Hester turned over in her sleep and let out a soft sigh. A tangled web of thoughts and emotions kept Riona awake. With the long stop for the washing, the travelers had not made much distance that day. She could not shake the feeling of foreboding that had taken hold of her as Aidan bid them goodnight. There had been a distant look in their eye all evening, and Riona could not help but feel it boded ill.
She stood slowly, careful not to wake Hester, or anyone else, as she maneuvered around sleeping limbs. Finally, she arrived at the tent flap and poked her head outside, searching for Aidan's form where they had settled down for sleep by the remnants of a fire. Instead, they stood a few yards away. Their dark woolen cloak made them nearly indistinguishable from the shadows of the night.
Riona narrowed her eyes. Aidan was waiting for something or someone, their stance still with anticipation. An owl screeched in the distance, driving an instinctual spike of fear through her. With the fluidity of a ghost, Aidan slunk over the hill and out of sight.
Riona sprang into action, slipping on her worn weathered shoes and drawing her cloak over her shoulders. Just as she was about to step out of the tent, Hester appeared at her side.
"Where are you going?"
"Aidan left. I'm following."
Hester rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "I'm going with you."
Riona was about to protest, but Hester interrupted. "I'm not letting you wander around in the dark by yourself."
"Willn't be the first time," Riona murmured to herself.
"Well, I am not Aidan," responded Hester, throwing a woolen shawl over her shoulders.
She took Riona's hand, and they stepped outside. Riona led her to the hilltop where the druid had disappeared.
"Where would Aidan have gone?" Hester asked softly.
"You say that as if I have any insight into Aidan's decisions," Riona sighed.
"More than you realize, I think."
Riona paused for a moment to consider this.
Hester turned to face her. "Close your eyes."
Riona did as she was told.
"Now, think on Aidan."
Riona envisioned the druid in her mind, amber eyes flashing beneath heavy brows, the loose precision of their movements, and earthy smell of their skin. It was like a scent on the breeze or a feeling in her bones.
"Come," said Riona, pulling Hester's hand and leading her authoritatively.
The night shadows played across the moor beneath the bright piercing light of a full silver moon. The flat of the land stretched out before them like a dark green sea. Slowly, a shape began to emerge on the horizon. Riona caught a chill at the sight, and the women slowed to catch their breath as it neared. An imposing and ominous circle of stones reached upward toward the sky like fingers of a subterranean god, stones placed there by people now long forgotten. Within the circle, shadowy figures moved, speaking in low tones.
"Riona..." Hester murmured, her voice shaking, "we are not meant to be here—"
"No, you are not."
Riona and Hester tried to dart away, but two strong hands pushed them into the circle of stones. Hooded faces turned slowly to inspect them. One of them threw back their cloak, Aidan's usually olive-toned complexion had gone ashy.
"Do these belong to you, Aidan?" asked the voice behind the women.
"Riona..." Aidan groaned in disappointment.
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The Hawthorn Throne (Book 1, The Blood Of Emrys Duology)Fantasy
Aidan and Riona, an outcast and a witch, must survive the dark ages and unravel the threads of two kingdoms tied together by prophecy and blood. ***** In the Kingdom of Elmet, a b...