had things in hand. He had things well in hand.

Cathair stood and looked on calmly. He knew where it would end. The kitten had brought it on himself. And Cathair was not sad to see him go.


Aithne gasped when the knife flashed. Merciful Christos! Then the whip sang through the air and she breathed again. There was no danger now. The whip sang again and blood was spilled. Aithne turned away, knowing what was coming, knowing she'd be ill if she watched, and knowing she was a coward all the same.

She laid her head against Cathair's back and closed her eyes until it was done.

Jenny: Black Lightning

"Would you have done it? Would you have come back to us after six years, something man-grown, and tried to pick up the knife which Rufrius dropped had you never known about his death?"

It was Artos who spoke now, leaning forward a little in his chair to let the light play on his face. He wore a little smile, a smile one could almost call cruel if one did not know him better. He was fiercely handsome, dangerous and rather potent. Master Lucius could easily see what Gwenhywfar saw in him.

"Our little girl beat you last you were here, Calidus. How is it that it came into your mind that would could beat us?"

"I know you." Calidus threw Ambrosius' words at the Lord of Arfon. "Did I not grow up here? Was I not born and raised in this valley, in these hills? Britain sets her clocks by you: when it is time for the kings to go out to war, you go; when autumn closes the ways, it closes the ways up on your heels as you draw back into your valley. I knew that you would be secure in your little villa, all shut off from the world. I knew that I could be a sort of man within the gates, knowing you and your ways - for there are many in Britain who want you as dead as I do. And did I not almost succeed?" He flung up his head, looking round at them all with a fierce little smile on his narrow face. He looked back into steely faces and immutable countenances, but underneath that Master Lucius knew they all felt the closeness of the thing. If it had not been for the Fox, whipping back the tide at the last moment, they would not all be here having this uncomfortable conversation.

But Ambrosius said, "There is a reason that you failed, a reason so fixed that your almost success might as well be a routing defeat."

"And that is?"

"In a little while you might have opportunity to ask."

Revenge. It was rather simple, really, Master Lucius considered, remembering that his pen was dripping on his vellum. While he had to focus on his papers, he could not deny himself a boyish shiver of delight which, even as he chided himself for it, he could not suppress. How he had longed to see someone unnerve Calidus and put him in his place! To have his boyhood hero do so was almost too much to ask for. Revenge.

Ambrosius was speaking again when Master Lucius could look up from his work. "I am disinclined to extend mercy a second time to you, Calidus - "

"I am disinclined to take it."

"Sir," said Kay.

The Hawk's eyebrows lifted. " - but I will do so, because you were misinformed of the manner of Rufrius' death, which made you come back. I will give you a mark by which to remember me, and to remember the defeat you suffered here, so that you will never return - and I will drive you out again."

Rage mixed with fear skirted Calidus' features. Fear, Master Lucius thought, not of being driven back into the harsh, unforgiving world - Calidus could stand that; but fear of having Ambrosius drive him out, to brand him as the enemy of the Hawk and of the Merlin and to be driven out by the hand he so desperately hated. That Calidus feared. It would be a thing which would haunt him like his shadow, laugh at him in his dreams. Ambrosius was removing from him the last claim to a man's dignity and honour he possessed: the freedom of his own name. Artos suddenly started, coming half to a stand in his own chair. The Guttersnipe stepped backward, her hands flying outward as if to ward off something, and faster that Master Lucius could see, Calidus had whirled aside and snatched the knife clean out of Kay's hands. He sprang at Ambrosius.

But the Hawk with the Second Sight must have seen this too, for he was waiting. He was on his feet, shoulders back, a stockwhip uncurling from his fist. It hissed and he let it fly, Jupiter's black lightning cracking the fabric of the tumultuous atmosphere. Calidus gave an angry yelp of pain as the whip closed with the fangs of an adder about his wrist, biting deep and yanking the knife free. Ambrosius released Calidus and let fly again. The whip sang through the air. A spurt of blood from Calidus' ear jerked the young man aside. Kra-kow! The whip barked again and again.

The whip snapped back into Ambrosius' fist. Calidus knelt on the blood-spattered floor, flanks heaving. "Did you truly want to fight me?" asked Ambrosius softly.

The young man spat out blood and turned smouldering eyes on the Hawk. The hate was there, but the fear had gone. They both knew how it would end, and they seemed, in a quieted, sombre sort of way, to welcome it. Calidus reached for the knife. The whip caught him round the neck and yanked the spine until it cracked. With a sharp grunt, Calidus dropped to the floor and lay perfectly still, lifeless.

The vellum was ruined now.

Lys: Preposterous

"The mewling kitten thinks he can bait the stag and win..." Cathair muttered. It was just like that, watching the two. Everyone but Calidus knew it. Cathair had a fair idea of what the boy's earlier offenses were, and he did not think less of the stag for wanting to rid himself of the kitten, however small. Cats grew quickly in strength. But that the kitten thought he could win was utterly preposterous.

"He should be silent, but instead he makes himself more and more condemned." Aithne leaned back against him, drawing his arm around her waist. Her way of settling me. He kissed the top of her head and was quiet.

Jenny: The Lords of Eryri and Arfon

Master Lucius' pen stilled a moment. The moment lingered, hanging in the balance, the looks between the Lords of Eryri and Arfon and the young man tangible as the heat of the fire beside him. The hate was throat-catching. Young Epona's nostrils flared and the shadows flickered across her brow as her eyes widened a fraction. The hand on the sword-pommel slowly curled in on itself. Only Ambrosius did not change in his appearance. Master Lucius thought perhaps the stormy grey of his eyes grew faintly white, like the sea, but he could not be sure.

The moment broke. Behind Calidus stepped the beautiful warrior with the black wings about his eyes, and after him a handful of other men, all of them warriors but stripped of their weapons, holding in their fists only their sullen pride and hate, which touched Ambrosius and left as much impression as a man's blow leaves upon the rocky cliffs of the shore.

Remembering himself, he picked up his pen again and began to write once more. Fittingly, it was Calidus whom Kay, teeth showing a little with mutual distake, led up before Ambrosius. Master Lucius caught the questioning glance he cast his lord, but Ambrosius, in some way Master Lucius could not see, called Kay off from dropping Calidus to his knees. Kay took a step back, but kept within the younger man's view - kept his knife within the younger man's view - as a quiet and constant reminder.

The scene fixed itself again, like a tapestry, on Master Lucius' vision. The pen slowed. He had heard it all from the Guttersnipe, how six years ago she had bloodied the boy's nose and Artos, in a quiet, seething rage, had sent the boy off cold and alone into the unforgiving world. Why was it, he wondered, that such as Calidus survived? Six years ago. Six full, long, defining years. Calidus survived, dead inside and carrying with him the empty corpse of Rufrius; the Guttersnipe had survived, alive with her own life and the lives of her people and the pulse of her bare feet running on the green turf of her Eryri runs. It was a scene to him at once hideous and beautiful.

Lord Ambrosius said, "You have a thing to say, Calidus, to us after all this time?"

The young man shook his head. His fists clenched, and he took a moment to find his words through the tightness of his chest. He was probably feeling a bit ill, judging from the paleness of his face. "You hold me on trial here - "

"Sir," said Kay.

" - as if I had done any different from yourself, sir." Master Lucius wondered that he did not vomit in his hate. His words tasted of the bile. "You kill in battle, and no one lifts a hand to stop you. I do the same, and you find fit to put me on trial as though I were a criminal. But you are the criminal, and I will not call you sir. You are a cold-blooded murderer, and do not think you will convince me otherwise."

Kay's fingers flexed, but the tall Companion kept his peace with remarkable grace. Master Lucius, along with the rest, looked to Ambrosius. Once more the Lord of Eryri had not moved, and the eyes were as grey as before. "Is it required of me," he asked, "to explain to you what I do and do not do, as though you could understand, and as though light came from your eyes and not darkness?"

"You are a murderer!" said Calidus sharply, his hand flying up to push the word through the air at Ambrosius. "Don't think the gods do not see."

Ambrosius spread his own hand outward above the floor, as though to brush a thing aside. "But I will tell you - not because you deserve to know, and not because it has any bearing on your offense tonight, but because I am honest, and I am no murderer." Calidus quivered a moment, as though he would object, but silence won him out and the two regarded each other a moment before the lord went on. "I know you, Calidus. I knew Rufrius. I could smell you as a sickness among my people and so I drove you out. Your eyes are dark in your head and you cannot see, nor can you understand the words in your ears, but this is why I drove you out: because you are wholly wicked and stink of the stench of wickedness. Do not underestimate me, Calidus. I See and Know more than you think I do, and I am not unright in this. It was not I who killed Rufrius. He killed himself."

Master Lucius caught the glances the Companions gave Ambrosius, though not one of them made a move. He frowned, looking to the Guttersnipe; she did not take her paling eyes off Calidus' face.

"I went to drive him out the day you left, but he would not be moved. In the end his rage took him, and out of simple self-defence I dropped him on his own stone flags when he made to put a knife between my ribs."

"Would that he had," said Calidus venemously.

Ambrosius gave a mirthless smile, which Master Lucius found chilling.

Lys: Revulsion

Aithne watched them bring in the first prisioner. Her eyes widened when she saw him. Calidus! She shrank back a bit, coming up against Cathair's bulk.

He put a concerned hand on her shoulder and she felt a little braver. "He almost killed the Guttersnipe two months ago." she whispered to him.


Ah. That explains some things. Why the Guttersnipe's normally cold demeanor was now making Nordic ice seem like a campfire, for instance.

The man looked sullen and angry. And there was a certain quality about him that Cathair found utterly repulsive. He didn't remember coming across the man in the long march here. But if he'd been with the Guttersnipe, they must've picked him up at Vortigern's rath.

His grip tightened reassuringly on Aithne's shoulder.

Jenny: Silver, And the Colour of Death's Knife

By the time he was fully prepared, Master Lucius found himself surfacing to an atmosphere wholly different from before. The atrium had become a shell of golden light, lined with black velvet, and he had the distinct impression of something huge and angry breathing just behind him. He forced himself not to look round, knowing there would be nothing there. But the whole huge angry sensation, golden as a lion's mane, which filled the atrium and breathed long and low was something he had never felt before.

The farm folk had all slipped away now. Caleb and Kay were missing from the Companions' ranks, but the others stood round near the head of the room, waiting, eyes on the doorway, hands on their swords. And at the end of the room were Jupiter and Tyr and Epona. The pen began to move across the page. Ambrosius and Artos were both seated in their chairs of antler-make, and the Guttersnipe stood between them and behind them. She was dressed in a white mare's hide as her cloak, lined with bright red taffeta, slung over her fine catskin dress, amber at her ears and in her hair. He had never seen her quite so fine, nor so elevated and cold: even the fire in her eyes was cold, and her countenance, while not meant for him, pierced him with a knife's blow. One did not notice her smallness in that moment, nor the fineness of her build. She was charged with the reckless anger that filled the room, reckoning nothing of the consequence of blood, and even he, seeing that lovely familiar face so changed with pride, was a little afraid.

At her left hand Artos sat like a dark lion, his head up and his nostils flared unconsciously. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword which, like a hunting dog, rested quiet but tangibly eager beneath his touch. He was dressed far more simply than the Guttersnipe, clad in his weathered scarlets and a tunic of embossed black, his greatest adornment his bear-claw brooch and his own lively grey eyes.

He saved the best for last. Almost reluctantly he dragged his gaze to Lord Ambrosius. Like his nephew, the man was dressed in simple war-gear: a plain, clean white tunic under his battered black leather harness, a silver-ticked wolfskin cast over his shoulders. His signet ring flashed in the light as he turned his hand upon the arm of his chair, and the scars on his face and hands became alternately slashes of electrum and soft feathery lines as the light played on his skin. He had chosen his wardrobe perfectly. His hair, cropped short, and his knees bare between tunic-hem and the tops of his riding boots, the styling of his harness... All was Roman. Behind them stood all that was tempestuous and driven by the fires of passion which was Britain, but in himself and his nephew there was all that would ever be Rome, all that Rome would be remembered for: her law, her reason, her ideals. The Guttersnipe, cold in her flames, was a wild thing; Artos was a creature who had counted the cost and was eager for the hunt. In those grey shifting skies of Ambrosius' eyes, Master Lucius saw only the calculating mind of an angel of death.

He shivered.

There was a scuffling in the vestibule, and he wrenched his attention away to see who entered. The many formless sounds in the little dark room distilled, and the first through the doorway was a man Jason's age, young and slender with hands that made big fists. There was a purple thundercloud bruise on one fine cheekbone, which Master Lucius could see as the boy, coming into the room, cast up his head to the light to stare with a burning rage on the three who waited for him.

Lys: Perception

Cathair found them good places. Only just out of the way of the others, and very close to the proceedings. The Guttersnipe's concoction was starting to take effect- Aithne did not feel near so uncomfortable as she had before. The aromatic steam coming from the hot cider did much to help, too. She thought she could handle what was to come.

Surely they won't be executing them right here. We've only just finished scrubbing out the last bits of blood from this floor.

"Cathair, would you hold this a moment? I've just discovered I'm an absolute wreck." She handed Cathair her mug, and he took it, though not without comment. "Nonsense," he said. "You look beautiful."

She smiled. "Aww, you're sweet. But you see me from different eyes, Gra. I'll not be bringing shame upon us by standing here like a bedraggled scullery maid."

Pulling her hair back, she tied it with a leather thong which was previously around her wrist. She straightened her gown, smoothing it out as best she could, and re-folded and re-pinned her cloak in a manner worthy of a bard, not a cold working-maid.

"There. How's that?" she asked, taking back her cup.

Cathair eyed her with a grim expression. "You were right. You looked horrible earlier. Good thing you fixed yourself up."

Aithne was incredulous. "Why you... I ought to..." But he only smiled at her, eyes dancing with laughter. She mock-shoved him and he gave ground, only to catch the hand holding her cup and keep it from sloshing. "Careful, Gra. And hush! I think they're about to begin."

Aithne obeyed, turning to pay attention to the proceedings.

Jenny: Time Is Put On A Honeycombed Shelf

He might not have caught Ambrosius before the Hawk slipped off, but he was looking expressly for the opening now, and at a little indescribable gesture from his hand, Ambrosius turned to Master Lucius, eyebrows quizzical.

"Would it be a good thing, sir," Master Lucius asked, "if I took down a record tonight?"

Ambrosius nodded at once. "Yes, that would be a good thing. Thank you, Lucius."

The man slipped away, leaving Master Lucius to position himself by the warmth of the firmly-entrenched fire, a low table pulled close on which to set his papers and writing implements. The lid of his little ink-pot clinked softly as he cast it back, baring the fathomless black liquid within: a potent image, he thought, looking into its depths. It was fitting that such a medium should capture for ever the impression of time. With all the mystical elegance of the swan the pen dipped itself in and withdrew, black as jet, and in perfect lines inscribed the day, the place, and the person upon the virgin expanse of vellum.

Master Lucius let out a faintly shaky breath. "Here we go."

Lys: For Lo, His Doom Is Sure

Aithne managed some bread and a few apple slices. The cheese, she discovered, was beyond her abilities at the moment. Cathair let it slide, and she carried a cup of cider when they walked back to the room.

The two of them stood in the doorway- Cathair behind her. Though she could not see his face, she knew what it would look like now. Grim, determined... she wondered if Lord Ambrosius realized just how much Cathair respected and esteemed him. A lesser man would've been ignored in Cathair's rush for revenge.

Or maybe her husband-to-be was changing. Ten years settled a person, this she knew. She had to remember that she wasn't the only one who had lived those ten years. Cathair wasn't seventeen. The fact that his first seventeen years were exactly the same in regards to personality didn't truly matter. Somewhere along the way, her Cathair had learned some patience and self-control.

She looked about the room. It was set for council- for the trial of the valley's enemies captured in battle. England's enemies. She looked at the faces of Lord Artos and Lord Ambrosius, and saw the side reserved for those who would do their people harm.

Terrible is the judgement which comes from our lord's hands.
Swift as Nike, more fearful than Thor.
Our lord, our two lords, both answering to One-
Truth is their scale, justice their sword.

Fear, you wrongdoers. Hide your face.

Your doom is sure.

She shuddered and came back to herself. Cathair was trying to find them an appropriate place to stand.

Jenny: A Real Masquerade

The Guttersnipe withdrew inside herself as an owl, pensive, withdraws inside its feathers, peering out with two moon-eyes upon the suspicious world; she followed Cathair with such eyes, noting the lag in Domitia's tired step. Domitia, like a glass, was fragile: he was likely to put too much inside her and regret it later, and she, obedient like a lamb, would let him. Her fingers moved along the sticky rim of the cups. Unwise, taking food after that draught. But Domitia had will enough, she might be fine in the end and not, as the Guttersnipe feared, vomit all she had at the most inopportune moment of all.

She raised her chin and came out of her feathers a little, returning to Jason's side. Already the atmosphere of the room was beginning to change as the darkness gathered outside. Kay was putting aside his leather-work, a sombre look upon his face. Gaius and Bedwyr were rising, beginning to move chairs back from the centre of the room. Best not to watch it all, the Guttersnipe considered, lest the magic of the thing by ruined by the sight of its making. So she bent down to Jason's ear - he turned his head as she approached - and murmured, "I am going to get ready. I will be back when it is time." He nodded, understanding, and touched her hand companionably and not a little comfortingly as he rose to join the others in preparing the room.

She retired to her own room and climbed up on the bed to peer out the window. The rain had ceased now - the bands of storm were raking over them, and left them for the moment in the misty clear. She found herself looking up through the streaked pane upon a lovely autumn landscape, enfolded in the gathering dark and greys: the trees in their apple and plum and peach colours flamed out amid the late-year green. The wind hushed upon the face of the pane, and she heard it, felt it as though it were her face, flat and cold, and happy in a deeply tragic sort of way. She touched the pane and saw, not the tumble of blurring colours, but the blur of her own face looking back at her with the light of her lamp making her eyes glow oddly moony-gold in the silver of the glass. Her fancy wondered for a moment if, when she was gone, when they were all gone, the face that looked back at her would look back at others wandering through this room, pausing to look out the window upon the climbing tangle of wild apple.

With a shake of her shoulders and a little cruel sigh she broke away from the window and sat down to comb her hair; and she knew, in a little way, how it was for Gwenhywfar each day, rising and combing her hair and putting on her best attire, closing herself in ivory castles with gilt edges, aloof and far away. How rarely the Guttersnipe had to shut herself up in cold facades! How rarely Gwenhywfar was allowed to unpin her pretenses and warm herself at her own inner fire. She cast up her head, looking back at the reflection which came out of the mirror now, noting the clenched brows and the determined line of mouth. It could be a pretty face. It could be a cold one. It could be, like the first primrose of spring, open and be warm. So she put on the face she wanted, and put on the dress she wanted, and when she rose there was more of Gwenhywfar in her than ever before, and never less the Guttersnipe.

Lys: Take Charge

You may not have stomach for it. Aithne may not have stomach for it, but she will be eating it. Cathair knew what happened with Aithne did not eat. It was not good. Even if she ended up leaving it somewhere later, she would be eating.

He intervened on Aithne's behalf. "Aithne will be coming with me to the kitchen, then we will join you in whatever way your lord sees fit." Touching his hand to his forehead, he added, "Thank you for the offer. We will be back soon."

He helped Aithne up and directed her towards the kitchen, where he sat her down by the fire there. He busied himself with gathering food, much to the bemusement of some of the women. "I don't care whether there's a set meal tonight or not, you're going to eat something." He brought a plate to her and knelt next to her chair, smiling. "I don't need you fainting on top of everything else." he said, kissing her on the cheek. "Now eat."


Where do I want to be? Aithne wasn't sure. She felt as though the Guttersnipe's chambers might be best- away from noise and bustle, in warm quiet peace. But she didn't want to miss Cunorix's judgement...

Fortunately for her, Cathair interjected, taking over in that roughish way she found strangely endearing. He never hurt her- never yanked her around or yelled at her- and he always had her best interests at heart, but when he took control there were no buts to be made. She simply trusted him to steer her true.

So she followed him into the kitchen and sat obediently, then fell all to pieces inside when she realized he was fixing her some supper. Faith, he can make a girl's heart go all butterflies...

"You know I'll never finish all this..." she said, chuckling.

"Eat what you can. Long night ahead of us, you know." He snitched a piece of cheese off the plate and she playfully slapped his hand.

But she did start eating. She tried not to think of how the council would end. There were too many gruesome questions to ask, and right now she was trying to get some bread and cheese down her throat.

She wondered if the Guttersnipe read Cathair aright, or if she misunderstood. He'd been polite enough- didn't storm off or anything, but with the Guttersnipe, one never knew if one took the right approach or not. Ah well. He'd tried, and that would have to be that. There were more important things in the air.

Jenny: A Place of Honour

The Guttersnipe took back the cups, spreading one hand in a dismissive gesture toward Cathair. She hesitated a moment then, noting the hollowness of the shadows round their eyes and feeling the drop of evening outside. She glanced over her shoulder, waiting until she caught Ambrosius' eye. He frowned, questioningly, then nodded with a mirthless sort of smile, and she turned back on Cathair and Domitia.

"We are not having supper tonight," she told them solemnly. "We will be calling the council at sunset, and there is no time and I think that none of us have the stomach for supper. Will you stand by me," she asked Domitia directly, "or would you rather sit here by the fireside?"

Lys: Unexpected Physician

Cathair watched the Guttersnipe hand Aithne the brew. His eyes narrowed. Yes, she had approved him, yes, she had Aithne's best interest at heart, but he wondered if she knew what she was doing. It was her man that was the doctor, not she.

"Shouldn't Jason..."

But Aithne put a hand on his arm and addressed the Guttersnipe. "Thank you. Exactly what I would've done, myself." With no further thought, she gulped it down like a warrior after battle. Swallowing, she shuddered, shaking her head against the bitterness. She took the wine at a slower pace, but he could tell she was thankful for it.

He looked at the girl and nodded his assent. "Thank you, then. And... thank you for caring for her when I could not."


Aithne was still doing her best to rid herself of the taste of tansy, but she was happy to hear Cathair speaking so openly to the Guttersnipe. The two had had an air of friction between them since they met, but now she wondered if it might not be changing...

Jenny: Ministrations

Jason was taking a sound beating from Ambrosius when the Guttersnipe returned from the kitchen. Kay was idly braiding another whip, leaning in to watch the game. Jason looked up as she drew closer, eying the two full vessels in her hands. "Is all that witchcraft going to help me win?" he asked hopefully.

"No," she returned mildly. "Unless you want to spend the rest of the evening in the outhouse."

He crunched up his nose. "What have you done with my plants?" he asked, reaching across for the nearest cup.

"I haven't - done - anything," she assured him, quickly moving the cup out of his reach. "Oh!" she said, as Artos, stepping up behind her, took the cup and sniffed its contents. "Give it - don't - " she told him, but he hastily returned it.

"Who is the unhappy victim?" he asked, sinking into a chair with a grimace.

The Guttersnipe smoothed her ruffled feathers. "Domitia has got the hill sickness, poor thing. I made her something to knock the knife out of its grasp."

"Did you put my things back in order?" asked Jason, embroiled in his pending slaughter by Ambrosius.

She assured him that she had, and left them to return to Domitia. Her young man sat by her, awkward and a little forlorn. The poor big brute really cared; she was impressed that he was so steadfastly attached to Domitia, who went from sickness to sickness as a child, just learning to walk, goes from doorframe to doorframe. She approached them and handed Domitia the first cup. "Tansy for you," she said, "for the fever, and horehound with thyme to knock the edge off that cough in you chest. Drink it all down - don't mind the heat; and here is wine to dull the other edge of that blade, and to steady the uneasiness the ling-honey with the brew might give you. Drink it all down before the honey goes to thick again."

She set her hands on her hips and watched to be sure Domitia took it all to the last drop, moving only to stoke up the fire.

Lys: Overzealous

Aithne did not know what this "hill sickness" was, but she knew what she had. She had it at least once every cold season. She would be coughing and choking on snot for awhile, but eventually, if she took it easy and didn't push herself in any way, it would clear up.

She was thankful for the Guttersnipe's ministrations, and took them with a smile. The girl seemed to have forgotten she was treating someone who knew a good bit of healing, herself. Aithne wagered that when the girl returned, she'd be able to identify at least three quarters of the herbs in whatever treatment was brought.

But she sat patiently and obediently, rubbing her ears in hopes of making the ache in them improve.


Cathair returned the Guttersnipe's look, not backing down. He wasn't certain what she was doing, but he bore it with very little trouble. Then, of all things, she gave him an approving nod, surprising him completely. Gone was the little fighting hen of a few days ago. He felt as though he'd been put to some test and had passed, somehow.

When the girl had gone he sat down by Aithne, putting his own cloak around her. Then, hoping to be helpful, he reached over and rubbed her ears for her, gently pushing her own hands out of the way.


Aithne dropped her hands to her lap, then held them to the fire, grateful for a chance to warm them.

Cathair's big fingers were unused to such delicate work, though. She winced as he pressed too hard, but she bore it for his sake. He needed to be doing something.
Then he got a little too overzealous with it...

"Ouch!" she cried, half laughing. "Thank you, Cathair, but I think you're about to pull my ears off."

He looked sheepish and apologetic, and she patted his shoulder. "It was kind of you, though. Thank you..." Just then, her chest tightened again and she coughed hard. Not loud, but deep. She did her best to supress it, but that only made it worse. He was concerned, she could tell.

"I'm okay, Cathair. Don't worry. Just a tickle."

Jenny: A Far Green Country

The game of draughts which Jason had challenged her to partway through the afternoon was interrupted by Domitia's arrival. The Guttersnipe's attention was divided between Ambrosius leaning over and murmured, "No, chit, not that. Like this..." and Domitia's violent sneezing. Jason threw up his hands and said, "I will never beat her if you help!" as she got up quickly, bobbing out.

"I'm going to just check on Domitia. She looks unwell." Again. "I will be back in a moment."

Ambrosius pulled his chair around, displacing hers, eying the board while Jason pursed his lips in the determined frown of a martyr.

In the time it took to cross the room, the Guttersnipe could see that Domitia was truly unwell and that Cathair, though concerned, did not know where to go and or to do to help her. Arawn's Breath the natives called it, the soul-chilling mist of the Eryri hills. It had got in Domitia and was playing havoc with her. The girl's hair smelt faintly of salt when the Guttersnipe approached, holding up her hand in a sign of peace to Cathair. She then took hold of Domitia below and behind the cheekbones and pressed gently, asking if it hurt. Cathair, standing just behind her, was a brooding presence. Unfond of men in general outside her sphere, the Guttersnipe rose to the occasion. "It is just the hill sickness," she assured Domitia, dropping her hands to her sides. "We will give it a single mortal blow, and it will pass quickly. Sit so - and so - and do not stir from the fireside until I come back."

As she turned, she flicked a cool glance into the Irish bull's face. He was muddied and coarse in his appearance - he had that going for him. With the exception of Master Lucius, she disliked with a roiling belly men with dirtless hands. She saw a frankness in his look, a wariness as of one holding a small, dangerous thing in one's hands, still, not knowing if it would strike. She took the opportunity of those two heartbeats to Look at him, and saw through his eyes a rolling green country, fair with the wind on its face, warmer than her own climes, as frank and still more honest. He had the country in his eyes, and as her own eyes cleared, she gave him the smallest nod, passing on.

He had the good green country in his eyes. Yes, he would be a fine man.

Lys: Cold

Aithne sniffed for what was probably the thirtieth time. The rain had settled into a simple cloudiness and wind, which blew the rain down from the trees. Though she had her cloak up over her head, the wind still blew in, and her ears had gone numb. But she doggedly pressed on. The sooner the house was done, the sooner she could get out of the cold, dark cloister room. She coughed into her cloak, trying to mask it.

Cathair turned to her, concerned. "You shouldn't be out here in this cold. What was I thinking?"

She started to protest, but he stopped her. "No. I'm taking you back to the villa right now. It's near suppertime anyway. But you're getting inside by the fire with something warm to drink. I don't want you getting sick."

She could see, behind his eyes, that he was a lot more worried than he let on. "Don't worry, Cathair. My fits do not make me more susceptible to other illnesses." She kissed him on the cheek. "But I'll go back with you."

Truth be told, her ears were beginning to ache. She was not looking forward to what would happen when she warmed up...

They secured everything for the night and walked down to the villa, entering quietly. Cathair gently but firmly steered her towards the fire and had her sit. She did so, grateful for the warmth.

Holding out her hands to the flame, the warmth and light made her sneeze- hard. "A-choo!"

With it came the first wave of ache in her ears. She groaned and put her hands up to cover them. Why had she not put on a kerchief before going out?

Because you wanted to see Cathair.

Jenny: An Historian

Ambrosius quit his chambers with Champion and joined those in the atrium. He was not frequently noticed by the maids or boys as they came and went; occasionally even Artos' Companions did not mark his passing. He was, like a ghost, a fixture of valley life, a figure whose presence was felt universally, worn as comfortably and unthinkingly as a signet ring or a family torc. So when he seated himself at the table catty-cornered to industrious Master Lucius and the daydreaming Guttersnipe, it took them both a moment to realize he was there. It was only when Champion stretched his silvery wings and caught the light that Master Lucius, startled, looked up, brandishing his pen as though he thought it was a knife. A warm colour spread across his face when he realized his mistake.

"You are very quiet, sir. I did not notice you there."

Ambrosius shook his head. "I did not mean to startle you. But you were very absorbed in your work." He took a glance at the vellum sheets that had overrun and conquered much of their end of the table. He reached out one hand, eyes flickering to Master Lucius' face as he did so. "Do you mind," he asked, "if I take a look?"

There was something of the Guttersnipe in the young man's look as he moved at once to accomodate Ambrosius. His countenance bloomed with an eager light, and he began rearranging sheets, producing a neat stack. "I do not mind in the least. I am thinking that you may find this of interest, sir..."

The stack of vellum sheets which he was handed was cut square and even, and the margins around the writing were almost unbelieveably uniform in width. Ambrosius found himself confronted with a most excellent script, firm, self-confident print in Latin, dated and signed by Master Lucius. "This is admirable," he said warmly, leafing through the bundle. "This is truly admirable. Your records are superb." Over the top of the papers he was aware of Master Lucius smiling, pleased, but then he eye fell on a map halfway through the stack. He paused, intrigued, feeling with a little pull in the back of his mind that it was familiar. Champion put up his head and looked down with him. The coastline...the river... Here - his finger moved to topographic circles - he remembered these hills. At once he was seeing a steel grey sky, very clear and clean and full of wind, smelling of heather and broom bursting into fragrant golden glory. He felt the presence of hundreds of people, naked souls under that vast sky, in that vast land. The land below him, patched by fields and pastures, spread out on all sides, fading toward the east at the sea. He took note of an old villa not far from the salted marshes on the river, but then the map and his memory broke apart, and he was following the jagged line of Master Lucius' pen left on the page, into the uplands that he could so clearly recall - Artos had a report on that country somewhere in his records: in the enamelled trunk, he thought - and he said "Mm," very thoughtfully as his eye fell on the printed words VORTIGERN'S RATH. So, that was where the fellow had holed himself up in the north... Ambrosius had never been sure. Looking after that man was like looking into the mouth of a barrow with all the reek of the dead coming back at him.

He looked up. "This very detailed. How did you manage it?"

Strangely enough, Master Lucius looked caught, and blushed. "I...had help. The Guttersnipe," he added, gesturing to the girl - who broke out of her reveries with a bewildered start - "she was often my eyes and ears where my legs could not go."

"I think you could have managed it. You came all that way to my valley - it is the Greek travelling spirit in you, I suspect." He carefully put the map over on its face and observed the following lines of writing.

Vortigern has been in communication with the red-gold people of Erin, specifically with their Dalriad cousins in the western firth country. This evening a dispatch came down the old chariot way from Traprain Law, and the rider was sporting a curious pelt which filled me with dread: ticked black and white and bronze, long-furred: a wildcat's hide. How long has it been since the powerful Caledones whipped up their bands and turned south upon us? By sheer force of numbers, by their uncanny blood-ties to the spirits, their advance is like the weight of mountains falling down on Britain. God forbid they should come again, now that Rome is a forgotten power.

It does not help that _________ tells me there is one among us, and that he lives up to all the legends of the Old Ones.

I was unable to ascertain the letter's import from any words or faces, but news out of the north is news enough. Vortigern is up to something. I must keep my eyes and ears well open in case it means ill for the rest of Britain.

"Your writing is a lot like Tacitus," Ambrosius said, mulling over the words. "This is when it all began?"

"Yes, sir," said Master Lucius in faintly subdued tones. "Well, for myself, at any rate," he added.

Ambrosius smiled wryly at the papers. "Ah yes, Vortigern is plotting. This is not news to me... But I think you are right," he said, tapping several lines, "about the Caledones. I don't think they are much inclined to come down out of their wildcat haunts to expand their territory, but as mercenaries they are very fierce. And southern Britain is still rich enough to offer up an alluring amount of wealth for them - not to mention our proximity to Gaul, which is growing increasingly more uncomfortable by the year." He set the stack of vellum down on the tabletop, fixing Master Lucius with his gaze. "Your writing is excellent, your attention to detail seems superb. Your style is very much like the old historians."

"I studied them a great deal, sir. I appreciate their ability to tie in not only the happenstances, but the emotions that drove the figures of history. Those emotions do not change, and happenstances come round again. There is nothing new under the sun."

"Artos and I appreciate the method in the Army of taking detailed reports, but our attention is so often divided that we have little time for that sort of precision. If you can find the time away from your other interests, I know we would be delighted to have you flesh out our own reports. I think your pre-existing knowledge will prove invaluable."

Master Lucius warmed with a smile that gave to his face all it lacked. "I would be honoured, sir. My records are all at your service."

Ambrosius knew what he would be reading over his last glass of wine that evening, tucked up in his rugs in his bed against the chill. Oh, that evening... The thought cooled the corner of his returning smile. And the Guttersnipe, who had lapsed into a listening silence, shivered violently as if someone had trod upon her grave.

Lys: Helpmeet

Aithne sighed. It seemed she never felt more content than when she was in Cathair's arms. She wished they could stay like this longer, but her practical side was starting to win through, annoyingly.

"I suppose we should get back to work..." she murmured, not moving from her place. Cathair tightened his arms in a last hug before pulling away. "Yes, we should," he said. "I'm determined to get this house finished as soon as possible, and I'm sure you-"

"Feel the same? Is ea. Tell me what to do and I'll help."

Cathair gave her a wry smile. "I was going to say, I'm sure you have some women's work to do- mending or cooking. It seems you're always busy at something."

She lifted her chin. "Sure, and I do, but I'd rather be here, working alongside my anmchara."

His smile softened and he kissed her forehead. "So be it, then. Here. Hold this upright for me..."

Jenny: Lively Childhood

The Guttersnipe shielded her eyes against the beating heat of the fire, watching Domitia lift up her skirts and run out into the rain. She knew how the girl felt. She wondered where Jason was, and what he was up to.

"Oh, Jason...!"

He rolled over, squinting up at her disapprovingly. "Oh what?" he asked, ending in a pained grunt as the ewe gave one more game squeeze, clenching down on his arm.

She hunkered down, gathering her skirts about her knees. "How many is it? Two? three? four? Is it four?"

The ewe squeezed again, and the girl could see the corded veins on the young man's arm bulge rather more than usual as the animal's pelvic bones ground over him. "Just one," he grunted, "and I swear it's trying to run out the other end away from me." He drew his brows in concentration. She held her breath as he fished. The ewe, turning her head around to see what was causing the trouble, gave one despairing bleat with all her yellow teeth showing. "I got it!" Jason gasped at last, and began to pull. At the squelching noises, the Guttersnipe pressed her hands against her ears, but kept her eyes wide open as the lamb's forelegs and sorry, matted head emerged into the upland wind of a chill spring day.

As she turned from the fire, her eyes fell on Master Lucius' work, and she paused, naturally curious, to see what he wrote. She stood behind him, silent as he worked at the wreck of his clotted pen, reading his lines with bated breath. Her cheeks began to burn, and as she picked up a length of her skirt to move away, she fully expected Artos to close his hand over her neck again and give her a swat for eavesdropping on Master Lucius' writing. Epona - Epona! As a child she had been the lovely horse-maiden running about after the boys - when she was not dressed in her mock-scarlet and playing at the Massacre of the Three Legions - the fair maiden who always magicked up the immortal steeds the boys rode to glory on. She hastily retired to the fireside, hoping to cover her blush with the heat.

Lys: Follow The Fellow Who Follows A Dream

Driving cattle and fighting. Aithne knew what they were talking about, then. Cathair had spoken to Lord Ambrosius about his future- their future. There was only one way such a conversation would've come about, and that was it.

She smiled. She couldn't keep the look off her face. A house! A house and a herd. And a husband, at last.

She pulled a fold of her cloak up over her head. "Then I'll be up looking at the cattle, should anyone need me." With a swift little curtsy, she hurried out the door and into the drizzle, up the path to where the cattle grazed.

The grass was greener than it should've been for Autumn. Everything seemed to stand out all the brighter for the mist of rain. Eventually she could see the figure of a man working alone. A few more yards made her certain it was Cathair.



He turned and looked down the hill, shielding his eyes against the rain. A little ways down, a small figure wrapped head to toe in plaid was waving one white arm. He smiled and waved back, motioning her up.

She picked her way up the path as quickly as she could, slipping once where the path had washed out.

"And what is it that brings you all the way out here in this rain, gra?" he called. She's grinning like a cat, too.

At that, she started running. Reaching him at top speed, she leaped into his arms. "It's a house! It's a house, isn't it? We're going to have a house and tend the cattle, just as before, aren't we?" Cathair was all but bowled over by her enthusiasm. He pulled back a bit, loving how bright her expression was. "Sure, and I've already begun. Come, I'll show you." Her excitement was infectious. "I've got it paced out for now, but you can see by the stakes in the ground what it'll look like." If anyone could, she, with her limitless imagination, could see it.

She stepped over what would be the threshold, looking around as though it was already built around her. "It's beautiful, Cathair..." He came up behind her and pulled her into his arms, resting his chin on her shoulder. "Will be, muirnait. Will be beautiful. Right now it's just a pile of sticks."

She turned around with a serious expression on her face. The joy was still there, but the giddiness had fled to make way for solemn intensity. "It is not. Right now it is a dream. A beautiful dream which, when we awake, will turn out to be reality."


She kissed him then. She could see the dream- almost as solid as reality- and it was within her grasp. ...As she was within his. He pulled her closer and for the next few moments, she all but forgot the rain and chill.

Jenny: Looking For Bulls

Master Lucius looked round to find Domitia had deposited herself nearby. Cathair... Oh, her young man. "No, I am afraid I haven't," he confessed. "He passed through very early this morning and went out of doors, but I haven't seen him since."

He reached for a cloth to dab up the blot of ink before the acidic liquid could wear through the vellum. As he did so, the Guttersnipe entered, moving to the hearth to stoke up the fire. "Were we looking for Cathair?" she asked, pulling her hair away from the blaze. "He was talking with my Lord Ambrosius earlier. I don't know what for exactly." She dropped a log on the fire and jumped back, hands in the air, eagerly watching the wild spray of sparks. "They were talking about driving cattle and fighting; that's all I heard."

Master Lucius turned back to Domitia. "Perhaps he is up looking at the cattle, then."

Lys: Settling In

"I wish Gwenhwyfar were here."

Master Lucius and Wulf sat nearby. She hadn't noticed before now. She wondered how long they'd been there...

"Master Lucius..." She came over quietly. He was writing. It was good to see him writing again. It showed her he was settling in, getting comfortable again. Their arrival had been so closely followed by battle...

"Master Lucius, have you seen Cathair this morning?"

Jenny: Gramaire

Master Lucius sat at the atrium table close to the fire, Wulf sprawled at his feet burnishing a fine blade of Damascus steel. The rain drove most everyone indoors save those who could take their work to the barns and byres. Despite the achy cold he always got in his chest, he enjoyed rainsome days and the quiet tones of contemplation the rain drummed on the roof over his head. At the moment he sat with his notes spread out before him, his pen idle in his hand, thinking a little before he began writing. Having come so close to losing his ability to write altogether but a week ago, he relished this moment a little longer.

Domitia came running in out of the rain presently, shaking off the water in the vestibule, greeted by the dogs. It struck him that she was looking a good deal better, and that life in Ambrosius' rath was as beneficial for her as it was for himself. The freedom enjoyed in the valley enabled her clipped wings to grow again. While his own wings were broken beyond repair, and his lungs and heart were unlikely to ever allow him to dash about in the rain as Domitia could, he felt a soaring freedom of spirit which he had not enjoyed in all his life until his arrival in this secluded little Eryrian valley. Like some fresh plot of landscape newly woken, some Edenic field, he felt at complete liberty to walk among these people's minds and to observe and pick the fruit of their own contemplations, at liberty to learn.

He set his pen to the top of his vellum and wrote in bold letters AMBROSIUS' RATH. And underneath he began to write - The weather, as in the rest of Britain, is changeable and clouded. But in Ambrosius' rath I find the social climate to be warm and light. There is an obvious simplicity to the folk here which comes, I find, from those who work the land and have to wait for nothing but God to change the seaons, to bring the rain and dry: a people who are wholly dependent and happy to be dependent on the hand of the Almighty. They all of them exhibit a certain openness of face and speech which belies a remarkable depth within. There is within this valley the Remarkable, the almost Ethereal, a sort of unspoken yet living connection between lord and layman, man and mountain range which harkens back to prepagan times. I can see where the pagans got their stories as they advanced farther and farther from Proto-Man. I can see Jupiter between Lord Ambrosius' brows, Epona in the Guttersnipe's mareish fancy, reckless, fearless Tyr in Artos' arm. And, fueling that fancy, that same insubstantial link between them all that makes this valley such a potent haven in Britain's folded skirts. There are still gods and goddesses in Britain, lightful rulers of Albion, and these are they. Not cast out of heaven, but heaven-placed here to do heaven's biding: light in the darkness, salt in the wound.

This is probably not the last storm we will weather, Tacitus. The valley may see still more warring tribes between her hills. I think it is dawning on Britain that her gods and goddesses are mortal, and bleed like any mortal would. Our golden age - if you can call it a golden age, fought as we have for every ground of it with tooth and nail - may be lapsing into the past as I write. Loki may strip the mistletoe, and fair Baldr may go down. Forgive my pagan terms, but it seems as though wickedness is only testing our chinks to see where we are weakest. We are mortal, and even for Eden autumn came.

I sit here in this quiet hall and I am such a pessimist. There may be other gods and goddesses to rule in Albion after these sleep beneath their copper hills. Or worse - not. Maybe this is all, and when they are called home from the war that will be all. But I hope not. I pray not. In all my loyalty I dream of no other lord than Ambrosius - but in my love of Britain I cannot bear to think that she will be lost to the dark forever. God made her white shores, her swelling emerald green, her damson woods. Surely though she is only a shadow of what she has been, he will not forsake her for ever! Or he may. He may. Who can say what he will do?

He paused, letting the ink from his pen seep into the paper and he looked up and blinked, the words red lines on his vision. "I wish Gwenhywfar were here," he murmured fretfully. Wulf nodded.

Lys: Missing, Again

Aithne left the room, the dress having been put back in the trunk for the time being. She was determined to find Cathair before breakfast. He'd said he would meet her here...

She hunted through the whole villa, calling his name. She was less frantic than the last time she'd done such a thing, but her wish to see him made her impatient. "Cathair?" Where has he got to now? Was his business yet to be completed? Whatever could he have that would take all this time, and make him skip breakfast?

She stood in the atrium, at a loss, trying to figure out whether to stay and wait for him or start searching the valley. She chaffed at the idea of waiting, but she'd easily miss him with such a large search area...


Cathair was in a rhythm, enjoying his work and enjoying how well it was going. He paced out a good-sized home- not too fancy or large, for he wanted it done quickly, but not a small little cattleman's lean-to, either. He would need some proper wood for a box bed, table, and benches. I'll have to remember to ask after that later. For the meantime, he set to work building the wattle panels, which would later be set in place and secured together into walls.

He smiled. He'd done this once before, and it hadn't taken very long. It was in better weather, yes, but his waiting was taking on a more concrete end, and he was becoming giddy at the thought of it.

Jenny: The Watershed

It was dry beneath the yew trees. In yesteryear's needle-bed, dry and softly rustling, Vortimer lay on his back, head and arms cradled in a patch of sorrel, listening to the drip of rain overhead. His fellows lay like hounds about, him, half asleep where they had flung themselves down, flanks rising and falling slowly with their even breathing. They could sleep so, peaceful and confident, knowing he was nearby. He sniffed the wind. It smelled free and cool now, with hints of badger and crimson cardinal's feather somewhere in the thick of it. That morning, up on the tor which overlooked the old Roman road, the wind had turned to sourness in his nostrils, smelling of sickened blood and conies in snares and children dead in the womb. Crouched in the dark lee of the tor they had seen what they had all been watching for: Vortigern's southward march. With the winter howling down out of the north behind them, they had been pressing as quickly as possible. The Fox had scanned the long cavalcade, the blood drumming his ears. Scarlet - a bit of scarlet...! But he had seen nothing. Not a word had any of them spoken; they had crouched in silence until the whole line was passed, and then they had returned to the Place of the Yews and holed up until the storm passed, thinking.

He knew what the others thought, the steadier folk of Ambrosius' rath. He rolled over onto his belly, staring up through the silver shimmer of rain between the low yew-branches. He was the Wild One, the Red Fighting Cock, the Fox. And he liked it that way. He liked to be free to walk the world's fences, to come and go from their chicken yards as he pleased, to look them in the faces and laugh, and vanish like a down-feather between their grasping hands. But underneath his bushy red coat he nursed a hot little sickness in his belly. Running as he did on the world's stone fence-work, he knew what it felt like to pause on the brink of a thing: and he felt he was standing on such a brink now. Like a tempest on the rise with the sky clawed to tiger-crimson, the wind dropped to a telltale nothing, he knew something was coming, something which would change the landscape of Britain for all time.

But which way would the blade turn? Which way would the feather fall? When the storm had finally blown itself out, who would be left with the reins of plunging, wild Albion in his hands?

Vortimer shook a spray of raindrops out of his eyes, and tucked his face into the curve of his arm, unwilling to even wonder.

Lys: Bright Truth

Aithne warmed at the Guttersnipe's words. Once more, she'd been falling into the negative, and the girl pushed her towards the positive- the truth the lie tried to obscure.

"...Which is to say, no longer than he can hold it at arm's length in his sense of pride." The Guttersnipe gave her an encouraging smile. "Pride is a faded, patchy blanket held against the solid, warm promise of a wife."

Aithne laughed a little. She felt warm through, herself, and suddenly wanted very much to see Cathair. "Thank you, Guttersnipe. I needed to hear that." She smiled back at the girl. "Now. Off with the dress. I can't hem it with you in it."


Cathair had amassed a nice pile of wood. "This will do, for a start. Care to help me carry it up the hill, lads?" The boys were eager to show off their strength, so the three of them tied the soon-to-be wattle into bundles and set off up the hill. There was a fine drizzle misting over the valley, and Cathair hoped things would dry out soon. He simply couldn't wait until spring. It was unthinkable. If the weather didn't clear up soon, he'd be splitting his time between this house and a place to winter with his wife.

Jenny: Sacramental

The Guttersnipe frowned as Domitia bent again to the hem of her dress. In ways they each had the advantage over the other. Bred among the stalwart, the almond girl was accustomed to men and their ways, how they thought and why they did the things they did. Domitia was not so fortunate. But Domitia, raised with a harper's fingers and bred to be a lady's maid, had about her that pale, almost timid sort of gentleness that a woman ought to have. The Guttersnipe lay calm only when the fitful winds that blew her happened to linger on their way to her mind. But in this she had the upper hand, and tucking up one foot mare-ishly, she said,

"No, but you're wrong. Cathair is a fine fellow - " she lied a bit, having never cared to look into the man's eyes to see if he was a fine fellow or not " - and he holds you in perfectly high esteem. That is the Erin-blood in him. But at his core, you must understand, he is a man just like any other man, and he needs you more than he consciously realizes. He is always going to have that gnawing ache inside him which he can never quiet, which he will never quite understand, until you are his own. Not for conquest, not for power, but because he is not himself without you. Why do you think he sought you so long and hard all these years?" She put down her foot so that Domitia could straighten the skirt. "I doubt he's taken the thing up and turned it over and over, looking at it clearly, but he knows as one knows a fundamental - an undisbutable thing: he needs you, and needing you he will neither break this faith nor postpone it any longer than is necessary. Which is to say, no longer than he can hold it at arm's length in his sense of pride." She smiled encouragingly. "Pride is a faded, patchy blanket held against the solid, warm promise of a wife."

Lys: Future Plans

"Nonsense. I've been sewing since I was knee-high to a pony." All the same, she was doubly careful as she made her way around the hem. When she'd finished, she gathered up the extra pieces and brushed stray threads off the floor.

"Sometimes I wonder if Cathair and I will ever be married." she said, only realizing afterward that she'd said it aloud. Well, it was out now, so she might as well continue. "He won't even truly ask me until he has a place for us to live. I know him." She sighed. "With the bad weather coming, he'll probably have to wait for spring, and by then he'll be heading out to do battle for Lord Ambrosius. He's been very careful to not bring it up, but I know. It's who he is. I couldn't keep him back for anything, and I think I just might love him less if I could talk him out of it.

"Perhap's we're meant to be apart."

Jenny: What Fashion Means

"Faugh," said the almond girl, shaking her head sadly. "Floor-length is how I like it - long, like Gwenhywfar's." She paused awkwardly, wondering if she should go further. She knew what Domitia meant, and was sorry that her flippancy brought back such memories. She shuddered to remember that Calidus was just under her feet. She kept her eyes on Domitia's work at her hem. "You know, the boys...the wrong boys...they would wear their tunics really short so you'd know what they were." She twisted one shoulder. "I never saw any. It's cold up here without breeches, thank goodness. Aren't you cutting that a bit high?"

Lys: Girlish Mischief

Aithne laughed quietly, then made no effort to hide it. It was a treat to see the girl all dressed up and acting so... girlish. Dainty was the last word she'd use to describe the Guttersnipe, yet here she was, turning and blushing and looking altogether pleased with herself.

Aithne fetched herself a pair of scissors. "How long would you like this to be? The floor, or your ankles?" She winked at the girl. "Or would you rather it be warrior-length?"

Jenny: A Swan In Her Feathers

"Soon - soon!" The Guttersnipe cast back her head, feeling the loose tumble of her hair sweep across the gaping emptiness of her back. The stones of the clasps were cool against her skin, and she felt as one of the Epidii girls, the moon-girls, who moved like mares and saw what the stars can see... Tush! That's pagan talk, she chided herself. But as she turned and turned about, looking at what figure she cut, she had the overwhelming urge to catch up a knife and need to use it, if only to relieve the burning excitement in her chest. "Mm, sah!" she murmured, baring her teeth in a wolfish grin. "So? And does it look beautiful to your eyes?" She put down her arms, palms gazing at the floor, the gown snug across her hips. "It is in the old style," she added hastily, suddenly afraid Domitia was only saying it was beautiful because she did not understand. She could envision with her inner eye Jason's easy, smiling face warming to a foxy, cunning expression at the sight of her. "So - " she turned, " - and so..."

Lys: Dreams

Aithne gasped. The gown was gorgeous. Breathtaking. Even her richest mistress had not owned something so fine.

"Beautiful..." she breathed. Somehow she managed to help the girl into it, though. It made the Guttersnipe into something radiant and soft, and again Aithne could only stand in wonder. It was a moment before she could gather herself into anything sensible. "Are you certain you want to wear this dress? Once Jason sees you in it, he'll be a puddle of jelly at your feet."

She gave the gown a critical eye. It could do with some taking up, but it seemed that the extra folds from the width of the dress just made it all the prettier.

She thought of her own damson-purple dress, hidden away in a bag under her bed. It was nothing so fancy. But she was not as fancy as the Guttersnipe, for all the girl's warrior personality.

"I don't think it will need much done with it." She knelt by the girl's feet to figure out just how much needed altering. "Will you be wed soon, then?"


Cathair gave his lord a quick bow, then headed straight for the tools and the coppice. Two boys- up to no good, by the look of them- came by, most likely attracted by the sharp tools in his hands. Remembering Lord Ambrosius's words, he asked them if they wanted to help. Soon the three of them were cutting away at the young wood, creating a pile with which to weave the wall pieces. Later, when the boys had gone off to supper, he would stake out the house boundaries. But now he took help while he could get it.

The three got along very well. For a few moments, Cathair thought of what might be, in the future- working alongside his sons to build on to the house, making room for their large family...

He nicked his finger on the edge of the saw and laughed wryly. No daydreaming while working.

Jenny: A Moon-Woven Sort of Thing

"No, no," Ambrosius assured Cathair. "I am not needing anything at present." He dismissed the young man and sat in his chair, sighing heavily. Champion moved from his shoulder to the little perch on the tabletop nearby. He sat and thought, chin on his fist, listening to the rain, about Vortigern and Hengist and the Saxons in the east, about the men in the hypocaust, about Artos, about the winter and the spring and the Knife. I will send Kay down to Alan, he thought, and tell him what is in the wind. Then, No. No, I will go myself.


The Guttersnipe led the way to her bedroom and shut the door after Domitia. The sound of the rain filled the place with a hollow rushing noise, like the sea in the white clasp of a shell. She crossed the room barefoot, stopping at the worn and battered trunk in the corner and bending to unlatch it. "This is the dress," she told Domitia in an undertone, "which my Lord Ambrosius got for me..." She pulled it out and held it up, a moon-woven sort of thing in the watery light, its gems flashing fitful and pale against her hands. "Help me into it, and see if it is needing to be taken up or taken in."

Lys: A House

Cathair was slightly overwelmed. Everything dropped in his lap and ready to go- and some worthwhile occupation in doing it. And the place Lord Ambrosius pointed out was a very pretty place indeed. Aithne will like it, he thought.

"Thank you, sir. I'll begin right away." He almost turned to go, then paused. "Unless you need me for something else, that is." He was impatient to begin, but somehow he felt he shouldn't just run out without leave.

Jenny: Between the Ladies

"Today, if you like," replied Ambrosius. "Come, walk with me."

He moved past the young man to the doorway. Champion returned to his shoulder and watched Cathair walk from under the soft black feathered rings over his eyes as beneath him, between the two men, Ambrosius' back was exposed.

Champion screamed, wings beating in a confused flurry. Ambrosius dropped and pivoted as a dart of light flashed by his shoulder, burying itself deep into the wood of Lord Alan's chair. There was a din of shouting: "Who threw it? Where did he go? Catch him! catch him! Vortigern - where is Vortigern? Ambrosius! By all the saints, what just happened?"

"I am well, I am well," Ambrosius insisted, brushing off the clinging hands that moved to help him. The hands all snapped away as if the men had touched a holy thing, and the young man shook himself like a swimmer breaking the surface, wholly composed. But Champion, returned to the man's shoulder, could hear the smoulder in the man's soul. It had been a close call. When things had settled a little more, Ambrosius turned and whispered thanks to his White Bird, stroking the white crest feathers. The Eyes of the White Isle met and exchanged a loving, companionable look.

The War-lord led Cathair into the silvery-white of his bedchamber and crossed to the window. Beckoning still, he pointed up at the southwest hills where the stream was tumbling down white in the rain. The tawny hills were darkned into the colour of warm spilt wine, shadowed by the rain and clouds, but pricked silvery on their crests where the tors, wet, caught the faded light and shone. "The herding starts there," Ambrosius said, "between Buddugoliaeth and Inghean, the two narrow tors at the top of the hill. Beyond them is the grazing land. A house built in the lee of that wood just over the rise would the out of the wind and near your work. You may begin today, if you like," he added, turning back to Cathair. "Tools are in the room at the back of the Long Barn, and you can probably find at least one boy, or even one of the Companions, willing to chip in some digging. We keep our coppice at the foot of the stream near the pool. Feel free to borrow a pony to help you haul wood."

Lys: Small Changes

"We drive cattle. Our home-work is with horses, breeding and training them for war, but we raise cattle as well as stock to sell. We deal in just about any animal, but chiefly horses and cattle; the sheep we raise down in the cotswolds on tenant lands... But if it is cattle work you are interested in, I can give you that - and iron-work too, when the marching season comes around, if you care for that sort of thing."

Cathair nodded. "I know the work well." The corner of his lip turned up. That is, if Aithne will manage to let me go... "Cattle, then. And later the march -And whatever else you require." He bowed, wondering if a bardic salute wouldn't me more appropriate for this man.

"And... er..." He had a feeling the audience was over, but he needed to ask. He didn't want to wait any longer than he had to. "When may I start building?"


Aithne looked up, surprised at the Guttersnipe's words. The Guttersnipe wanted her help. Her help. And with a dress, of all things...

"Sure." she said, setting aside the cup of apple cider in her hand. "I have plenty of time." She smiled at the girl's awkwardness. Here was a place- one small place among so many large ones- a place where Aithne was the confident one, where she was able to guide the Guttersnipe, instead of the other way around. And she was almost giddy at the chance to help the girl.

"Where to?"

Jenny: A Girl's Curiosity

Having risen, listening to the autumn rain, and slipped into her fur dressing gown, the Guttersnipe padded down the hallway toward the atrium, her feet making soft little echoes on the stones. She would be glad, she thought, when the evening's events were past and they could fire up the hypocaust for the winter. She wondered if it was callous, thinking only of warmth for her feet, thinking the lives of the men in the space beneath were such an inconvenience to her. The thought of them filled her with an angry dreading, an anger at their existence, a dread of their potential. Under her feet the stones gave back the cold of sullen animal quiet. It reminded her of Mordred, of all people, and she flushed with anger, taking comfort behind the shield-ring of her hatred for wicked things, dark, formless things. Under her feet the hate was flung back, wordless, sullen, a brooding darkness waiting for Ambrosius's sword.

She paused at the doorway of the solarium, hearing Ambrosius' voice. Through the walls his and Artos' voices sounded so alike sometimes. She had to stop and listen for a moment to be sure, palms and cheek pressed to the wall, certain that Artos could not come up behind her and flick her with a strong finger under the ear for eavesdropping.

"We drive cattle," Ambrosius was saying. "Our home-work is with horses, breeding and training them for war, but we raise cattle as well as stock and to sell. We deal in just about any animal, but chiefly horses and cattle; the sheep we raise down in the cotswolds on tenant lands... But if it is cattle work you are interested in, I can give you that - and iron-work too, when the marching season comes around, if you care for that sort of thing."

Fingers closed over the back of her neck. She whimpered, caught. Leaning on the wall to support himself, Artos looked down at her disapprovingly, having come up on silent bare feet from his bedroom. Gathering up her robe, aided by a smack on the backside, she trotted down the hallway to the kitchen, having to leave Ambrosius' conversation half-finished.

In the kitchen she found Domitia. Holding the front of her dressing robe closed, she accosted the girl and said, "I have a dress that I need to try and have looked at. Do you have a moment to help me?" She flushed, suddenly awkward at approaching the girl on her own girlish terms.

Lys: A Portent

"I had a good herd of cattle, back home. But wherever you need me most, sir."

He knew cattle best, but he also knew Aithne would want to be close to the villa. Leaving it to Ambrosius would mean they'd both accept the appointment with relative ease.

He was happy to know that a house was so easy a thing. If he could just have a good roof overhead, the rest would come.


Aithne woke the second time to hear a raven making a ruckus at her window. Much more awake than last time, she looked out and said, "Well, there's a portent. But for good or bad, I wonder?"
Regardless, something big was going to happen today. She hoped it was good. They'd had enough big bad things happening.

She quickly dressed, blessing Portia and thanking God for her warm shoes, and made her way to the villa kitchen. Judging by the height of the sun, she was probably too late to help make breakfast. She might've even been too late for breakfast itself...