Chapter Three

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Despite the storm brooding on the horizon, it was a brilliant day. Riona's mind wandered aimlessly over the rolling hills before her, and beyond that to the broad dark forest that stretched beside the road. She hummed to herself, a lullaby dimly remembered from her childhood. The mournful sound thinned and dissipated into the vast grey sky, carried on a warm breeze.

The journey to the village took her little over an hour on foot. Small homes of stone and thatch slowly surrounded her as she made her way further into town. Though the village was small, it profited as one of the few ports on the coast this side of Tintagel. Merchant ships avoiding a storm or looking to resupply at lower prices often stopped here for respite.

The peel of a bell greeted her from the church on the other side of the market, reminding her that this was also a village not unknown to missionaries looking to convert the wayward Britons back toward something resembling Christianity. Though simple, the chapel was ornate when compared to the hovels half-buried in the hills around it. Its stone façade was covered in the clinging green moss that grows on buildings so close to the sea. Riona's eyes narrowed as the priest appeared in the wood-and-iron doorway. His thick belly pressed against the fabric of his grey linen tunic as if he might burst. He eyed Riona warily as she approached the center of the square, while she ignored his disapproving gaze without effort.

Riona hunched over the well and pulled a bucket brimming with water upward from its depths. She dipped her hands and splashed the water onto her face with a contented sigh. The dust of the road slipped from her skin, more purifying than a baptism. With another handful of well water, she slaked her thirst. Then she picked up her basket of produce once more and meandered toward a vendor.

"Mori-genā," said Conwenna. The old woman was resting in the shade of her stall. "Wasn't expecting you, oh, another week at least."

Riona smiled at the name Conwenna used. Mori-genā. Seaborne. It was a pet name the old woman had bestowed upon her. The story of it was a luscious scandal in the village. Riona's mother, the only woman on a ship full of men, washed ashore one night during a particularly gloomy winter storm, nine months to the day pregnant. The captain had searched the village for anyone who might deliver the babe and found Conwenna. The sound of it was comforting when it came from the old crone's lips.

"My onions sprouted early this year, had to get 'em out of the ground before they turned."

Conwenna nodded her white-haired head sagely.

"I never doubt you know what's best for them that grows in the ground, girl. Wouldn't've been surprised if you had sprung up from the dirt yourself had I not been there to see it."

Riona laughed softly.

"I have radishes and dill too, eh...five pounds of what's left of my cheese, and some forage if you're interested."

Conwenna inspected the basket of goods. Her wrinkled hands gripped an onion firmly between bent arthritic fingers and held it close to her face so that her aged eyesight might spot any flaw.

"A bit smaller than last year."

"Last year they were overly large, Wenna," said Riona firmly.

Conwenna's lips cracked into a broad smile.

"Not gonna sell ye short, girl." She sniffed loudly. "I'll take the whole basket. Just traded for some apples with a bloke. Tried one, not a worm to be found."

"Hmmm," Riona mused, "I suppose I could dry them for winter."

"Make yourself a tart, girl, live a little."

Riona pursed her lips to hide a smile. "What else do you have?"

"This mornin's eggs," said Conwenna, scratching at a mole on her chin, "still don't know why you willn't raise chickens yourself."

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