NB: I don't own Maerad or Cadvan or even their world…I'm gonna go cry into my hanky now…

Chapter 1 – The Calm Before The Storm

Maerad awoke to another morning of almost heavenly peace in Til Amon, her room alight with the bright, white winter sunlight and her self rolled up cosy and warm under the sheets like a hibernating animal under a sheet of snow. She could hear the faint babble of waking human life pouring through the nearby open window like a stream of silver – vague chattering, someone whistling, the trill of a flute, wheels rattling on the cobbles outside. Normal, everyday noises. Comforting noises, for one who had hardly experienced such normality herself.

Bliss, she decided. This was bliss. No finery, no glory, no fame. Just waking up in a clean, warm bed on a beautiful winter's morning. Bliss. If only she could stay in this bubble of happiness forever, safe in the knowledge that she and her brother and friends were protected here, were almost normal here…If only they could all stay here, all safe, all alive…

It wouldn't last, the deeper, more practical part of her mind taunted. Soon they would be travelling again, on the road once more, again unprotected and vulnerable, rooting around trying to find more on the Treesong, always tired, always afraid, always doomed –

But for now she was here, she snapped to herself. She was here, safe and happy and warm. Somehow, the knowledge that it wouldn't last only made the moment more precious to her.

She burrowed deeper into the covers, letting out a contented sigh which turned into a groan when someone hammered loudly on her door.

"Go away," she grunted into her pillow.

"Fine," Hem's bright – and deeper – voice retorted teasingly from behind the door. "In that case I get to eat your breakfast!"

Maerad's stomach told her that this was a bad thing, and she shot out of bed.

"Don't you dare, Hem of Pellinor - !" She wrenched open the door, but Hem was already running down the corridor, laughing at her over his shoulder and waving mockingly. She scowled at his retreating back, then turned into the bright, white room again and sighed once more – half in amused irritation and half in happiness. Yes, she thought to herself. For now, life was bliss.

She walked into the dining room ten minutes later to find her share of the breakfast untouched and only Cadvan at the table, attacking a plate of fried mushrooms with relish. He winked at her as she entered.

"I protected your food from Hem. He seemed desperate to assure me that you were too lazy to bother with doing anything as energetic as eating today."

Maerad made a face that made her look fleetingly like a ten year old child.

"Brothers. Thank you." She sat opposite him and munched cheerfully at a piece of bread, watching the goings-on in the street through the opposite open window. The square of Til Amon was as bustling as ever – market stalls already open and their sellers leaping into action, promoting their various wares, whether it was bottles of the famous (or infamous) Til Amon wine, or vegetables and fruit, or hot loaves of bread, or traditionally and locally cared wooden figurines. People moved through the square to and fro, some rushing to get to their destination, others wandering lazily, all seemingly content. The brightness of the winter sun gleamed in the sky, making everything shine with its brilliance, and the air was refreshingly cool and crisp, tinged with the scent of bonfires and autumn leaves. Maerad took it all in with a contented sigh, prompting Cadvan to tear himself away from his precious mushrooms (A/N: does that sound dodgy to you??) and smile at her.

"A beautiful day, is it not?"

"Perfect," Maerad agreed dreamily, her chin on one hand, her eyes shining as brightly as the silver sun outside. She shook herself, at last, out of her trance and looked over at Cadvan, who quickly glanced away – but not before she caught the tenderness in his eyes.

"So what mysterious ancient language are you forcing me to learn today?" she jested to liven up the suddenly sombre (if gentle) atmosphere.

Cadvan swallowed down an obscenely large mouthful of mushrooms before answering her.

"Actually, I thought we'd have a break this morning."


"Yes, the First Bard has called a meeting about those few outbreaks of the White Sickness near the city, and of course requested I be there – "

" – of course – "

"Yes, so I thought we might as well leave the lessons till the afternoon."

Maerad looked back out of the window, her heart lifting at the idea of a few hours of freedom on such a beautiful day.

"That would be nice," she answered vaguely. She finished off her breakfast and carried the plate to the sink under the window, her mind already full of all the possible activities she could do. "I might go to the Ninth Circle then," she decided finally. "Niec agreed to show me around his workshop when I had a spare moment."

Cadvan mumbled something through his third helping of mushrooms that sounded like an affirmative, and Maerad left to get changed.

They waved a cheerful goodbye at each other out of the window, both of them horribly unaware that it would be the last time he saw her without a barrier between them.

Dun duh! Did you like? If you did, review! I know this chapter was a mite bland, but it gets more exciting/dramatic/overdramatic/melodramatic later on, so bear with me! Any criticism welcomed, it can always be improved!