Jenny: The Philosopher and the Poet

Artos eased himself into his chair as the bull began warming up to his story. As he settled in, he looked up to see Kay flung round, attention fixed on Cathair, and Bedwyr with his chin on his one fist and a bemused, faintly annoyed look on his face. Artos' gaze dropped to his friend's arm. Something in his middle crawled to see the hand gone, some odd raking, electric pain dragged itself up his own forearm. Good old Bedwyr, dependable Bedwyr, tender-hearted Bedwyr. He could see his friend was taking it well, cheerless as his face was. Had it been his brother, Kay would have plunged suddenly into a deep gloom which, had he been a stranger, Artos might have taken it for fits of childish sulking. But despite the pain, Bedwyr was unmoved - if anything he was more determined - and Kay rose like a giddy bluejay to the challenge of lifting his brother's spirits.

Cathair was still going on. Jason had withdrawn to indulge in a quiet conversation with Minna on the far side of the room with a tiny travertine bowl of picked olives between them. With nothing else to occupy his mind, Artos turned to the storyteller.

Between the Greeks and the Irish, he thought, the world was set for stories - pardoning Master Lucius, who was a decent, level-headed man. It was the way of good storytellers to embellish and to lie, Cathair was doing it gamely through his teeth and enjoying every minute of it; and Kay, who liked a story no matter what it was, so long as it was good, was drumming his fingers in punctuating tattoos on the tabletop and casting significant glances his brother's way to make sure he was enjoying himself as well. Bedwyr put forth an effort to be interested, but Kay could tell the story was failing. At the end, Kay said like filly suddenly shying at a wind, "Do you see? I remember the names being different, and there was a fake hand involved in the story I heard, but no matter! Perhaps the Guttersnipe can magic off my hand for you." He put out his hand with a violent bang by Bedwyr, leaning forward to eye it critically. "I am tanner and longer than you. It is a bad match. Ha!"

Artos rubbed his finger along the curve over his eye, thoughtful. Bedwyr, still compliant, was studying Kay's hand alongside his own, but the Merlin could not quite resist putting his own oar in. At least it would keep his mind off other things. With a little philosophical sniff, he took his head out of his hand, elbow on the arm of his chair, and said to Cathair, "Have you studied government?"

Cathair looked over at him.

"I ask, because I have a few thoughts about the basis of your monarchical laws. In your story, you mentioned that a man must be physically whole in order to be competent for the kingship. In a prehistoric culture I could understand that. Physical prowess means command, it means respect, it means presence. But I think the times have enlightened us to understand that there is a more important integrity in a king than merely the body, and that is of the mind. A man can steer a ship with a single hand," here he gestured at Bedwyr, "but it takes a sound mind and a knowledge of where the ship must go in order to keep it from fetching up on the rocks. And the ship of state is surrounded by monstrous rocks. Two hands are better than one, but what are two hands on a man who has no mental constitution?"

He paused only a fraction of a moment to gesture again with a little deft motion. "Your story, apart from being a good tale, shows not only this prehistoric notion of kingship, but it denounces the more enlightened one. The brother of your Lugh, while of an overly congenial nature - is this a crime? - exhibits the traits which a king should. He is patient, he is sociable, he is almost unbelievably forgiving of his brother's theft of his own body. If a sensible man were set before them, and told to choose, which do you think he would rather risk his own life and limb to? Lugh, on the other hand - if you will pardon the play - exhibits a curious amount of lionish selfishness. He is extremely powerful on the field, no one can dispute that, and he is certainly to be commended for his tenacity and bravery. But in the lawroom he shows a dangerous meanness of character which his people ought to take heed of. He risks his brother's life in order to fetch for himself a throne. He did not know the druids were telling the truth. And even if he did know, what he did was in any lawcourt in any land an act of theft: he took his brother's possession without lawful consent of his brother. The theft is compounded by the mortal danger in which he put his brother."

Artos put up his hands. "That it all came out right in the end is a twist of fancy to lull the listener into swallowing down the injustice. The man who made the story knew that it was wrong of Lugh to take his brother's hand, so he made the brother forgiving. The virtue of forgiveness is meant to shine so bright as to obscure Lugh's vice of greed. It is a very quick sleight of hand, and very well played." He leaned back and took the block of wood which he had been carving off the table, and drew his knife, already withdrawing from the conversation. "Thank you for the entertainment, Cathair."

It was very quiet for a few moments afterward. The tiny wood shavings floated from Artos' hands like plover down. Then Kay, with a light laugh, said, "He knows how to tear a thing to pieces. I should not like to be the girl who wrote him love-notes!"

Artos cracked a companionable smile.

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