Chapter Fifty

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Aidan stood in a corner of the grand hall. The air was thick with the sounds of merriment and the round table heavy with food. A wild boar had been hunted for the feast; its tusked face starred lifelessly back at the crowd. Dancers litter the area before the throne, shades of red, brown, and green swirling about the stone floor to the tempo of a drum and the lyric notes of harp and pipe. Artorious was upon his throne, head resting in one hand, a goblet of wine in the other. He was lazily engaged in conversation with Myrddin who seemed to have had a bit to drink according to his flushed cheeks.

Aidan's eyes searched the sea of faces for Riona. They found her among a small clump of the queen's ladies-in-waiting. She was smiling broadly and seemed to be lost in an emphatic story. The women listened with rapt expressions. It was clear Riona had grown comfortable among them. It was hard for Aidan to remember that this glowing young woman, dressed in finery with braids in her hair, was the same Riona they had found in a humble stone hut on the shores of Cornwall.

Aidan felt a presence at their side.

Ser Lamorak stood next to them, calm and sipping a mulled wine. "I heard the king has pardoned you."

"At the behest of Ser Luc," Aidan replied.

"You are a gifted military leader," said the knight "The round table could use a mind and talent such as yours."

"Already recruiting and only a few hours one of the Alt Clut, Lamorak?"

The man chuckled. "It was an observation, nothing more."

Aidan made a neutral sound in their throat.

"How much longer will you remain in Camalann?"

Aidan sighed through their nose. "We will leave on the morrow."

"Riona as well?" Lamorak asked casually.

Aidan parted their lips in surprise. They had not considered the possibility that Riona may be content to remain here. "I had thought..." they responded weakly.

"She will be sorely missed," said Lamorak, taking his leave without further comment.

As if to punctuate this exchange, Aidan watched as Gawain approached Riona and bowed, one hand proffered toward her. Riona blushed bright pink, but at the urging of the other ladies, took Gawain's hand and let him lead her onto the dance floor. Aidan felt their stomach twist into a tight knot. Gawain was obviously not a practiced dancer, but Riona did not seem to mind. Her eyes were focused brightly upon the new knight's face. Her lips parted in a wide smile. Gawain's large hands drew her close as he whispered something in her ear. Riona's expression shifted slightly and she looked up at Gawain coyly beneath her lashes. An invisible hand gripped Aidan's heart. With effort, they breathed. The song ended, and finally, Gawain released Riona from his arms. As the drums signaled the start of a new song, Aidan felt their feet moving forward of their own volition. Soon, they were standing mutely before Riona, whose face held a look of surprise.

"Aidan?"

Aidan was uncharacteristically frozen in fear. They felt the eyes of the ladies around them burrowing into their flesh. Aidan swallowed thickly and straightened up to their full height. Riona's grey eyes were wide with concern.

"May I have this dance, Ríoghnach?"

Something flashed in Riona's eyes, too quickly to interpret.

With a steady motion, they held out their right hand, palm up. Riona's eyes were affixed to Aidan's as she delicately placed her hand in theirs. Aidan's lips parted in a smile. They drew Riona into the dance, one hand on the small of her back.

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