Jenny: The Devil

Reclined on his couch, with a board laid across his knees, Master Lucius gnawed away at the end of a quill as he scanned the tiny lines of reports jotted down in Ambrosius' hand. By now he had a personal list of the Council members from the tribes and remaining Roman settlements - a formidable list. He found it interesting that Ambrosius' name was not among them. Still chewing pensively on his quill, he muttered, "I wonder what that could mean..."

"Hmm?" asked Wulf, returning with a battered document case.

Master Lucius extracted his quill from his teeth. Gesturing with it at the paper, he explained, "I had always assumed Ambrosius was a Council member himself. He isn't on the list. At least, he wasn't back then. I always assumed he was." He smiled up coyly at his manservant. "Ask the Guttersnipe for me. She would know."

Wulf nodded and handed over the case. It was made of leather and thin slatted wood, the clasp very battered and worn bronze. Master Lucius clicked it open and flung back the flap, peering inside. A tiny flag of cloth, once white, now yellowed, fluttered up at him above the papers. He turned it back.


He glanced quickly down at his list of Council members. The name was familiar: he had only just read it. There it was: Vitalinus - Gentleman of Glevum. He hesitated. By now Wulf had padded out and he as alone in his room, feeling anything but sleepy, regarding the document case dubiously. Did Ambrosius keep such a case like this on every Council member? He and Artos were sticklers for records, but this verged on the irrational. "There must be something sensible behind this," he muttered to himself, and began at once to shuffle among his papers for Ambrosius' estate map. He found it at last, folded over several ways and dog-eared from being pressed between other papers, and on top of everything else he opened it up, lips pursed. The lines denoted his territory in the Eryri and Arfon districts - he realized suddenly that Segontium, not Deva, was the closest city - and also holdings in the Penfro and Cydweli districts on the Sabrina. But what interested him most was the singular holding near Glevum, a holding of respectable size.

Glevum... He put his chin in his hand and squinted into the lamp. Glevum... Glevum and the sheep! The cotswolds! Of course, Ambrosius' biggest herd of livestock were kept in the cotswolds around Glevum.

"Now, for you!" he said vehemently, and without a qualm dug into Vitalinus' document case. Copies of title deeds were unearthed, faintly scrawled maps, a list of tenant farmers and - he found this curious - a list of men sworn to fight under the Council member. One name among them flashed up at him: Iulius Artorius. He began seeing other names, very unBritish names: Ebura, Diegadan, Drumon: next to some of them, in unusually bold and hurried script, he managed to read out "Those damned Picts!" And, with them, more unBritish names, names he recognized well, Hengist's among them. Last of all he pulled out a copy of the deed granting the Saxons ownership of the isle of Ruohim. He stared at it with the light full on it, ignoring the papers that fluttered after it onto the board on his lap.

"We let you in," he murmured, "to take care of a problem. Well! Better ask the devil in to put out a housefire." In disgust he dropped the deed back into the case and turned to the other documents on his lap.

The one page which had fallen loose caught his eye because it was written in a different script than the others. It was unmistakably Ambrosius' handwriting, but did not have, as the others did, the regimented feel of official papers. It was dated on the twenty-first of May but he did not catch a year. He scanned it carefully, suddenly shy of the text running down the centre of the paper. He looked at everything else until there was nothing else to look at, then, with a guilty glance at the open doorway, began to read. It was set up in a dialogue, but Plato and Socrates never had a more furious debate that what Ambrosius had recorded on that single inconspicuous leaf.

Ambrosius: Vitalnius, you can't be serious about this proposal. It's desperate - it's too desperate. We can't afford to drop one frontier defense to put out a fire elsewhere.

Vitalinus: Why, do you have a better plan? We've done all we can do. You said yourself, our military resources are depleted, the Picts outnumber us twenty to one. You and Lord Alan gave us the statistics, the percentages, all the dry numerology of war. Have you come to plead - what? to kill more of your men for a hopeless cause? Do you want glory or to save Britain?

Ambrosius: Fighting the Picts is not the same as having Saxons for neighbours. The Picts live on this island too, and we have to beat them into respecting us or we will never be at peace. We have to do it ourselves. And if we call on Saxons - Saxons - to help us, to help us on our own turf against people on this turf -

Vitalinus: You make it sound like civil war!

Ambrosius: - we will never be free of that. If you feed a stray dog, he is going to keep coming back. We can't afford to be pinched between the Picts and the Saxons. It's not worth the risk.

Vitalinus: Not worth the risk? We have the Picts breathing down our necks, our defenses in shambles, our men hardly worth calling soldiers. The Saxon knows how to fight.

Ambrosius: If you pay him well enough, certainly.

Vitalinus: I know your type, Ambrosius. You've got an itch you need to scratch. Your father stood in a last dark hour and made a name for himself, and you feel the need to be like him. I get that. But don't you dare risk our properties for your fantasies.

Ambrosius: My father is dead, and the dead do not help win today's battles. If you have time, you might remind the Council when you give your address that a mere boy is risking his own life and limb for their properties, not because he wants fame and glory, but because he believes that Britain is something worth saving from heathen tides and barbarian influences - something his father, honoured by the Count Theodosius himself, believed. We don't fight for glory, Councilor, we fight for Britain. And we don't need mercenaries to help us.

Vitalinus: Your numbers suggest otherwise.

Ambrosius: You don't reckon the power of an idea, which is something that made Rome so great.

Vitalinus: An idealist is a dead man - Rome proved that too. And Rome is dead, thank the gods, or very near it.

Ambrosius: If you put forward this proposal -

Vitalinus: You can't stop me, Commander. You're not a member of the Council.

Ambrosius: - you will regret it. And you will make my task all the harder.

Vitalinus: That is not my concern.

Master Lucius reached the end of the page and put it down, unable for a few moments to turn it over and continue on.

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