Chapter Thirty-Four

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Aidan took in a thick breath between their teeth. The air in the catacombs smelled of mildew and damp stone. There was no light, save for the distant, dim glow of a torch. The voices of the two guards assigned to their watch reverberated against the pillars and archways in a muddle cacophony. Aidan sighed and pressed the back of their head against the chilled wall behind them. Their wrists still hurt where they had been held by two of the Alt Clut, dragged unceremoniously from the tourney grounds between walls of an angry mob and thrown into this dank dungeon. The sound of Riona's protests still lingered in Aidan's mind. With a sick groan, they tangled their fists in their hair and pulled in frustration. How long they had been waiting here in the mildewy dark was unknowable. Aidan's hands still shook with the feeling of their quarterstaff connecting with Luc's armor.

Aidan scrapped their knuckles against the stone floor, feeling the skin peel up and sting as tears of frustration pricked the corners of their eyes. Never before had they lost control. The dreams, the waking blurred moments of confusion, it had all grown familiar but this...relieving moments of time, moments they pushed to the furthest reaches of their memory. This was too much. The hungry guilt howling for relief was more livid in their stomach than any hunger for food. Their body begged for sleep Aidan knew it would not find.

The voice of the two guards rose suddenly in protest.

"We cannot let you through—"

"My Lady, please—"

"By order of the king—"

The voices grew louder as the torch bobbed into view. Aidan inched closer to the iron bars of their cage, peering through the dark. Without warning, they were bathed in light. Aidan shielded their eyes from the flame.

"Aidan."

Aidan's heart rose, and their throat clenched shut. Slowly, they lowered their hands. Riona stood before them. Her small frame looked out of place, standing like a defiant flower between the hulking forms of the two guards.

"Are you alright?" she asked quickly. Her eyes flickered across Aidan's features.

"Why are you here?" Aidan murmured.

Riona knelt before the bars and reached through, taking their face in her warm hands.

"I did not know where they had taken you. I was so worried. Lamorak brought me here."

Aidan had not even noticed the hedge knight. He moved so silently they had simply overlooked his presence.

"How is Luc?" Aidan asked softly.

"He survived the night but remains unconscious. Which," she hesitated, "is probably a blessing."

"I did not want this, Ríoghnach. I did not want his blood on my hands," said Aidan, lowering their eyes to the floor.

"I know," reassured Riona. Her fingers gently traced their jaw and then dropped to her sides as she sighed. "Aidan what happened? What did you see? Who is Cynbel?"

Aidan's stomach twisted as her questions tugged at threads leading to a murky, painful past. "Myrddin will tell you."

Riona's eyes flashed in the dim light, and her voice was icy. "I amn't asking Myrddin."

"Lady Riona, we cannot linger," Lamorak said gently.

Riona did not turn, her eyes fixed Aidan in a hard but concerned gaze. Lamorak placed a gentle, bidding hand upon her shoulder, but Riona would not budge.

"What will Myrddin tell me?" she asked more insistently.

Aidan hesitated; they found they could not meet her eyes. The other two guards tried to bully her into leaving with their brutish presence. Riona's eyes were filled with frustration and anger as she turned to leave. When she had disappeared into shadow, taking the torch with her Aidan's voice leapt out.

"The truth!"

The sound echoed against the walls leaving behind an eerie silence.

"Myrddin will tell you the truth..." Aidan whispered to the dark.

***

A veiled orange glow hung over Myrddin's chamber. Hazy fingers of flame moved over the hearth, casting dancing shadows across the wall. Riona's feet barely brushed the floor from where she sat on the edge of the bed. Luc lay beside her in sleep, his chest rising and falling. Riona glanced up as Myrddin bustled in; a wooden platter full of bread, cheese, and sweetmeats was balanced delicately in their left hand. The druid hummed quietly as they set down the tray.

"Come eat, çild."

"Myrddin?" Riona asked softly.

"Hmm?"

"What does that mean?"

Myrddin brushed his hands together absently. "Çild?"

"Yes."

Myrddin pulled out a chair at the table and motioned for her to join. Riona stood quickly and sat on the wooden stool, helping herself to a small portion of bread.

"It means 'my child' among druids." Myrddin's blind gaze looked past her, eyes glinting beneath their thick grey brows. "You know, Riona," they said, pouring her a mug of wine from a clay jug, "you and I are blood."

Riona felt a small bud of warm surprise open in her chest. "What?" she squeaked.

Myrddin smiled gently. "Emrys, your parent, was my sibling."

Riona's eyes widened dramatically. "I thought druids did not keep familial ties?"

Myrddin nodded. "Not usually," they shifted their weight on the chair, "However, Emrys and I were a special case as womb-kin."

Riona's brow furrowed. "Womb-kin?"

Myrddin swallowed a bite of bread. "Twins."

This information sent Riona into a stiff moment of shock. It was as if she were looking at Myrddin for the first time. Suddenly each wrinkle, every freckle, was imbued with importance. This was the closest she would ever come to seeing Emrys, the face of her mysterious parent. With this realization, she almost forgot to breathe.

"I am sure you have many questions," prodded Myrddin gently.

Riona took in a trembling gasp as she blinked back warm tears. "I..I don't know where to begin." Riona tried to take a drink of wine, but her hand shook.

Myrddin folded their hands together in their lap. "How much has Aidan told you?"

"Practically nothing," Riona said sharply.

"That does not surprise me," Myrddin responded. The druid chewed on their lower lip for a moment, gaze suddenly distant. "Well I suppose any explanation should begin before...when we were still young," they murmured to themself for a moment, "but you willn't want to listen to the ramblings of a forgetful elder—"

"But I do!" Riona objected.

Myrddin tried their best not to smile too broadly. "What if instead," they paused, "I could show you?"

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