Chapter Sixteen

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Together Riona, Morgause, and Gawain made their way back toward their home. The sun was higher in the sky now, and the mists were beginning to clear. Lot stood in the doorway, bare-chested, stretching his arms over his head. As he caught their expressions, he moved quickly toward them.

"Is that my sword? What is going on?" he asked, as he pulled his wife toward him and held her close, planting a kiss on her head.

"Riona and I went to forage and were attacked." Morgause looked up into her husband's face as it paled.

"I heard the fighting and went to investigate," said Gawain, handing the sword back to its rightful owner. "I did not waste time in waking you."

"Next time," said Lot, with a sharp glance at his eldest son.

"But thank the gods he didn't tarry," said Morgause taking Gawain's hand, "or your niece and I may have been lost."

"My niece?" Lot's expression grew even more confused. Morgause tipped her head toward Riona. A breadth of emotions made their way across Lot's face. "How—"

"First, a drink, husband, then I will explain."

Lot ushered them all back inside, where Gaheris poured a round of thistle brew to steady their nerves. The only sound in the room was the slosh of tea in clay cups and birds greeting the morning outside.

Finally, Morgause spoke. "In my heart, I have known from the moment I saw you." The older woman's gentle gaze hovered over Riona. "She was small like you, but fierce too, and I recognized that petulant smile of hers instantly."

Morgause set down her cup with a quick sigh.

"My heart wanted to believe it, but my mind rebelled, I thought perhaps I had grown to miss her so deeply I was willing to find her in a stranger." Morgause reached her hand across the table and gripped Riona's fingers. "But with every day that passed, you reminded me more and more of Morgana."

"But my Mother's name—."

"She was my step-sister," interrupted Morgause, "and when she joined our family, she was christened Morgana, but the name we called her by was her given name."

"Nimue," murmured Riona.

Morgause nodded.

"I...I don't know what to s-say." Riona's voice began to tremble. The entire family was looking at her so tenderly, their warm acceptance foreign, her thoughts searching for any flaw in the happiness that swelled within her heart.

"I always knew I'd find her again," Morgause said softly, "I never dreamed it would be like this."

Gawain stood suddenly and pulled Riona from the chair into his arms. Lot did the same, enveloping them both. In a few moments, the entire Orkney clan was around her, with no dry eyes and only kind words on their lips. The loneliness that had been Riona's constant companion for six years lifted slowly from her heart like dust blown away by a breath of wind. Riona felt the steady beat of her heart in her chest. Home.

After a long while, they all settled down and began to prepare for the day. Animals and crops still required care even on strange days such as these Morgause had said with a laugh.

Lot decided it would be best to set up a watch until they were sure Makda or any other intruder would not return unnoticed. He and Gawain left quickly to gather others of the hamlet and spread the word. The other Orkney boys made their way to the fields while Morgause and Riona cleaned up the mess left behind by the morning meal.

They cleaned what few herbs, mushrooms, and other treasures they had found before being interrupted by the druids. Riona's fingers trembled as she pruned the leaves from a stalk of thistle. Morgause seemed to sense her unease and began to sing softly. She had a high soprano voice that lilted among the wooden eaves of the house. Riona took a deep breath and joined her in song.

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