Chapter Forty-Four

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The great hall was filled with the knights and lords that had remained after the tournament to await Luc's recovery. Riona thought they must have responsibilities they were shirking to stand audience, but she kept the thought to herself. With little appetite, she had wandered away from the feast table and was striding aimlessly among the tapestries along the wall. She studied each in detail. The complexity of the loom work reminded her suddenly of Morgause and the skill with which the woman had danced the wooden shuttle through the strands of wool. Riona turned and searched the crowd for Gawain's familiar face. She found him easily with his crown of copper hair, looking incredibly uncomfortable surrounded by a gaggle of women. 

He caught Riona's gaze and made some excuse to leave and in a few moments was at her side. "It is good to see you," his voice was soft.

Riona turned to look at him face on. He looked older somehow, perhaps it was the beard he had begun to grow, as red as his head of hair. 

Riona reached up and tickled her fingers in it. "It suits you," she said simply. 

Gawain cleared his throat, the skin behind his ears flushing pink.

"How is your family?"

Gawain shifted his weight. "They miss you."

A prick of guilt stabbed Riona's heart. "When you return, tell them I think on them every day."

Gawain seemed uncomfortable. "I...I will not be returning."

Riona blinked quickly and Gawain turned his attention to the tapestry.

"King Artorious has already spoken with me. He intends to make me a Knight of the Alt Clut once this business with Ser Luc and—" he hesitated, "Aidan has concluded."

"A Knight of the Round Table?" Riona's eyes were wide with surprise. "Gawain that's incredible! Your wish—"

"Has come true it seems," finished Gawain with surprising calm.

Riona's response was interrupted as the doors to the hall were thrown open. The summer wind caught all the torches in the hall, causing them to flicker and snap. It had begun to rain heavily and the sound rushed the sudden stillness of the room. Three figures stood in the looming doorway, sided by guards. The tallest leaned heavily upon the others. 

Gawain shrank back in surprise, then with quick steps made his way toward the door, forcing his way through the crowd. "Agravain! Gaheris!"

Riona gasped and followed quickly behind him, much less successfully parting the onlookers. When she finally reached the door, Gawain had Gaheris in his arms, holding his younger brother steady. The boys were soaked to the bone and looked as if they had not eaten in days. Gareth's diminutive form was just barely visible from his hiding place beneath Agravain's cloak.

"Gareth," said Riona gently, kneeling down to his level. 

The young boy's eyes grew wide, and then with a sob he threw himself toward her. "R-riona?!"

Despite the rain dripping from his hair and cloak, it was obvious to her that Agravain was crying and doing his best to hold it back. Riona picked up Gareth in her arms and pressed his shaking form to her chest. He was mumbling something through his tears into her shoulder. Riona made comforting sounds and ran her fingers through his slick hair.

"Why are you here? What has happened? Where are mother and father?" demanded Gawain, as the accompanying guards closed the doors to the hall. 

The room was beginning to fill with curious whispers. Riona turned as the crowd parted and let King Artorious through.

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