Chapter Fifty

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"It may be of no importance to you, Ava, but it is of great importance to me." Ibrahim's voice held the first trace of anger Riona had ever heard in it. "The burial rights of our tribe are sacred, it is not my place to judge Makda, simply to give them transport into the next life."

Ava's thick arms were crossed over their chest, head tossed to the side in disinterest. "I amn't stopping you," they sneered in their hooting accent, showing their grooved teeth like fangs.

"I will help you." Orfeo knelt down next to Ibrahim, one hand pressed lovingly to their cheek. Ibrahim nodded, silver tears running down over their deep-brown skin as they began to search for stones to cover up Makda's dead body.

Riona remained next to Taelthin's corpse, where she had been sitting for some time. She felt no desire to move.

After watching Ibrahim and Orfeo search for a moment, Ava sighed and joined them. "If only to speed things up," they said dismissively.

Riona turned and gazed at the glassy expression of surprise that had become Talethin's death mask. Her eyes wandered over their wounds. The pain in her chest felt just as visceral.

It took over an hour to find enough stones for Makda's makeshift tomb. When it was finished, Ibrahim bent down and pressed their forehead to the rock, murmuring in their Aksumite tongue. In a few moments, they stood and neared Riona. She looked up at them, her body and expression emotionless.

Ibrahim lowered themself down to her eye level slowly. "Riona." They reached out and took her hands in their broad palms. "Where do you wish to go? Should we take you back to Myrddin?"

The thought of returning to a familiar place in the absence of Aidan's presence immediately filled her with a sense of grasping desperate isolation. She shook her head.

"Why was Aidan taking you to Dùn Ad?" they asked carefully.

"To find a ship to Hy-Brasil," Riona's voice was sore when she spoke, chafed with wailing.

Ibrahim hummed. "Would you like us to bring you to The Isle?"

Riona looked up into their warm brown eyes. The sense of loss within her had ripped up her last anchor to the world. She felt adrift and could not see a path forward. "I do not know w-what to do." Her voice broke, and she covered her face in her hands.

Ibrahim wrapped her in a tight embrace as sobs shook her body once more. She had thought that perhaps she had no more tears. But was wrong, it seemed. Ibrahim lifted her into their arms and set her down in the saddle of their own horse. As they swung up behind her. Their form felt unfamiliar where her body desired Aidan's familiarity.

"Let us continue to Dùn Ad."

Orfeo and Ava mounted their horses. The group moved through the darkened forest again. Aidan's absence was as vivid as a ghost, and Riona felt her spirit crumple. Trees around her began to lighten with the first hint of morning, shadows going from black to grey to blue with the rising sun. The huff of the horses and the swish forelegs through underbrush melded with a chorus of birds waking for the day. Heavy exhaustion was overtaking her. She felt her head bob once, fighting against sleep, and then she dreamt.

The vision was more disjointed and chaotic than any she had ever had. The images pieces of a puzzle put together incorrectly. A play where the scenes had been twisted in the wrong order. She saw the young man that had held dying Artorious, but he was young again, riding along the crest of a hill with Gareth at his side, a smile on his lips. She saw Gwenivar and Luc, lying together in a dark room while voices and banging fists assaulted them from beyond a door. There was Myrddin, old and lost, wandering among a thick wood alone, their hands stretched out before them looking for purchase. Artorious sitting alone upon his throne, head in his hands as he wept. Gaheris and Lamorak together in the barracks, whispering in hushed tones and sharing a stolen kiss. Two vast armies fought upon a green field, and the earth turned red beneath them, sweeping across the land in a crimson wave.

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