Lys: Life Goes On

Dawn found Cathair already hard at work on their new home, despite the seemingly ever-present morning mizzle. He had decided to make as much of the wattle as possible, then start putting it all together when the sun came through. If the sun came through.

"God, I know we don't talk all that much, but if you could see your way to giving me enough time to get this house up, I'd be very grateful to you. Aithne's not the sort that can survive a hard winter without a house- not in her present state, anyway. Give us time..."

He knew- they both knew- that he'd be heading out again in the spring, and he wanted to spend well what time they had before then.

And so he set back to work, so that everything would be ready when the sun came.

The sun would come through.


Aithne woke to a cold room and ears and throat to match. The Guttersnipe's concoction had certainly lessened the effects, but the soreness remained. Shivering, she inched out of bed and pulled on her clothes- clothing she'd put in the bed next to her, so that it would be warm when she arose. It was a little wrinkled, but that was a small price to pay. Leine, overgown, belt, furred shoes, and both cloaks. Overkill, some would say, but if she stayed warm, she'd get better sooner. And she had no intention of spending her days on a sickbed.

Cu woke in the middle of her preparations. He stretched his massive hind legs and limped around the room a bit, trying to get the blood flowing again.

"You're worse than I am, Cu. Come on" she said, ruffling his ears. "Let's go find us a warm fire and some food."

Cu liked the sound of that and trotted ahead of her to the door, giving it an impatient scratch. Aithne didn't feel like repremanding him, so she just opened it and let him run off and back again. The whole way to the villa he ran back and forth, until Aithne was sure he'd be warm enough before they even reached the kitchen.

But reach it, they did. She greeted Portia, who instantly fetched her a mug of cider and gave Cu a ham bone from the night before. Aithne accepted it gratefully. "Thank you, Portia. From the both of us." She added, motioning at Cu. "Give me a moment to get the feeling back into my fingers and I'll help you with the bread."

Portia waved dismissively and returned to her chores. "You take as much time as you need. We're not making half as much food now that-" she cut off, abruptly. Now that the prisoners are gone. Aithne knew what she meant. "That's good, then. I thought for awhile you may end up giving birth in the kitchen."

Portia laughed and made a face at her, and the mood was lightened.

Jenny: June's Blue Eyes

The hallways were strange, and they smelt. There were rushes on the floor where Gwenhywfar was accustomed to stone, and all was untidy and unfamiliar to her. She felt closed up on herself, drawing in as if to avoid brushing against the walls, against other people, against other minds which were not welcome to her. She felt small and alone, and not a little frightened. She did not let it show - she could not let it show. She could not let her defences down for a moment, yet a most horrible terror was beginning inside her. She began to wonder if she really would ever get out.

She walked down the passage, hoping to find her room and lock herself away for a while. Hengist's house was a maze of confusion with too many people and all their faces crowding round her. The hall, which was empty and should have been relieving, was a long soft tunnel of closing darkness so she felt like something monstrous had swallowed her and was working her down its throat. The cobwebby cling of evil was all around her. She wanted, desperately, so lash it off and run and run until she could not run any more, and pitch down and cry until she could not cry any more, and then die and be quiet and alone at last. But she forced herself to walk steadily, forced herself forward into the dark with the dark welling up behind her.

There was a sudden white glint in the dark before her, and she stopped dead still, hands clenched. A low growl reverberated so deeply that she could feel it, and in a moment she could see a black wildcat straddling the path before her, the single white patch of fur at its chest gleaming mockingly back at her. Oh no! She struggled to rouse her defences. The cat let out a single yowl and leapt straight in the air, and was caught by a figure that moved into the little pool of white light with it. It was a woman, a woman milky as alabaster with a great crown of golden hair, and Gwenhywfar knew she had met her match. The cat yowled and swiped.

All she could do was fight, so Gwenhywfar remembered who she was and what she was, and held her chin up and her hands clenched at her sides. "Stand out of my way," she said coolly.

"But I will not," the witch replied silkily. "I am the woman of the house - and your house, soon."

"Nevertheless - " Gwenhywfar was hating her more and more with every heartbeat " - I am my own house, and you are not mistress over me. So stand aside and let me pass." And thankfully her own cat came up out of the dark just then, having been chasing mice, and began spitting and reaching for the witch's beast. Gwenhywfar caught it up and held it, and felt even with the witch at last.

The witch drew herself back, the cunning coming into those blue, blue eyes, eyes blue as the June heavens on a warm day. "Nevertheless," she countered with quiet venom, "I will be mistress of your house, and I will turn your house back on itself and destroy you, long and slow - for I know who you are, and I hate all you love. Do not underestimate me."

Then she withdrew, and Gwenhywfar was left in the dark hallway feeling shaken and ill, and hot with anger, and wishing to fly into someone's arms and be safe. You are all alone, Gwenhywfar. You are all alone.

Had she not managed to save them, after all?

Lys: He Will Make Your Righteousness Shine Like The Dawn

Cathair stood on the edge of the arena, watching the two men enter, and once again he thought of Aithne's fragility. Taking her gently by the arm, he drew her attention away to him. "Aithne... I think you should go inside. This will not be pleasant."

Her eyes skittered to the combatants and back to him. "It already isn't." she said, and he found himself thinking she was not as fragile as her comment seemed. "It isn't anything near pleasant- but I think I should stay. I need it to be over."

Looking into her eyes, he saw a battle. She was frightened of something, but determined to not let it get to her. A mix of fire and steel flashed there- something he had not seen in years- and he nodded. "All right, then."


Aithne curled around so that her back rested against Cathair and his arm was around her. It steadied her, standing that way. She wasn't about to tell him that her sight had not ceased. For her, Cunorix was somewhat hard to see, through his tagalongs. When it came to the fight, though, they drew off. Aithne was uncertain why, until she looked at Ambrosius. While she could not truly see anything, not as one would usually say they saw something, he looked different.
"He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun."

There would be no help for Cunorix- from either side.

In comparison to the intensity of Lord Ambrosius, Cunorix looked like a shadow of a man. It was impossible to describe properly, and later, when she tried, she failed miserably.

Not long after, though, she was drawn into the strike and parry of the fight. She had never swung a sword, herself, but even she could see that it was well done. Both fought well, for all their differences. Lord Ambrosius fought as though Michael the Archangel guided his every stroke- which was quite possible, for all she knew.

Why do you show me the evil so clearly, and the good so vaguely, Lord?

I show you both the same, child. It is your eyes which focus more on one instead of the other.

She sighed. You are right, as usual. Guide my eyes, O God, for the enemy is near and I need you to defend me against him...

From then on she looked only at Lord Ambrosius and the quality that shone from him, ignoring the creatures that sought to draw her attention even as they toyed with Cunorix.

So focused was she that she did not realize he had made the death stroke until Cunorix's hands went to his throat and Cathair's arm tightened around her waist. It was a gruesome sight, but it meant victory as Ambrosius moved in to finish him.

All the same, she cried out when the man died, finally turning her face away from the men. The evil spirits were collecting their charge, and she did not want to see it. "Lord God, have mercy on him- such mercy as you can give to such a man."

After her first reaction, there were no tears. She did not cry for Cunorix, but she felt saddened that someone should go willingly to hell, so intentionally refusing the Christ.

Cathair gently pulled her from the front lines. "Come away, gra. You have seen enough for one day." He gathered her into his arms, kissing the top of her head. "My brave one. Foolish, at times, but brave nonetheless."

She smiled wryly. He would go and turn a compliment on its head just to elicit a response.

"Perhaps you should go to the cloister now- go to bed early..." he suggested, but she stopped him. "No, Cathair. I've had enough of being ill for one day. I'll be fine a few moments more, at least." Then she caught herself, and looked up at him, contrite. "Unless you tell me to go, that is."


Cathair was caught by her response. Would she always be so hard to predict, or would it become easier as they went along? She was willing to leave the gathering and let herself be thought weak-stomached and frail if he commanded it.

He shook his head. "No, you may stay- for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that if I find you flagging."

She nodded her agreement, and the two stood quietly for awhile, as things broke up. Cathair figured he would be called on to help dismantle the field, but then again, they may leave it until morning. So in the meantime, he tucked Aithne under his arm and simply enjoyed her presence.

Jenny: Tacitus

The rock on which Master Lucius perched was damp and uncomfortable, and the tablet lay awkwardly over his knees, shifting and flapping whenever he attempted to press down on it. Grimly setting his lips in a line, he took firm hold of the thing and brandished his writing implement. There was no time to be flapping about.

Twelve posts were set up, one at each corner of the area and two between each corner, all hung with clusters of lamps. It seemed large to me at first, more room than men would need, but as the crowd gathered in silence on the outskirts, pressing in to the fringes of the light, giving the enclosure a sense of real urgency, and when the two men stepped into the light, the area seemed tiny.

To describe their faces is the work of another man. The Guttersnipe, perhaps, whose perception lies closer to the heart of things, could do it justice - but not I. Suffice it to say that both men were stripped to their tunics, wearing a single guard upon each forearm, holding in their left hands small bucklers. Cunorix the Mercenary wore his dark red warrior's tunic, which seemed faintly mocking in this assembly, and the Lord of Eryri wore his simple white. Long ago, in the old times, men would bait men this way, and cheer for spilt blood. Even among our forward race are brutal and backward customs. And this night was one of those nights. Forward as Lord Ambrosius is, as Roman as his blood runs, the night was wild and shadow-filled, British as you pleased. He stood to the left end of the enclosure, sword and buckler in hand, the calm and eagerness flickering in his -

But I won't. There was no time wasted. They felt their weapons - Cunorix to learn what sort of sword he carried, Ambrosius for the comfortable show of it - and began the dance which to any man who has not danced it appears awkward. The bucklers flashed in the light as the men moved round and round, watching each other carefully. To one who has not danced, it is hard to understand the strain upon the nerves which each heartbeat brings. There is no idle moment in the whole movement. Everything means something: the ripple of the fingers, the twitch of an eyelid, the purse of the lips, the shift of the ball of a foot in the dirt. These men fight for their lives, and when they fight, there is nothing else in the world.

The whole crowd jerked as one when the two finally sprang together and closed the gap. The valley rang with the collision of their swords and bucklers. They did not draw off. They kept at each other like pitted stallions, both of them elegant, deadly, and furious.

There are plenty of similarities between Ambrosius and Artos which must always be between a father and a son, but where Artos fought like a hammer, Ambrosius truly fought like a dance. His strokes were each slow and sure, each graceful - but even Artos would stagger at times under those blows, and the Merlin is renowned for his arm. As Ambrosius locked into the deadly reel with Cunorix, it was a sight almost as difficult to describe as his countenance. Cunorix's fighting, superb in itself, was much like the Merlins: fast, furious, calculating but hard. The observer feared for a moment that the mercenary's strokes would be too quick for the Hawk's. Yet no matter the speed of Cunorix's blade, Ambrosius met him, and Ambrosius was never hurried. He fought as a lady dances. It was truly beautiful to see.

There is one aspect of countenance worth mentioning. Or, rather, that the observer feels can be mentioned with any accuracy. There was upon the faces of the one, the Lord of Eryri, a certain assurance, an assurance of victory; and upon the face of the other, the reckless assurance of defeat. Throughout the whole fight those expressions never wavered, and it is in my mind that it must be a terrible thing to fight across from either face.

It ended with a movement too fast to see on Cunorix's part, and with the usual slow ease on the part of the Hawk. There was a blur of the former's sword, Ambrosius turned on the ball of one foot, and in his deliberate movements both avoided his adversary's sword and brought his own across the other's neck in the open space left behind. The fight went out of the mercenary in an instant, the lifeblood pooling into his cupped hands, and the observer was too busy writing these things to see Ambrosius stoop to give the mercy stroke. Grateful is the observer.

Wulf touched his shoulder inquiringly. Master Lucius looked up and nodded, having put the last line in for now. Across the enclosure he saw Ambrosius standing with Artos and Jason and the Guttersnipe. He could not see Jason's face, but the Guttersnipe was white and Artos was flushed; Ambrosius did not seem perturbed as he cleaned his hands quietly and gave the rag over to one of the maids to bear away. But Master Lucius, who had seen the constant look upon Ambrosius' face during the fight, a look which he would never forget, nor would he ever share with another soul, knew that the composure was hardly callous ease.

He had never really realized how great a man Ambrosius was until now.

Lys: Pentecost

Aithne saw the Guttersnipe leave, though the girl did not see her, crouched as she was in the shadows.

They will be coming out soon. She thought. It was time she found Cathair.

Getting up, she made her way to the circle of light, searching for him in the flickering shadows. There- just to the left, by a tree. Jason and the Guttersnipe were nearby, speaking quietly to one another.

She picked her way over to him, and he looked up as she came, coming to meet her as soon as he recognized her. There was an odd look on his face. "Aithne... you look... different."

"Do I?" She subconciously touched her face. "I suppose it makes sense that I would..." She looked up at his puzzled expression. "Cathair... remember how my father would sometimes become different- when he would proclaim blessings or judgements on clansmen?"

Cathair nodded, wondering where she was going with the question. "I remember being terrified of him, as a child." He smiled. "Kept me out of a few scrapes, it did."

Aithne fleetingly wondered how it was possible that a boy could get into more scrapes, but let it pass.

"I just did that."

Cathair's eyebrows rose. "You just...?"

She nodded. "I just cursed Cunorix. I didn't mean to... He recognized me, and I stood and suddenly there were words coming out of my mouth. I felt powerful, filled with... with a fire... I felt like I could snap him in two, Cathair! And then, when I had done with him, I turned to Lord Ambrosius and a benediction came out..."

Lowering her head, she shuddered. "But the worst part was when I saw. There were demons around Cunorix, Cathair. A whole swarm of demons just waiting to take his soul."

She recovered a bit and looked up again. "Why, Cathair? Why me? I am not a bard. I gave that up a long time ago. I shouldn't have seen that..."

Cathair considered it. "Maybe... maybe it's an... oh what did he call it?... an Anointing. Remember? Brother Parthalan taught us about the disciples on that one day, when the Holy Ghost came on them and they changed..."

The implications of the idea caused them both to step back, somewhat intimidated by it all.

"This is all out of the range of a warrior, Aithne. I don't meddle in the affairs of priests and bards. But I think this is pretty clear. Whether you like it or not, you're a true bard now."

Aithne was at a loss for words. Cathair smiled and pulled her under his arm. "Don't think about it now. You'll have plenty of time later."

Don't think about it? How can I? But she did her best. And just then, the door moved. All eyes turned to the villa, and there was but one thought among them. It is time.

Jenny: "He Will Kill Cunorix."

Jason shrugged. "I have a girl of my own. I know what it's like. Except that - " he pointed at the white-cloaked figure that was coming down the path toward them " - she was bred man-wise, and had to learn her womanhood from the mares here. So that, next to her, your Aithne is a normal girl." He smiled charitably, though the smile did not manage to touch his eyes, and he knew it - and he knew Cathair probably saw it.

He shoved up off the tree to his feet. The Guttersnipe, carefully picking her way down the path, came to meet him with arms outstretched and held up her face to be kissed. Her cheeks were flushed and her hands were cold. He drew back. "Is it so very bad?"

Wrathfully, she shook once through and through, but it was in a calm voice that she said, "He will kill Cunorix. He has promised." She turned and looked at Cathair as though she had never seen him before. "They are coming soon," she added in a detached sort of tone.

She seemed very far away, though he held her only at arm's length, and he wondered where she had wandered to, whether to her past or to her future, and in the fitful shadows on her face he could not see the pull of her countenance clear enough to know. It was possible that even she did not know what she was seeing.

At the head of the hill the door banged again.

Lys: Babble

"Sure and it will. I've seen Cunorix fight before, and I've heard Lord Ambrosious's praises far and wide." He looked at the field as if he could already see the combatants within it. "I'm thinking, though, that it is a sight I should perhaps keep Aithne from seeing. She's been... more than usually fragile today."

He shifted. "Forgive me. You don't need to hear about that. I'm just talking, I guess."

Jenny: Cock-Fighting

Jason declined from pointing out that, in a way, the weight of the world did rest on their shoulders, and did not disclose his own personal thoughts. He pointed across the space, fingers spread horn-wise, to indicate the poles with their lamps. "This is the way we do it: give them a wide open space and let them go at it, and not let them go beyond the marked borders of the poles so none of the observers get hurt." He dropped his arm to his knees. "We've been doing this sort of thing since time immemorial. I've heard stories of men who used to put on armour with steel spurs on their wrists and heels, and fly at each other like cocks. They outlawed that ages ago, though. It was too violent, and the Army couldn't afford to lose its men to petty baiting, though it must have been a thing to see... Ambrosius and Cunorix are going to need all that room. This will be a thing to see, if nothing else."

Lys: Strange And New

"You look as though the weight of the world rested on your shoulders alone." Cathair walked over and sat by the man. In an attempt to make Jason focus on one thing, and not the whole imposing picture, he asked, "Forgive my ignorance, but what did we just make, exactly?"

He motioned vaguely at the structure. "I mean, we have single combat in Eire, but the field does not look like this."


It was getting dark, and the men had still not exited the villa. Aithne had no inclination to go back in and face them. There would be too many questions- if not spoken, there would at least be odd looks and a formal coldness. And why shouldn't they be wary? She was wary of herself! For all she knew, she might find herself taking up a sword and dispatching Cunorix then and there. No. Best she stay out of their way until the thing was done. There would be time enough for answering questions later.

She drew her cloak over her head. Lord, your servant does not understand... why would you give me this sight?