Chapter Twenty

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Riona awoke early and found the warmth of Hester's body still beside her. In sleep, Hester looked angelic. Her long dark lashes brushed the burnished bronze of her cheeks. Riona kept perfectly quiet, following the hook of Hester's statuesque nose with her eyes.

Outside nothing stirred except the morning call of birds. Riona slipped quietly from the tent. Mists still blanketed the camp in fog. Beneath a warped and aging tree slept Aidan, wrapped tightly in a cloak damp with dew. Riona knelt beside them.

Without warning, Aidan began to thrash in their sleep, a sickening noise bubbling up from their throat. Riona gasped and avoided one of their gangly limbs as it nearly connected with her cheek.

"Aidan!" she said, shaking them vigorously.

Aidan let out a strangled scream.

"Aidan!" Riona yelled.

Aidan's eyes flew open, but their gaze was distant and looked beyond her.

"Shhh," Riona ran her fingers through their thick hair.

Aidan relaxed slightly and blinked, their chest rising and falling rapidly. "Good morning." Their voice was rough as their eyes finally found her.

Riona tried to smile. "What was that?" she asked, unable to mask the concern in her voice.

"The reason I do not sleep," said Aidan, rubbing their face with their palms.

Hester appeared at the entrance to the tent, her face awash with concern. "Everything alright?"

"Just a bad dream!" Riona said cheerily, "nothing to worry about."

Hester seemed appeased and moved toward them. "One of my cousins found a stream nearby," she said, "we are to do the washing today."

Riona pressed her hands down the side of her dress. It was stiff with the grime of travel. "This could do with a wash..." she said dismally.

Hester nodded for her to follow. Asena and a few of the other women were arranging baskets of clothing. Hester pointed them out.

"This one is for your underskirts, this one for your dress, and anything else can go here."

Riona's brow puzzled. "Would it not be simpler to wash everything together?"

Hester's face flushed in embarrassment. "N-no," she stammered, "there are strict customs for such things."

"Oh..." said Riona weakly, "I'm sorry."

Hester waved her hand in front of her face. "You are goyim, it is not your place to know," Hester continued as she added her own clothing to the baskets, "here, you can wear some of my clean things while we wash your dress."

Hester led her back into the tent. Riona silently thought that none of Hester's lovingly sewn skirts and blouses would fit her thin frame. She shirked off her dress and handed it to Hester, who, in turn, handed her clean clothes.

"These should do," she said enthusiastically.

Though the fabric was not as elegant as the blue dress Morgause had given her, Riona found the array just as beautiful in its own way. Hester helped her in dressing as each piece had to be put on in a particular way. First, the breeches, which were worn soft with gentle use. Then Hester helped her into several layers of petticoats. She explained that to increase the length of use, the waistbands were sewn with ties so that as one grew, the width could be adjusted. Even the tightest sizing was slightly loose on Riona's frame, but she was not uncomfortable. The blouse Hester pulled over her head was of finely woven linen that had been dyed a deep red with beets. The collar and cuffs were delicately embroidered with flora. Riona admired the work, knowing she could never replicate anything so ornate.

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