"Your mother, what color was her hair?"

"Dark. Dark as a raven's wing."

Morgause began to tremble slightly; tears glistening at the edges of her lashes, she let Riona's hair fall back to her shoulders.

"What was her name?" Morgause's voice was a whisper.

"Nimue."

The voice that answered was not her own. Riona spun and met the hard stare of a strange druid. They were tall and lean like Aidan, with the same ferocious gleam in their eyes. Their dark skin glowed in the early morning light as they lowered the hood of their cloak. Riona took a step backward, bumping into Morgause, who instantly gripped Riona's hand tightly in her own.

"And that makes you her daughter. I've been looking for you."

Riona's eyes drifted to the long glimmering spear in the druid's hand. Morgause pushed Riona behind her, still maintaining a grip on her hand.

"Don't think I won't run you through to get to her," the druid warned.

"You can try," hissed Morgause.

"Where is Aidan?" Riona demanded.

"Damned if I know." Their words slipped out with an accent unfamiliar to Riona.

"I'm ever so curious. Tell me, why does Aidan give a rat's shit about you?"

Riona paled, but she stood her ground.

"Who are you? What could you possibly want with her?" demanded Morgause.

The Druid laughed. It was a surprisingly light, melodic sound.

"Oblivious. Unsurprising." They lifted the spear up and took purposeful steps forward.

Riona's breath trembled in her chest.

"You look so much like Emrys." The druid's eyes seemed to swallow her whole.

"W-who?" Riona was ashamed of the fear that clipped her voice.

The druid gave a dazzling smile. "So little understanding." They advanced. "You will die ignorant and afraid. Just like your mother."

Riona felt her blood cool, fear gripping her heart. There was a fast hiss through the air, and the druid leapt backward as a small throwing axe buried itself into the tree beside them.

"What—"

A small figure burst past Riona and Morgause, nearly colliding with them. The druid dug in and raised their spear to meet the on-comer. The sharp, tinny sound of weapons broke the still silence. The smaller figure was blunt in their attacks, swinging two hand axes with sudden hefty movements. The first druid was clearly the better combatant, glancing blows as if they were merely dancing.

"Ava!" they said, "so kind of you to join us."

"Fuck off, Makda," said the small figure. Their voice lilted oddly in a wide accent. They too, were a druid, Riona realized, with pale blonde hair done up in an intricate weave of plaits that hung down past their stout shoulders.

"Persuasive as ever."

Makda grinned and swung their spear in a wide arc, a move Ava had not been anticipating, knocking the smaller druid off their feet. As they stumbled aside, they caught themself oddly on their wrist, which gave a slight 'snap.' Riona gasped, hardly noticing as Morgause let go of her hand. Ava scrambled backward, searching for purchase and holding their hand with a grimace.

Makda raised their spear, then a loud 'thunk' sent them sprawling across the roots of a nearby tree. A large rock fell to the ground beside them. Riona turned and saw Morgause searching for another to throw.

The next few seconds went by too quickly. Ava stood. Morgause raised up, another stone held tightly in her fist. Makda lifted their spear back into their hand and made to throw it. Ava did the same with their axe. The three of them stood poised. The forest went still again for a moment.

"Who do you think will hit their mark?" Makda asked lightly, their warm voice unnervingly calm.

"You touch one hair on my niece's head, and I will rip your throat out with my teeth," Morgause growled.

"Oh, I like you," said Makda.

"You willln't like me." Riona glanced aside as another figure entered the strange truce. Gawain's copper hair was still mussed with sleep, but in his hand, he gripped a sword Riona had never seen before. He stepped in front of his mother and Riona, weapon raised and steady.

"Four to One, Makda," Ava cackled.

Makda assessed quickly, and with very little pause, they turned and sprinted back into the shadow of the forest. There was an awkward silence as Ava watched Makda run away with a look of satisfaction and then turned to see the three humans staring at them inquisitively.

"Right then." Ava ripped their throwing axe from the bark of the tree it had rested in. "Aidan should be here soon, I expect." And with no other explanation, they too ran off into the trees after Makda.

Morgause instantly had Riona in a tight embrace. The two of them sank down into the comfort of the mossy forest floor. Gawain knelt beside them, hand still gripping what could only be his father's sword.

"Niece?" Riona asked.

Morgause laughed through the tears now, gently streaming down her cheeks. "It is a long tale."

The Hawthorn Throne (Book 1, The Blood Of Emrys Duology)Where stories live. Discover now