NB: I don't own any of the characters, they are all Alison Croggon's work...dammit...



They had walked back to Nelac's house in oppressed silence. Cadvan was annoyed, but not overly surprised, at Enkir's decision. Still…it had been a very firm decision, it felt almost as if Enkir was…

But no, that was impossible.

I'm getting paranoid, Cadvan thought, and scowled at himself. He cast a furtive look at the other two as they paced through Norloch's fine streets; Saliman was looking the same as he was, but Maerad…

He knew that reading Maerad's feelings was hard, probably as hard as it was for her to read him, but there was something…

He shrugged it off. She was probably just thinking about her denied instatement, and wondering what they would do next. She was probably still shaky from that odd faint she had gone into…although she had seemed surprisingly steady when she had recovered…

They reached Nelac's house. Saliman made a comment about needing a drink, Cadvan replied almost automatically, he was too focused on the odd expression on Maerad's face. Saliman left. Cadvan broke the strange silence quickly.

"I'm sorry." He grinned at Maerad as best he could, and said a few words about the meeting, but his conversation trailed off when Maerad looked up from her thoughts and literally glared at him.

Why was she glaring at him? Surely it couldn't be because of her instatement…she must have realised there were other options they could try by now…

He tried to reassure her, then sat by the fire, took off his sword and tried to think about exactly what they could do…perhaps the Way of the White Flame…?

Cadvan was so distracted that it took him a second to realise that Maerad hadn't sat down when he had asked her to. He looked up and met her eyes, and all at once felt the anger in them…and all of it directed at him, not at the decision which the court had come to, but at him. It was as if she had become a different person, Maerad had never before stared so venomously at him in this way, not even when they had argued those few times. She had always appeared neutral, sometimes stubborn but that was all…sometimes she had even seemed tender towards him…

What was going on?

He stood up quickly, feeling alarmed.

"By the Light, Maerad, what's wrong?" he heard himself babble. "We just failed to convince a few Bards. That's a setback I agree…"

She cut across him, her voice sharper and more icy than he had ever before heard it. Her tone almost made him flinch, it was just not her

"Where's Hem?"

Cadvan replied simply, feeling stunned.

"I don't know. Probably in the kitchens." Eating another meal, he added sardonically to himself.

"I'll go find him." Maerad turned her back on him, but Cadvan was feeling much too alarmed to just leave it like that. He reached forward and seized her arm, and pulled her back so that she was looking at him. The same hatred was in her white face, implacable and furious. Her skin was cold.

For a second, Cadvan could do nothing except panic about what had caused her new revulsion for him. Then he spoke as gently as he could, unable to keep the apprehension out of his voice.

"What's wrong, Maerad? What's happened to you?"

"Perhaps I have no need of you." The answer was simple, but it stabbed him straight through the chest. She couldn't be…

Was she leaving him?

"Have you gone mad?"

There was a brief moment, a split second, in which the hate in Maerad's eyes dimmed and was replaced with that gentler look, that Maerad look which he found so enthralling. "No," she said, but then it was gone, and the ferocity came back, doubled in intensity. "Please let go of my arm."

No way was he letting her leave. He ignored her comment. "What's possessing you? Where would you go by yourself? Do you think you and Hem would have a chance, with Hulls all over Annar hunting you down?" The thought made him shudder inwardly. Maerad's eyes flashed at his comments, and he could see that she was not prepared to listen to anything he had to say.

But she had always listened before. She had trusted him, just like he trusted her. Where had their trust gone?

Maerad yanked her arm out of his grip and said quite possibly the most alarming comment she had ever said to him before.

"I've managed before. I might do better if I'm not travelling with a Hull in the first place."

It was worse than if she had physically slapped him around the face. Cadvan reeled, now properly shocked. What had he done, to make her think this way? She should know that he would die rather than betray her, whether she was the One or not. He was her teacher, but it was more than that, it had always been more than that...

Cadvan wasn't a man who found he could trust others easily, mostly because he was unsure that he could trust himself. But he had trusted her since day one. He had no idea why.

He had thought that she felt the same.

And now, here she was, she was really leaving him. They had stayed together for more than a few months, they had done everything together, travelled and joked and depended on each other. And now she was refusing him, just like that.


Was it possible that she had found out about…about…

He realised that he was staring at her closed face uselessly. He had to do something to get it through to her, something that would make her tell him exactly what was wrong. He met her eyes and opened his mouth, and exactly the right words poured out of him, exactly the right feelings, all in the Speech.

"By all we have suffered together, by the sworn bond you owe me as your teacher, and by the deeper bond you owe me as your friend, I bid you tell me now: what has happened to you, Maerad of Pellinor?"

They stared speechlessly at each other, hovering on the edge of a terrible break up of everything they had struggled to build. Cadvan remembered when he had first met Maerad, all that time ago in that stinking cowbyre. She had demanded answers off him, showing her full strength even then, and even then he had found her to be fascinating. And then he had seen her eyes and that was it, he was hooked. How could she deny him now?

He remembered, suddenly, the odd expression on Maerad's face and her sudden sharp look upwards when Enkir had been talking to Nelac…what was it he had said?

"I know you have a blind spot where Cadvan of Lirigon is concerned. Perhaps the soft partiality of a Mentor for his former student might be excused, but we all know that Cadvan's history is a little…chequered."

And then there had been Likud in the Broken Teeth: "Think we have forgotten, Cadvan, how eagerly you studied the secrets of the Dark?" Maerad had been there to hear him say that...

Oh no. Oh no. She had realised. She had pieced it all together…

What was he going to do?

Maerad turned slowly away.

"You followed the Dark," she said in a more complex voice, one that was tough and hard but, Cadvan hoped, was also doubting herself. "You betrayed the Light. I can't stay with you now."

So she had realised. She turned to look at him, and for the first time Cadvan couldn't meet her gaze.

"Do you deny it?" she asked.

"No," he said immediately. He would never have denied it, if ever she had asked him. "No, I cannot deny it."

He sensed her slight confusion, but was too mixed up in his own regrets. Why was it that his past always returned to plague him?

"I have never been a Hull, but I…" he found it hard to admit it, even now... "…did things I should not have done. I have paid for it, Maerad. And I have never betrayed you."

As if I would, he wanted to add, but he restrained himself.

Then came the inevitable question.

"Then why did you hide it from me?"

Now he truly couldn't look her in the eyes. He stared at the carpet and battled with the memories of advice people had given him along the way. Dernhil had been particularly firm about his 'little secret'.

"Maerad isn't stupid," he had said sharply. "You need to tell her everything. Cadvan, she's going to work it out sometime and she's going to be furious that you haven't…"

"I know," Cadvan had replied just as sharply. "And I will tell her. When we trust each other enough. When it's the right time."

But they had trusted each other enough from day one, and there had been a right time…He pushed the thought away that in Rachida, when she had asked, it would have been the perfect moment to admit all, and that he been too cowardly and had quickly shut off the conversation.

They had been discussing his family…

"…But it wasn't my fate! And I don't regret it, although sometimes it has made me sorrowful."
"Then why - "
"I'll be answering questions all day, at this rate. I think we should go out and look at Rachida…"

Why hadn't he told her? The truth was that he had been too ashamed, he still was ashamed of that deed, even after all this time. The other reason was that, well, he didn't want to break the unspoken trust between them. He wanted Maerad to know that she could always count on him to help her and to protect her, especially from the Dark, because he cared about her. She wouldn't have felt that if she had known about his past.

It was just like Dernhil had said: "Cadvan, that is what's wrong with you. You want everyone to trust you, without considering your past, without delving into your secrets. What you don't realise that if there are secrets, there is no trust."

He had been completely right. The amount of times Cadvan had just wanted to tell her, nights when they were sitting around the fire discussing all things from cooking to the Balance, times like in Rachida when they had seemed so close…

And now it was too late, and she was going to leave him, and he thoroughly deserved it.

Well he was going to fight to stop that happening. He wasn't going to let her walk away from him and into danger, not when he knew that he would protect her or die trying. He was going to keep her trust. It was time for Cadvan of Lirigon to tell all, at last.

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