Chapter Thirty

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The fire in the center of the round table danced and cracked with blazing heat. Aidan pushed portions of food on their plate absently, neither hungry nor interested. Their gaze kept flicking upward across the flames to where Riona sat next to the queen. She looked as if she almost belonged there among the court women. There was a homely simplicity in Riona's beauty that looked false among the ornaments and styles of the nobility around her.

Beside them, Myrddin was deep in conversation with Ser Luc. The knight was just as disinterested in the summer tournament as Aidan had been, and Luc had risen in Aidan's summation because of it. This Lancelot was clearly the true military leader of the kingdom. Artorious was shockingly young, Aidan could not believe that Myrddin had abandoned their people to meddle in the affairs of a child king. The older druid insisted, however, that Artor was born to greatness.

To their left was a character Aidan found much more interesting. Ser Bomilcar, who insisted on being referred to as "Bors." He had regaled Aidan for some time with stories of conquest in his native Numidian homeland. Quick to smile and laugh, Aidan was taken in by the stunning flash of white teeth against the man's dark skin. His fashion was almost Byzantine, a simple frock gathered at the waist by a colorful sash, ornamented at one shoulder by a large bronze brooch. When Aidan questioned the design, Ser Bors launched into a detailed explanation of his military exploits from which he had plundered the thing.

The queen's warm voice silenced him as she spoke. "Ser Tristan." The knight in question looked up from his meal. "Would you entertain us with a song?"

Tristan nodded and stood. He was younger than Luc by a handful of years, with a mop of golden curls and eyes as green as the summer sea. He too came from Cornwall just as Artorious had. The knight withdrew a small harp from beneath the table. With slow steps, he circled the seated court, his long, calloused fingers plucking expertly at the strings of his instrument. Aidan watched as many of the ladies began to whisper to each other behind hands, their cheeks flushing amorously as Tristan started to sing. Aidan resisted the urge to sneer. The knight had an undeniably beautiful voice to match his handsome face; Aidan admitted silently, a rich tenor that enveloped those listening like an embrace. The song he sang was unfamiliar.

"Miri it is while summer i-last

Wit foules song;

Oc now negheth windes blast

And weder strong.

Ei, Ei, what this night is long,

And Ich with wel Michel wrong.

Sorwe and murne and fast."

As he sang the last phrase, Tristan paused beside Riona's seat and strummed a final chord. With a small smile playing across his red lips, the knight leaned down and whispered something in her ear. The expressions of the smitten women around her fouled. Aidan felt some empathy for them as their own jaw clenched. The queen arched an eyebrow and brushed Tristan away with a wave of her hand. Riona was now staring fixedly at her plate, unblinking, apparently trying to will away the blush that had spread across her cheeks.

"Thank you, Ser Tristan, that was lovely as ever." Artor's youthful voice echoed from the north side of the table, his face beaming. "Do our new guests sing or perhaps know any poetry? I am so fond of hearing songs and verse."

Before Aidan could refuse, Riona stood, her voice trembling. "I-I can sing, M'lord."

A grin broke across the king's face once again. "Indeed!"

Aidan tried to mask their surprise as Riona moved away from the table. The unfamiliar gown she was now wearing seemed heavy on her small frame. She began to circle the audience as Tristan had done. Her alto voice echoed against the stone of the hall as Aidan's breath stilled in their chest.

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