Chapter Fourteen

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Riona scrutinized the field of crops that stretched before her.

"You should dig small trenches, there and there," she said, pointing to various locations on the ground. "Rain is running down the hill and collecting at the lower half. Explains why you're losing those plants to rot. Seed something at the base of the hill that holds more water, cabbage, turnips," she kept naming vegetables and pointing out areas to improve as one hand shot to Lot's chin to play with his beard.

He let out a neutral noise, on fist faceted to his hip. "You've got a keen eye on you, Riona," he said appreciatively.

"I had similar problems back home. The soil there was mostly rock and held water about as well as a net."

Lot let out a bark of a laugh. "I'll admit I made a better soldier than a farmer," he said warmly.

"A soldier's life is more exciting though I would imagine," Riona said with more than a hint of curiosity.

The corners of Lot's mouth twitched in a smile. "Ah, you wouldn't want this old war dog talking your ear off."

"Morgause said you were an ally of Uther Pendragon." Riona sped right into the interrogation.

"Ally and close friend," said Lot, leaning upon his pitchfork nonchalantly, a distant look in his eye. "We both grew up in the north, more kin to mountains and cold winds than these rolling moors you have down here."

Riona imagined the highlands rising around them, capped with snow, and shrouded in dense clouds like cloaks. She once again found herself envisioning a young Lot, handsome but with fewer worries around his bright eyes.

"We were raised and trained together in Manau. Ceretic was Uther's grandfather. Rome had withdrawn a generation past, but his grandfather still kept their ways, training the remaining Britons and Celts into a force to be reckoned with long after his death. Uther, and I, to a lesser extent, were held to an exacting standard. We were told we must master the four and twenty games before Uther was allowed to take his place as head of the Alt Clut."

"Four and twenty games?" Riona asked, her eyebrows lowering in puzzlement.

Lot lifted his pitchfork and began to mime various training activities. "Throwing, riding, swimming..." As he continued to list off the innumerable physical and lordly activities required, Riona caught a glint of golden-red hair that signaled Gawain's approach.

"I know that look in his eye," said Lot's oldest son as he arrived beside them, "regaling you with his heroic deeds?"

"We haven't even gotten to the deeds yet," Riona said brightly.

"Perhaps I've gone on long enough—"

"No!" Riona objected.

"I brought you both some refreshment, and none too soon I expect," said Gawain, handing them a skin of wine.

Lot immediately launched back into his tale as if he had never been interrupted. Gawain rolled his eyes and smiled good-naturedly.

"Our time arrived when the Scots of Northern Éire invaded Wales. Coel Hen of York promised us lands in return for our cooperation, and we routed them so entirely the bastards have never tried it hence."

"Here, here," said Gawain, raising the wineskin to his lips in a toast.

"Wales is where we found Merlin, or rather Merlin found us. Between Uther's prowess and Merlin's magic, many joined under our banner, and even a few Pictish Kings fought for glory beside us. Where Wales had embraced us, Dumnonia pushed back. The Saxon strongholds we never conquered, but Cornwall and Devon became ours, not to the delight of many a local Lord."

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