Chapter Twenty-Nine

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The next few days passed for Riona as brief moments of waking between long hours of sleep. Her fever had broken, yes, but she remained weak. Aidan refused to leave her side, helping her to eat, drink, and walk despite her protests. This morning she had awoken feeling renewed for the first time. She drew a horsehair brush through her wavy chestnut locks, untangling the knots with her fingertips. Aidan and Myrddin were deep in conversation near the fireplace. Riona watched them out of the corner of her eye with interest. Unable to make out their words, she could only rely on her knowledge of Aidan's mannerisms for any hint of what the two druids were so heatedly debating.

For a moment, her thoughts flickered back to the feeling of Aidan's lips against her brow. Riona pushed the thought away and dug the brush through her hair roughly as if in self-flagellation. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and pushed herself up onto her feet. The stone floor was chill against her toes. With teetering steps, Riona made her way to the washbasin in the corner. She dipped her hands into the bowl and splashed the water against her face.

"Riona!" Aidan's voice was startled, "You should still be resting!"

"I'm resting my life away," Riona protested as Aidan appeared at her side, hands holding her firmly as if she was a bird about to escape.

"In the name of the gods, Aidan let the poor girl breath," Myrddin said without turning their way. Riona cast a thankful, but unseen, glance at the older druid. Before Aidan could argue, a knock on the door interrupted them.

"Come in."

A man entered. It was his formidable size, which first struck Riona. He was not inherently handsome, yet there was some comely honesty in his face that seemed to attract the eye.

"Master Merlin, Artor sends for you and your guests." Luc's eyes hovered over Riona.

"Very well. We will attend him directly."

Riona paled. Luc nodded curtly and then turned to leave, casting one last curious glance in Riona's direction.

"Riona is in no condition to be meeting anyone, much less the king, Myrddin," Aidan spun and faced the older druid.

Myrddin gave a knowing smile. "I think that's something Riona should decide for herself."

Aidan's jaw clenched visibly.

"I don't understand why the king would want to meet me," Riona said softly.

"News of your mysterious arrival is the latest gossip in Camalann. King Artorious does not like to be the last to know a good story, nor have unmet visitors in his keep so long."

Aidan let out an exasperated sigh. "We have no time, we must—"

"If Riona is too weak for pleasantries, she is too weak for travel," Myrddin observed with a smirk, "You are here as guests of the crown. At least let him take a look at you."

"We are not minstrels to be trotted out—"

"Aidan..."

Riona glanced up at Myrddin, suddenly understanding his reputation as a fearsome wizard. Their green eyes flashed dangerously as their lips pressed into a thin line. The scene was like a parent scolding a small child throwing a tantrum. Riona's gaze shifted to Aidan, who seemed uncharacteristically abashed.

"Make yourselves presentable," Myrddin said before sweeping out the door.

Riona stood in awkward silence, one hand latched across her chest as if she might take up the least amount of space possible. Aidan passed a hand over their face and sighed. Riona made her way back to the bed, where Aidan had stowed away her leather pack. She fished around inside and withdrew the deep blue gown Morgause had given her. Aidan was still staring at the door Myrddin had passed through and muttering to themself. Riona slipped from her dirty gown into the other quickly. The beautiful fabric fell softly against her skin. She smiled, tugging at the stiff beaded edges of the sleeves that ended in points over the back of her hands. Riona gave a small turn, letting the deep colors of the gown dance. As she did so, Aidan turned, watching her with an open expression of surprise. Riona immediately stopped spinning.

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