A Short Blue Dress

Lying across the bed in Innail, Maerad luxuriously stroked the rich red bedspread, and fingered its golden tassels absentmindedly. Lyla, a few paces away, rummaged through Maerad's dresser, searching for something suitable to wear, for something Maerad would find suitable to wear. Maerad insisted on going to the feast in a normal gown, but Lyla was too excited, for it would be her first Ball (Maerad had been invited to many), and since she wasn't a bard, she thought it all the more exciting that she was invited (she was only invited because of Maerad's special invitation). She wanted something grand and dazzling to wear, and thought that Maerad was dressing too plainly. Lyla's dress was a beautiful green silk dress, spun of the finest material throughout all Annar. Maerad had originally put on her normal crimson dress, but Lyla, horrified, insisted that she take it off. Now, she was hurriedly searching for Maerad.

"Ahh, here we are," she said at last. "This is perfect."

Maerad, with an effort, dragged herself up to look at the dress that Lyla had chosen. What she saw made her heart skip a beat. Lyla had chosen a beautiful blue gown, one that matched her eyes. Its features were delicate and calm, and it was indeed very beautiful. But the neck went very low, and the gown was rather tight. Maerad always felt self-conscious when she wore it, and to this occasion….well, Maerad was skeptical, to say the least.

Lyla sighed in exasperation at the look on Maerad's face. "Come on, Maerad! Just look at it! It's gorgeous! I think it was made for you. And besides," she added, sidling up slyly to Maerad, "If you want Cadvan to notice you, then you must wear something eye-catching like this."

Maerad felt her cheeks flaming. "Lyla," she said sharply, "Cadvan and I are just friends, nothing more, nothing less. That is the way it shall always be."

Lyla raised her eyebrows, and Maerad could feel the burning start up again. But she refused to say any more, and Lyla just sighed again and threw the dress at her.

"Come on, get ready. It's almost time. I'll meet you down there."

Lyla flew out of the room, and Maerad was alone. She looked sardonically at the dress, and then tentatively went over and stroked the soft fabric. It sent a shiver of delight up her spine, and she stood thinking for a minute. Maybe one time won't hurt, she mused, a thrill of excitement running through her veins. She grabbed the dress and ran to the bathroom, ready to look fabulous.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Okay, this was not a good idea. Maerad miserably looked down at the dress. She looked great, but she felt self-conscious and awkward. She had never worn anything like this before. She looked up and saw Lyla running to greet her.

"Maerad!" she cried out happily. "Oh, you look wonderful!"

"Lyla," Maerad whimpered, "I'm not sure-"

"Oh, don't be silly! Just lavish the attention!" suggested Lyla rather unhelpfully.

Maerad glared at her, and then took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. Maybe she could do this. Maybe. She looked into the hall, and then, gazing at the completely comfortable Lyla for support, stepped into the room.

Immediately all went silent. Not because of the dress, but because she was Maerad of Pellinor, Elednor, Fire Lily of Edil-Amarandh. As she descended the steps, they bowed out of courtesy, but Maerad saw everyone exchanging glances and whispering. She also got many approving looks. This made Maerad more confident. This is easy, she thought.

Then, her heart stopped. At the foot of the stairs was Cadvan. He was dressed in his usual attire, the black cloak and silver sword. He gazed at her a long time, and when she reached the floor, there was a long silence before he bowed. When he straightened, she saw in his eyes a strange emotion, something not usually seen in his eyes; she also saw the surprise that she was turning up looking like a queen, the mighty Elednor of Edil-Amarandh. And a stunning queen she was. The silence stretched on and on, until he held out his hand. "May I….May I have this dance?" he asked her politely.

"No," she replied in shock, forgetting that this was the sort of thing you did at parties, and only when she saw Lyla out of the corner of her eye groaning and rolling her eyes and heard everyone tittering did she realize that that was definitely not the right thing to say. "I mean," she said, blushing prettily, "Only if you teach me."

Cadvan laughed, and the spellbound silence was broken. "Certainly. Come with me." He offered her his arm, and they set off for the middle of the floor. The crowd resumed its lively chatter, and the orchestra began to play again. It was a lively piece, and Maerad felt herself quite enjoying it. When it was over, Maerad was surprised to find that she was flushed and breathless.

"That was fun!" she exclaimed.

Cadvan laughed. "For you, maybe. Remember your wild dancing in Thorold?"

"Ah, that was fun. But you never joined me." They stood in an awkward silence for a few moments, and then Cadvan said, breaking the silence, "So, would you like to try another?"

"Only if your feet can last that long," she said, smiling.

He pretended to look offended. "I could out-dance you any day."

They began to dance again, this one even more upbeat than the first. After that they kept dancing, long into the night, and Maerad was reminded of something Dharin had once said to her: "The Pilani dance in defiance of death and grief and hardship. They choose to burn before the darkness, rather than gutter out like a dim flame." Maerad certainly felt like she had faced enough darkness. She was letting go. During one dance, she had to spin so much that she felt dizzy, during another, they had to switch partners, and Maerad found herself dancing with Saliman, Soron, and last of all, Hem. As she danced with her brother, he quietly told her something he had heard.

"The people at the table next to me said you looked like a princess. You do look lovely tonight, Maerad."

"Thank you, Hem," she said, surprised at the unexpected compliment.

"But Maerad…they also said….they said…"

"What?" she asked when he didn't go on.

"They said that…that you and Cadvan were looking at each other like…like lovers do. Are you…do you love him?"

Maerad slowed her dancing steps. "No!" she said forcefully. "Cadvan and I are just friends. That is all."

Hem looked at her skeptically. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," said Maerad. She could tell he didn't believe her. "Hem….Cadvan and I are friends, and that is what we shall remain. I'm sure he feels the same way."

"No he doesn't!" Hem suddenly burst out. The people gathered around them turned to look, and Maerad smiled at them in exasperation, and then dragged her brother to behind a nearby pillar.

"What do you mean, Hem? Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine," he said, shrugging her arm off. "I just need to tell you…" he trailed off and then looked around secretively before continuing. "I just need to tell you that last night, I overheard Cadvan talking to Saliman. He…he was telling Saliman that…that he was going t-to tell you that…that he loved you today, because today is the anniversary of day you met.

Maerad stood up sharply. Indeed, today was the Springturn. "Are you sure, Hem?" she asked in a quivering voice.

Hem glared up at her. "I would not lie to you. And Maerad, I am sick and tired of you telling everyone that you and Cadvan are 'just friends' because you aren't! Everyone else can see that, so just admit it. I'm worried for you, Maerad. You must stop hiding your feelings. Please, it isn't good for you."

Maerad stared dumbly down at him, and then he turned and walked away. Just then, Cadvan walked into the area. "Ah!" he said, spotting her. "There you are. Come, the dance just ended. They're starting a slow one, and I daresay, I'll probably be better at this one than you, Wild Girl."

He smiled at her, and she weakly smiled back. Did Hem really know what he was talking about? How could she concentrate with that on her mind? She tried to push the thoughts away, but with no success. She pushed her hair back behind her ears, then followed Cadvan back to the dance floor. He put his arm on her waist, and she put her hand on his shoulder, and then the dance began. It was very slow, and quite relaxing; it made Maerad drowsy just listening. This one was rather easy to dance to, simple steps, and Maerad felt herself enjoying it. The sun faded into the west, and Maerad could almost hear the stars singing. It was a perfect night. Cadvan felt it, too. Quietly, he put his hand on her neck and tipped her head back, then, ever so slowly, he kissed her; softly, tenderly.

Maerad felt a blind panic take over. She leaped out of his arms and twirled to face him, hands raised to curse. Then she saw that she had done it again. Her face paled. Must she always fear love? Hem was right. She needed to let loose. "Oh, Cadvan. I'm…I'm so sorry…"

"No Maerad. It is I who should be sorry. I still forget that you do not trust your heart, and that your past has been brutal," he said, his eyes starting to tear up a little, and she saw with pain the hurt and anguish in his eyes. He began to walk away, his shoulders slumped in discouragement.

"But Cadvan….I do trust my heart, and I'm afraid that I just…..panicked a little. I really do….love you," she said uncertainly, her hand reaching up to push yet another strand of hair behind her ear. "Could we-I-try that again?"

Cadvan turned back and looked up, surprised. They stood, staring at each other for a long moment, and then, wordlessly, Cadvan walked over to her, took her hands, and kissed her. They stood like that for a long moment, and Maerad was not afraid. This was Cadvan, a man she knew and trusted. And this was where she was meant to be. So as the night faded to black Maerad discovered true love at last.

The End