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.

No comments:

Post a Comment