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.

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