Chapter Thirty-Nine

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Riona felt the words hit her like an axe to the chest. She sank down, still holding Gareth in her arms. They rocked back and forth together, Riona clinging tightly to him just as desperately as he was to her. She was lost in her pain and did not notice as Myrddin ordered the hall to be cleared. Someone helped her to stand and moved her closer to the fire. She and Gareth huddled there, with Gaheris and Agravain beside them. Myrddin brought the boys soup and placed the bowls in their hands. The hall was empty now save for the Alt Clut, Myrddin, and King Artorious. Gawain and Lamorak had been allowed to stay as they would soon be among the king's elite. Myrddin stood close by, observing the conversation with worried eyes.

"We must halt this Saxon advance before the threat reaches Camalann. There are too many holds between Dumnonia and here ripe for the taking," Ser Bors was speaking rapidly, his Numidian accent flaring in his haste.

"We cannot leave Camalann undefended. The king and a retinue must remain here. We have Saxon settlements to our east and south, what if they are part of this insurrection? We cannot open up a weakness for the taking," Tristan spoke evenly, one hand pressed upon the table, the other fastened to his chin.

"I would much prefer to ride with the vanguard," said Artor. Despite his best efforts to look authoritative, the boy king seemed out of place among the circle of men.

"If only Luc—" began Ser Palamedes.

Tristan cut him off before he could finish. "Luc is not here."

Palamedes clamped his mouth shut and glanced at Myrddin quickly.

For the first time in Riona's presence, Ser Bedevyere, one of Artor's older knights, seemed poised to speak. But instead of parting his lips, he raised his hands and made rapid, graceful movements that the squire at his side spoke aloud for the table. "I will lead a battalion of foot soldiers and our cavalry under the command of Ser Bors to confront this Saxon horde." Although the boy was speaking, all the Knights of the Alt Clut kept their eyes fixed to Bedyvere. This was an arrangement they were clearly used to and respected.

Riona realized that the squire was also interpreting Palamedes response for Bedyvere as he spoke, while the knight read the man's lips. "I agree with Bedyvere," Palamedes chimed, "I will remain with Tristan here at Camalann. A defense will not need the horses, and the cavalry will advance more quickly than the foot soldiers to head off the Saxons."

Bedyvere spoke again, nodding with what Palamedes had said. "Ser Bors and I will harry them until the foot soldiers arrive and finish them off."

"All in favor of Ser Bedyvere and Bors leading this attack?" Artor asked, more quietly than Riona would have expected.

All hands rose in unison.

"Then it is decided," said Artor, not pointing out that his wish to join the cavalry had been ignored and disregarded.

"I will begin preparations immediately," signed Ser Bedyvere. He and Bors quickly left the table.

The other Knights turned to leave. Riona tried to offer Tristan a small smile, but he grimaced in response. Lamorak clapped Gawain on the back, and then the Hedge Knight too left the hall.

Soon Riona was alone with Gawain, his brothers, and Myrddin. The Orkneys, it was clear, were barely holding themselves together. Riona reached out and took Gawain's hand. He looked down at her, eyes glinting with unshed tears.

"Young man, may I appraise your wrist?" asked Myrddin approaching Gaheris.

Gareth slipped from Riona's lap and clung to Gawain, who lifted his youngest brother into his arms.

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