Chapter Two

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Riona awoke with a chill in her bones. She sat up quickly, convinced that the events of the night before had been a dream. She rubbed her muscles, aching from restless sleep spent curled up next to the fire. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the morning and found the druid where they lay, lanky form splayed across her bed of furs.

They were motionless, save for the small rise and fall of breath that stirred their chest. Riona shifted closer, kneeling next to her strange visitor and truly observing them for the first time. They were strikingly beautiful, with hard, sharp features. Thick, angular brows rose over their eyes and diminished into fine points near the temples. Hair, mahogany in color, grew from a widow's peak in the center of their brow. It had been cut so that it stuck out oddly in a few places as if it had been shorn in haste with a blade meant for rougher violence.

She glanced down at the wound and found the only evidence that remained was a thin silver scar. Her fingertips traced the mark lightly in shock, eyes scanning the rest of the druid's body. A small prick of fear knotted in the pit of Riona's stomach. Numerous scars lined the canvas of their skin, some short, some ragged, each telling a different tale.

The hair on her neck rose. Her eyes flicked upward and met the gaze of the druid.

There was a thick silence. Finally, the druid raised themself up on their elbows.

"It seems I have lived to greet another day," they said, so nonchalantly, Riona's eyebrows shot up in surprise. The druid cocked their head to one side and blinked. "What are you usually paid for such services?"

Riona swallowed thickly, her mind considering the possibility it was impolite or even ill-luck to ask for payment from one of the Fae. "No payment necessary."

"Now that is a true miracle indeed," they responded, with what must have been a chuckle. The druid appraised her with a searching gaze. "In any case," they said finally, "I owe you my name."

Riona's eyes widened in anticipation that their name might hold some sort of mystical power.

"I am called Aodhagán," they said, their tongue shaping the name in the old way, "but known to most as Aidan."

Riona's lips pressed together into a thin line as she absorbed this information. The druid cleared their throat.

"And you are?"

Riona startled, already afraid to have offended them. "Riona!" she sputtered.

A smile tugged at the corners of Aidan's lips. "Ríoghnach," they said.

The sound of her name spoken only as her mother had said it pushed Riona's heart into her throat. When she did not respond, Aidan stood slowly from the bed.

"Well, Riona," they said, slipping back into their garb, which had remained in an unceremonious heap beside them, "it is time I make my leave."

Riona stood, pressing her hands over the fabric of her dress to smooth it. As she did so, she felt something in her apron. She thrust her hand inside and withdrew two shining tin pieces. She looked up. Aidan stood once more in the doorframe, though this time, the light of the morning shone in behind them. Riona remained fixed in place next to the fire. Aidan's eyes glinted as they drew up the hood of their cloak.

"We will meet again, Ríoghnach," they said with a nod. Then, as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone.

An unfamiliar emotion clung to Riona's lungs. She lurched forward to the door and searched for some sign that Aidan had been there moments earlier, but there was none. Inhaling deeply, she steadied her thoughts. Then, as if nothing of this last night of wonders had occurred, she slipped the hem of her dress into the leather strap at her waist and began her morning chores.

Annoyed bleating greeted her as soon as she stepped outside, her three goats quickly clumping around her in expectation of their morning meal. She moved to the side of her hovel where the trough was kept and lifted a great armful of clover from the lidded crate beside it. She sang to the animals as they munched greedily. She knelt beside one, a speckled female with the beginning signs of pregnancy. Riona gently ran her hands along the goat's belly, thinking already of what its offspring could bring her at market. It would mean a more comfortable, more prepared winter, at least.

Riona stood once more and made way toward her humble field. Already, the spring crops were coming in. She observed the patch of earth with pride, both fists planted firmly on her hips. Her slim fingers made their way to her chestnut hair and knotted it into a bun at the base of her neck. With a new song on her lips, she sank to her knees and began to tend her plants.

The sun made its way lazily across the early summer sky as the hours passed. Riona tugged at the base of a, particularly, stubborn onion stalk. Finally, the white bulb shook off the earth and emerged. She dusted the dirt from the plant with a cloth until it shone in the bright mid-morning sun. With a snap of her wrist, it leapt into a basket already brimming with radishes and large fronds of dill.

Riona's joints creaked as she stood. A warm breeze brushed her cheek, and she cast a glance over her shoulder to the east. Thick, ominous thunderheads loomed over the sea. Even from miles away, she could see waves crashing violently against the craggy shoreline. She would need to hurry if she wished to get to market and make it home before the storm arrived.

With this in mind, she dashed into her cottage. She retrieved her only leather pack and began to stuff it with goods to bring to the village for sale. With gentle hands, she lifted a wheel of soft goat cheese, carefully wrapped in cloth, and set it into the bottom. Her other female had kidded the year before, this was the last of her supply until the other began to milk. The day before, she had spent most of her hours in the forest behind her home, foraging for mushrooms and wild garlic. These she placed on top of the cheese before clasping her pack shut and swinging it onto her shoulders. Stepping outside, she lifted the basket of vegetables into her arms, and with a last glance at her home, began the trek down into the valley.

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