SUMMARY: Guinhumara cannot quite let herself like her husband's new friend. Bookverse, gen with implied canon Guinhumara/Cradoc.



NOTES: Thanks to osprey_archer for the beta! Marcus's line — "This one. It shall be this one, for when I hunt boar with your husband this winter." — is from Eagle of the Ninth.

I am only posting some of my fanfiction to this site, due to FFN's content restrictions; the rest can be found at archiveofourown DOT org SLASH users SLASH Carmarthen. Also, if anyone here is looking for more Eagle or Eagle of the Ninth fanfiction, ninth-eagle DOT livejournal DOT com is Ninth Eagle, where there is a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people.

Heron Feathers

The draft of horses that her husband had taken to Durinum had fetched less money than the previous year, and when Guinhumara glanced at the tall clay jars that held their grain for for the winter—half-empty, now, with the bad harvest, instead of full as they should be—Cradoc's mouth twisted up in a bitter smile. "Taxes," he said, and shrugged in a way that meant he was in no humor to talk about it.

Cradoc spent the evening crouched by the hearth, carefully stripping the old, moth-eaten collar of heron feathers from his father's old war spear, that he had not tended since the baby was born, and securing freshly lustrous blue-grey feathers about the blood-stained shaft. He hummed as he worked, a low sound that had in it the shadow of the war-horn, and Guinhumara pulled her daughter closer to her breast and shivered.

It was not that she liked Roman rule, and she feared the coming winter as much as anyone in Isca Dumnoniorum; but also she feared what would happen to her and the baby, still too young for a true name, if all the men rose up and died in the rising. She knew Cradoc and the others still hoped that if it came to that, their rising would bring the countryside up around them, that it would mean something. Guinhumara's mother had been of the Iceni, and she had seen what happened to a people the Romans put down.

But what else could they do?

"You like him," Guinhumara said to Cradoc, after the commander of the fort had left, with the usual polite words to her in his painfully accented British. He was very polite, was Marcus Aquila, and earnest. He made Guinhumara feel ancient, although she thought he was probably her own age.

But she did not think he had ever known real hunger, and certainly he had not ever known the desperate bone-deep fear of a mother who knew her child might not live through the winter.

Cradoc shrugged, laying down the fowl they had brought back and settling down to clean them. "He is likeable."

"You make it harder for yourself."

"I cannot guard my heart as you do," said Cradoc, meeting her eyes and smiling, a queer bitter thing that seemed to hurt him. "And if I make it harder for myself, so will it also be for him."

She handed Marcus the spears, one by one: hunting spears and war spears, mixed together, but for the old heron-collared war spear that Cradoc leaned on as he watched. At last Marcus took one, a boar spear with fire-hardened haft worn smooth and dark by handling, and said, "This one. It shall be this one, for when I hunt boar with your husband this winter." And he smiled at her, a tentative, friendly smile—he always wanted to be friends, Marcus. It was why he had learned their language, why he remembered the words of guest-courtesy, why he asked Cradoc to tell the old stories of the Dumnonii when they sat around the fire after supper. Cradoc liked him for it.

And Guinhumara could not smile back, or even trust herself to stay, afraid she would look at the war spear in Cradoc's hands and Marcus would know. She took the rest of the spears and went back into the house-place, where she sat in the dark, half-listening to the rise and fall of Cradoc's voice, too quiet for her to understand more than half his words—he was telling Marcus about his grandfather, she thought, like a warning, a warning Marcus would not understand. Cradoc was not the kind of man who could let this happen without trying to warn his friend, as much as he could. Cradoc was too kind.

At last she heard Marcus leave and her hands stopped trembling. She stood and went back out to finish cooking the wheat cakes for supper. Life went on, day by day; they had to eat, while they could. They had to prepare for winter. They had to act as though life would go on, quiet and peaceful in the thin autumn sun, as though the new heron feathers on Cradoc's war spear meant nothing.

But as she worked, it seemed for a moment that she could already hear the bray of the war-horn, in the distance.