NB: I don't own these characters, they all belong to Alison Croggon. I tried to lock Cadvan up in my mind once, but he managed to escape…dammit…

XXVII
PELLINOR

Darkness was spreading through the ruins of Pellinor like a bat wrapping its wings around its body, and, not for the first time that day, Cadvan of Lirigon found himself doubting Ardina's words.

She had come to him in a dream - he could see it as clearly as he saw the darkened ruins around him; her pale face, her tranquil expression, the delicate tendrils of light that had swirled around her body, the enticing smell of lilacs and lavender in the moonlight…and the words she had spoken: If all goes well, seek the Lily in her birthplace on Midwinter Day.' And above all that feeling he had felt when he had awoken - that he would see Maerad again, he would see her again…if all went to plan.

What if it didn't?

The question had plagued him endlessly since he had had the dream, and all the more especially today. It was Midwinter today and he was where Ardina had told him to be…

So where in all of Edil-Amarandh was Maerad?

He had no idea what he would do if she didn't turn up tonight - he hadn't had a clue what to do before the dream if he was totally honest with himself. He had done so much and he had gone so far…it was more terrifying than he could say to face the thought that he might never see Maerad again.

The stew spat and brought him nastily back to reality. He leaned forward and poked the fire with a stick, trying to discourage himself from thinking too much, which wasn't easy when Darsor said silently,

She will come.

Maerad's face as he had last seen it, pale and tired and strained, came back to him vividly, and he had to restrain himself, again not for the first time that day, from springing to his feet and shouting: How do you know? You don't know! She might not come! I may never see her again! She might be - she might be - dead…

Instead, he drew his hood over his face and said merely: I know. And then continued to poke the fire again.

Gradually, he became aware that something was watching him. Something in the shadows, just out of the circle of firelight, was watching him. He turned his head and squinted into the darkness, his heart pounding. Could it be - ?

But no, he saw at once that it was not her. It was a wolf. A thin, rather scrawny wolf, standing hesitantly by the ruins and eyeing his stew with obvious hunger.

He stood up slowly so as not to frighten it, but it didn't move. Instead, it took a few paces into the light and stopped again, nervous. Cadvan watched it carefully; he had met very few stray wolves in his lifetime, but he knew enough of them to know that this one was behaving rather strangely…or perhaps it was the hunger that was driving it so, or making it so nervous. But he couldn't deny there was something in its eyes, something more complex than the mad hunger of an animal…

It tore its gaze from his and took a few steps closer, stopping every so often as if it were performing some sort of bizarre dance. Cadvan waited, and realised that his heart was hammering in his throat; he was nervous, but he had no idea why.

It is just a wolf…

He spoke; more to relieve the tension in the air than anything; Samandalame, ursi. Welcome, wolf. You look hungry.

The wolf glanced up, with a characteristic flick of its head that reminded him of vaguely of someone he knew, and he was greeted with the flash of two very blue eyes.

And then it went very still.

He waited for the wolf to speak, but it stayed silent, staring dumbly up at him as if he had appeared out of thin air, as if he had risen from the dead. The two stared at one another for that split second, and Cadvan was swiftly overwhelmed with the undeniable feeling that he knew

The wolf bounded forward abruptly, taking him by surprise, and he yanked his sword so hard out of its sheath that he had to step back a little. The wolf veered away from the sword violently to avoid being rammed onto the blade, and fell to the floor, panting. Cadvan stared numbly at the animal, sword still drawn, confused by its reaction - was it because he had spoken to it…?

I do not wish to harm you, he said as gently as possible, but again his heart was thumping so loudly that his ears hurt from the vibrations of it, and for no reason whatsoever. You need not kill me for food.

The wolf slowly picked itself up, then flicked its head again in that oddly familiar way, sat on its haunches and closed its eyes. Cadvan watched, his mouth open to ask what it was doing, but all words vanished on his lips when the wolf seemed to, well, to morph.

He saw dark hair first, darker than the coat of the wolf, spreading like ink across its back, and then the rest of the body seemed to turn flesh coloured, or the dark blue of a robe, and the whole animal seemed to grow, almost double in size…And then extra limbs appeared, and other parts of the body either shrank or grew, and Cadvan, watching in complete astonishment, realised a split second before the transformation had finished just what was going on –

And then she was there, Maerad of Pellinor, the one he had waited for, the one he had longed to see, all those days apart and now she was sitting on the floor in front of him and she was here.

She opened her eyes and looked up at him, her face paler and her body thinner than it had been when they parted, but her eyes the same, her features the same, herself the same…

He had no idea what to say; what could he possibly say - to that?

"I suppose," he found his mouth saying for him, "that you would still like some stew?"

Maerad laughed, her voice ringing like bells in his ears, and then she bounded up from the floor and threw herself on him, so hard that he almost fell over again. He felt her arms twine around his neck and responded by wrapping his own around her waist, and letting her face rest on his shoulder…and there they stood, lost survivors clinging to each other amongst the dark, lonely ruins.

She was back, he said to himself. She was here, and he was here, and they were here together - all those long weeks waiting and worrying, wishing he had listened to her beforehand, that they had made things up before she had vanished, fretting that he would never see her again in order to do so…all those emotions washed out of him at the feel of her embrace. She was here, she was back, she was with him…

Cadvan had never been so purely happy.

So...Review! Or I set loose the wers!