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.

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