Chapter Twenty-Six

504 53 25
                                                  

Riona had expected the risk of plague to make finding room and board less worrisome. The bustle of Londinium was not hampered by such trifles, apparently. Her feet were heavy and sore by the time they found an inn with vacancy. It was near the northeast corner of the city, where the ravages of the disease had hit the hardest. Guards stood at the hastily erected barricades along the roads that led further in. More to keep the sick in than the healthy out.

The inn was a mud and straw brick affair with no windows; the emblem that had once been carved into the side was now almost completely worn away. Riona followed Aidan inside, her mouth parched and stomach hungry. The interior was as sparse and uninviting as the outside had been. A handful of grey looking patrons sat around abused wooden tables sipping out of dirty clay mugs. They all turned to eye the newcomers with suspicion. A large man with more hair than Riona had ever seen on a human being approached them, scuffing up dust and dirt from the sparsely straw-strewn floor.

"Room?"

Aidan nodded. "One for me and the wife, one night should do us, sir."

Riona thought Aidan might be enjoying their act of refugee farmers a bit more than was decent.

"Meal?"

"If it weren't too much trouble, sir." Aidan ended each sentence with a slight bob of their head.

"No trouble if you're paying for it," said the Innkeep with a gruff laugh. He gestured to the only open table. It was far in the dark corner of the room.

Riona felt relieved she would not have to mingle with the other customers, as it readily became apparent she was the only woman in the establishment. Aidan placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and moved with her toward their table.

As they sat, the inkeep reappeared with two bowls of what turned out to be a thick stew of mostly gristle and root vegetable greens. The fat from the meat swum lazily at the top of their bowls, and Riona took the wooden spoon that she had been given and stirred it with a grim expression. She was far too hungry to be particular, and soon the meal was warming her belly. Aidan leaned back in their chair and took a long drink of mead, which was surprisingly good, if strong. Riona had had only half a cup, and already her head was buzzing as if the very bees that had made it were present.

"Can we not help with this plague, Aidan?" she asked hesitantly, her fingers drumming against the surface of the table.

Aidan seemed taken slightly aback. "How would we begin to do such a thing?"

Riona glanced up and met their golden gaze. "Well...what with my herblore and your healing I'm sure we could at least save a few—"

"Have you ever seen a plague, Riona?" Aidan cut her off, their tone was gentle, but the interruption set her teeth on edge.

"No," she admitted.

Aidan sighed and took another long draught of mead.

"It is an ugly thing," they said finally, "there are many forms. Each unique in the exact pain and rapidity with which it claims its victims. You have seen me heal wounds, Riona, but sickness is another thing altogether. Disease infects the blood, the whole of the body. A wound is just one thing, one hurt. For my people, healing is both alchemy and art. The great healers are those that study for many years, who were born into it, and even they give up much of themselves when healing illness. It is no easy task, and I am not talented in it."

Riona swallowed this information with a small sip of mead. Some internal force rebelled at the thought of leaving these people to their death without even attempting to help. Aidan seemed to sense this.

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