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.

1 comment:

Lilly said...

is the scarlet Gwenhywfar in their midst?

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