"What is bothering you?"
"Whatever is bothering you."
The bootlace thunked as Ambrosius jerked it from its metal latch. The boot came off, and so did the other, carefully set aside to be cleaned. They had got mucked up rather badly: the snow had turned to mud in most places. The Guttersnipe watched his movements in introspective quiet. The dark had fallen; the two lamps and the brazier cast very little light in the chamber, and Ambrosius sat nearly on the outside of the well of gold, the light catching only his ring, his buckles, his eyes. It turned him badger-like, for out of the darkness of his hair she could see the faint streaks of silver at his temples. It was Albion's whiteness, she always thought. The badger straightened, staring at her out of the edges of the panther-dark, the electrum uncanny in his eyes.
"That is a rather large thing for you to bother about. Are you sure you know what all it is?"
The Guttersnipe stroked Champion's feathers. The Bird twisted on its perch - she wore one of Ambrosius' hawking gloves, which was much too big for her - and ruffled its nose-feathers against her hand. "It does not matter. It is bothering you, and so it bothers me."
The badger smiled, showing its teeth. "I wonder," he said.
"What was it that Lord Alan said? Have we any chance?"
He shrugged. "We have as much chance as we ever did. Alan and Lucius and I will do everything that we can, but..." His voice lingered on the silence a moment. "I may have to go before the Council in the spring."
Distaste crawled across her face. "Shahou!" she hissed. Champion snapped out his wings and fluttered, regaining his balance. "But why? They're only silly fat men with silly fat thoughts, and they know nothing of Britain and nothing of war and nothing of anything but silliness and fat. If I were a man I would tell them what I thought - I would tell them what I thought with my sword, and make them leave you alone."
"I am sure that you would," said Ambrosius soothingly. "But for some reason you are not a man, and, for their credit, they do a little more than think of silliness and running to fat."
"There is no running to it," she replied sulkily. "They have got there already." She added, still more sulkily, "I don't like fat."
"Nor I, but let us be charitable."
She looked sidewise at the badger in the shadows, her hands still methodically stroking the Bird. He was hiding something, she could see it in the way the silver of his eyes grew darker, and the careful way he kept his face, always smooth, always gentle, as a man might walk when stepping barefoot across a shelly beach. She wanted to say something, but she could not think what and her throat unexpectedly tightened at the last moment.
The badger rose and padded across the room to shutter the window and put on a sleeping tunic. With the hypocaust empty, the floor was pleasantly warm and the bite of the chill was taken out of the room. The Guttersnipe breathed constantly the scent of woodsmoke, which was to her the smell of colder months.
He looked up from adjusting his ring. She had swallowed the tightness, but it kept coming back. He waited without a sense of bewilderment. She wondered if he could feel, as though it were in his own, the tightness of her throat. She did not know how to say it, or if she wanted to say it - as if it might be unlucky - or even if he would understand.
A spasm of agony passed over his face, and vanished almost at once. "I'm sorry, pigeon. I'll do my best."
So, he had understood.