Jenny: A Bird In the Hand

It was snowing. From where he lay on his couch Ambrosius could see a faint snow drifting down on the windless air outside his window. He watched it unblinkingly, feeling cold and still as if made of glass and unawake. What day it was, what he meant to do in it, who else would be in it, those things did not matter. The silver dusting of snow on the pane and the flash of a cardinal's wings were all that mattered.

But already close the weight of the world was clustering to fall about his shoulders, and with a sigh Ambrosius swung round, dropping his feet onto the cold stone floor, and already the day was awake and alive to him. He would fetch a quick breakfast and have Cyrus saddled at once. Champion would join him; he could leave the rest in Artos' and the Guttersnipe's hands to mind the villa. The day and the timeless sparkle of snow and flash of red wings changed places. He rose, folding up his rugs with precision, and sat in his chair to put on his boots. A part of his mind, considering how cold it would be, reached for the short white scarf and the wolfskin overcoat while the rest of him ran ahead and far back to the issues surrounding the knife.

He would fight this one too, of course. He stood as he fastened the toggles of the wolfskin, staring out the window at the cardinal darting among the trees. It seemed as though every waking hour he was fighting something, every moment an uphill struggle. He reached for his Syrian knife on the tabletop. What a life it was to be an idealist! He laughed harsh and noiseless to himself as he threaded the weapon onto his belt.

"My lords, my overlords, rulers of Britain - " already the words were running through his head which, if all went as he feared, he would have to speak before the Council " - for over twenty years I have served you as your military arm. I have answered to your commands, and in return you have granted me a level of autonomy for which I am deeply indebted. Today even greater threats encroach on Britain, and I must beg of you to remember my unfailing, faithful service to you, and I must beg of you not to cripple Britain by - "

By what? He jerked his buckle shut and threaded the end of the leather into a neat knot, pulling the whole to dead-centre at his middle. Politics! Alan knew, he hated politics. It was an unavoidable necessity, and Alan even assured him that he was passable at it, though his carriage and general command of person did half the work for him. But the play of words and tempers, the Scyllas and Charybdises that crowded the waters, they were not fields he cared to fight in. In a fight, he knew when he was victorious; in politics, the struggle for victory lasted to the grave, and then the playing-field was levelled in death.

The latch on his door clicked and banged as he lifted and dropped it, leaving his room. The hallway, which was always dimly lit at the best of times, was washed in a cheerless white light from the unshuttered window. There was no noise of stirring from Artos' quarter; the man was probably busy over records. He hesitated for only a fraction of a moment, then went on to Master Lucius' door and found it ajar.

There was a lamp lit on the man's desk, the shutters thrown wide to let in the snowy light, and swathed in a great green cloak the man was busy at some paperwork which untidily flowed over his desk. He seemed in a bit of a hurry, and Ambrosius noticed that his wick was low. As he moved into the doorway, the man glanced round, eyebrows flyaway.

"Master Lucius, I came to inquire of the transcript from last night."

The bird-like young man lifted several tablets off his desk, sending a fluttering cascade of vellum down onto the floor. "I made copies for you, in case you needed more than one. I'm afraid I didn't have a chance to check them to be sure I didn't make a mistake, but it took some time writing and I wanted to look up some other things as well."

Ambrosius took the tablets in hand and flicked back the wooden front of the first, scanning the writing inside. The writing was so detailed, if the script was hurried, that the images of last night sprang at once into his mind. He glanced up at the lamp. "Have you been up all night?"

The man unexpectedly coloured in the face. "I am a slow writing in the winter..." he began.

"Your short-hand is impeccable," Ambrosius protested gently, bending down to pick up one of the fallen papers. He held it out. "Have you had any training in court?"

Master Lucius' hand, outstretched to take the paper, hesitated. "No...sir." The colour vanished, and he noticed that the man had some faint freckling.

"Should you care for some?"

It was clear to Ambrosius that it was a thing Master Lucius would love with his whole being, to put himself seriously to written legal work; yet there was also in the man's face a definite wariness at the proposal. He dropped his hand and pulled his cloak tight about his shoulders. In a suddenly quiet, desperate tone, Master Lucius said, "How can I possibly help you, sir? I don't have any training, and that's a fact. In anything else - any other way - "

"And if I see otherwise, and if there is no other way?" countered Ambrosius gently.

Master Lucius was silent.

Ambrosius laid the paper down on the table. "I won't force you. Think about it, and tell me what you decide. I could use you, Master Lucius, more than even I know." He did not add, though he thought it, You may be my only way out of this corner.

He turned to go. He had the transcript, and Cyrus needed saddling. But as he had hoped, Lucius said, "Sir, wait," and he turned back to see the man had risen from his chair. Lucius was much thinner and frailer in appearance when standing, and he looked thin and frail enough when seated. But a white, firm expression had taken his face, the look of a man who knows he is going into danger, knows he may very well fail, and goes anyway. "Sir, I would be happy to assist you in any way you think I can. My person and my pen are at your service."

Tucking his tablet under his arm, Ambrosius nodded with a small smile. "My library is at your disposal, though you are probably already up to date on the Council members. I am going to see Lord Alan my neighbour about this, and I will be back. Take care of yourself, Tiro mine."