Chapter Forty-Four

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Riona awoke as pink and bright dawn broke over Camalann. Her head was heavy and dull from the drink and restless sleep of the night before. She rolled to her side. Gwenivar and Caiside were still asleep, both looking angelic in their slumber. She had the sudden feeling of being trapped amid the web of lives woven around her, an inexplicable sense of dread settling in the pit of her stomach.

With a deep breath, she sat up and stretched her arms over her head. A wide yawn caught her mouth as she slipped from the bed, and with motions still clumsy with sleep, pulled on a dress. Her bare feet slapped against the stone floor as she moved out of the room and made her way to the ladies' chamber. Inside it was already a bustle of activity. They greeted her with a chorus of voices and then returned to their duties. Riona helped herself to a bowl of porridge and fresh berries, the fruit bursting on her tongue. She felt more at ease as the warm grains filled her belly.

"I've packed you some things." Rowena appeared before her, arms burdened with two bursting leather saddlebags.

"You needn't have," Riona mumbled in surprise.

Rowena dismissed the comment. "I was worried Elaine might try to stow away in one of these," she said, setting the bags at Riona's feet.

"I would not!" protested the younger woman. Laughter filled the room, and Rowena embraced Riona.

"Thank you."

"Be safe," Rowena murmured.

Riona pulled away and took a deep breath to steady her emotions. Elaine rushed toward her and gripped her in a tight hug. When she was finally released, Riona picked up the packs and said a final goodbye. A chorus of farewells ushered her out the door.

Riona found her boots outside and slipped them on. The remaining journey down the stone stairway was slow-moving with the heavy packs, but finally, she arrived at the courtyard.

Outside, a thin mist still hovered in the air. Camalann was busy even so early in the morning; soldiers trained, servants rushed back and forth with brimming baskets. In the center of it all stood Aidan; their long lanky form still amidst the chaos. Beside them was Gringolet, already brushed and saddled. Myrddin stood between the two, fur-trimmed cloak pulled over their head and shoulders. The two druids were murmuring to one another. Aidan glanced aside as Riona approached and fell silent.

"Good morning, Çild," Myrddin said, with a small smile as her footsteps announced her presence.

"Come to see us off?" asked Riona.

"With a heavy heart," said the old druid, wrapping one arm about Riona and squeezing her shoulder.

"You are not alone, it seems," said Aidan, glancing over their shoulder.

The Orkneys approached across the courtyard.

Gareth broke into a run at the sight of Riona and sped into her waiting arms. "You're leaving again?" he asked, eyes bright and pleading.

"I am sorry, Gareth."

The small boy's lips trembled slightly, but he asked no more questions. His brothers caught up, and Riona set the small boy down. He clung to the fabric about her knees and made soft crying sounds. Riona took Gaheris' hands.

"Take care of each other," she said gently. Gaheris nodded and sniffed back his own tears as Agravaine set a steady hand upon his shoulder.

Riona turned to Gawain. "Gawain—"

Gawain's curls dipped about his face as he lowered his lips gently to Riona's. The kiss was short and soft, just as their time together had been. With a stoic expression, Gawain turned to Aidan and nodded. "Keep her safe."

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