Chapter Twenty-Seven

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The dim light of morning cast a grey glow about the small drab room. Aidan was seated still and quiet beside Riona on the rotted excuse for a mattress. After chastising Riona for her sneaking off, nightmares had plagued them until they gave up on the thought of sleep. They ran a distracted finger along the edge of their hunting knife. Riona was still asleep, her gentle breathing the only sound. Aidan could not bring themself to wake her. Her face looked serene and unworried in the early light, dark auburn hair glowing around her like a halo on a monastery fresco. Aidan reached down and absently brushed a few stray strands from her face. Riona stirred, her eyes opening slowly, gaze distant as it affixed on Aidan.

"We need a horse." Aidan stood, stretching their arms across their chest.

Riona did not answer. Aidan turned back toward the bed, where she was gazing down at her hands, absently.

"Riona?"

"Horse," she said, her voice still thick with sleep, "I heard you."

Finally, after an uncomfortable silence, she tried to stand, but instead let out a soft sound and fell back onto the bed. Aidan was instantly at her side.

"It's nothing, just a bit d-dizzy," she said, standing again. Aidan's hand hovered near her shoulder.

"I'm fine, Aidan," she said more sharply.

Aidan nodded quickly and turned to leave, lifting Riona's pack onto their shoulders.

Outside the inn, Londinium was beginning to wake. A gruff looking man pulled a cart laden with cabbages past them. A few patrons wandered toward the markets in search of breakfast. Riona hovered near Aidan, her expression full of wonder once again. It was the first sign of emotion they had seen from her. As the pair passed a Baker's stall, Riona distractedly licked her lips. Aidan smirked and stopped, handing the vendor a few tin pieces. The woman proffered Riona a fresh honey cake, still warm and smelling sweet.

Riona's eyes widened, and she tore off a chunk, savoring the taste with closed eyes. Aidan took a small piece and tossed it into their mouth without ceremony. They waved Riona on, and she followed, still enjoying her breakfast. They passed a beggar, hobbled at the feet, covered in what seemed years of grime. Riona's eyes lingered, but before Aidan could tell her to do otherwise, she spun around and handed the rest of the cake to the pour soul. Aidan blinked slowly as Riona trotted back up to them.

"You cannot save the whole city, Ríoghnach."

Riona flushed just slightly. "I know," she responded, her voice low.

The two of them neared a stable. Aidan strode up to the horsemaster, who looked the druid up and down with a bored expression.

"Have any stock for sale?" Aidan asked.

"For more than you've got, I'd wager."

Aidan propped their hands on their hips, lazily inspecting the few mares they could see from the road. "Eh, this is leftovers, anyway."

They turned to leave.

"I've got the best breeds in town," said the horsemaster, spitting to one side.

Aidan spun back around and laughed. "This lot? I wouldn't feed 'em to stray dogs."

The horsemaster flushed a grizzly purple. "Wart!" He commanded a frightened-looking stable boy, "bring out that gelding from Northumbria."

Wart disappeared around a stall and returned trailing the horse in question. It was sixteen hands high, tawny red in color with a long dark mane.

"Feed to the dogs," spat the horsemaster again.

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