NB: I don't own the characters or the places, and I stole the names of the medicines from Tamora Pierce and her fantastic 'Circle Opens' series…which means I've stolen stuff from two fantasy series! Oh dear! Anyway, I wrote this on the spur of the moment and thought I would share with you…
ILLUSIONS CREATE DELUSIONS
What is life? An illusion, a shadow, a story,
And the greatest good is little enough:
for all life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams.
Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Life is a Dream
It was so hot in the Til Amon Healing Houses that Maerad thought she would burn up before the night was out. The fires in ever grate blazed strongly, all windows were closed, the air was stuffy and smelled of incense and medicine and death. It kept the patients warm on an otherwise freezing night, but it meant that their guardians also had to suffer it. Maerad longed for some fresh air, for a cool breeze in her face to blow the bad memories of the day away, but there was no way she was leaving her patient alone. She rubbed eyes that were heavy with exhaustion, and poured herself another glass of water from the jug on the table near the bed. Even the water was warm, but it quenched her thirst. She gulped two glassfuls down, then turned back to the man lying motionless in the bed before her.
He seemed peaceful enough at the moment. He had not been when they had brought him in, but he was sedated now, he was unconscious –
Sleeping, Maerad corrected herself hastily, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest under the starched white covers. He's sleeping and he will wake up.
He mumbled something and flinched in his sleep, and Maerad took a cloth that had been sitting in a different bowl of water, wrung it out and placed it on his forehead, stroking his brow as soothingly as she could. The water in the bowl was also warm, she thought with a frown. She would have to get some more soon. He was burning up enough as it was without more heat being added. She glanced at the window behind the bed, wishing she could open it, but she could not risk him getting pneumonia on top of everything else – it could easily kill him in his weakened state.
He murmured again, prompting her to look at him. His stern face was pale even in the orange glow of the fires, and the whiplashes on his left cheek stood out starkly against his white skin. Beads of sweat were dotted on his forehead despite Maerad's efforts with the wet cloth, and she cursed and threw it back in the bowl, annoyed with the heat, the stuffiness and most of all his fever. She sat brooding for a while, watching him twitching in his sleep, then reached forward and gently followed the curving line of the whiplashes on his cheek with gentle fingers, her mind far away, remembering their parting earlier that day.
"I don't want you to go."
"Maerad, I have no choice. The Dark army are at the gates. The Til Amon army need all the help they can get."
"There's always a choice. That's what you always say – there's always a choice."
"Yes, Maerad, and sometimes that choice is between bad and worse. I am taking the bad choice."
"It's the worse for me."
He smiled then, his grim face lighting up with a strange, sudden joy.
"I'll be all right."
"You can't promise it."
"I know. No one can. But, still, I must go."
She tried to turn away, her eyes burning with tears, but he grasped her arm, gazing earnestly into her face.
"Maerad, I need you to promise me something."
"Why should I promise you anything when you can't promise me?"
She stared wearily up into his sombre eyes.
"I need you to promise that you won't try anything. That you will stay in the Healing Houses with Hem and keep out of this."
"How can you ask that of me when I know I can help?!"
"Because this isn't your fight, Maerad. Your battle is yet to come. And I don't want anything to happen to you."
She could have accused him of only caring about her because she was the One, telling her to stay safe because if she died all hope for the Light would be lost. She did not say it though, because she knew it was not the truth. It wouldn't even occur to him to think that.
"I can try," she said, giving up. "I can promise to try. That's all I can do."
He gave her one of his brightest smiles.
"That's all I ask," he said gently, and then he kissed her softly on the forehead and walked away into the cold night, leaving her inexpressibly and horribly alone.
It isn't fair, she thought miserably. It isn't fair. I could have stopped this happening to him, but I had to promise.
He groaned again, and she saw his face was shining with sweat. She took up the bowl of water and walked down the hall, past the lines and lines of silent patients in their beds, to the water pump next to the door. She pumped some cooler water into the bowl, then splashed her own face and hands with it, which made her feel more awake although her head still felt clogged up from all the heat and smells in the stuffy air.
She straightened up and gazed down the hall. It was peaceful now – most of the loud patients had either been sedated or taken to another room so as not to disturb the quieter ones. A lot had died already, and Maerad knew that there would be some who would die before the night was out.
But not him.
She was alone now. Hem's healing skills were needed in the rooms with the more urgent patients, as were Saliman's. They had let her stay with him, since her healing powers were not as strong or as disciplined. So now it was just her…and him.
She remembered, with a horrible jolt, that this was where she had been standing when he had been brought in –
"What – "
Saliman's shout had numbed her entire body, and she could only stare in horror as they brought him in on the stretcher, crying out in pain.
Hem seized her shoulders, shaking her out of her motionless trace.
"Maerad, I need some of that aloe balm and that willowbark tea right now. Maerad!"
Maerad cast him a look full of quiet panic.
"Hem," she murmured. "Oh, Hem…"
"I know," Hem said firmly, his blue eyes blazing. "I know, Maerad, but we need that aloe balm and willowbark tea. And get one of the healers to prepare a sedative. Maerad, now!"
Fuelled by the urgency in his voice, she turned and collected what he asked for, then rushed to the bed that he had been laid on, handing Hem the aloe and willowbark tea, and Saliman the sedative.
She had never seen him in so much agony before, and it chilled her to the bone to watch as he writhed on the bed, crying out. She tried not to look at the puddle of blood on his chest because every time she caught sight of it, she had to quash the urge to cry out in as much anguish as he did. She watched, instead, with wide eyes, as Saliman pumped the sedative in his arm with a soft "Sleep now, my friend," and his eyes fluttered shut obediently, a little sigh whispering from his lips as he sank into the bed.
She stared numbly as he lay motionless and limp, knowing in the back of her mind that she had work to do, that she had to keep fetching and carrying for other patients, but unable to drag herself away from the bed.
She blinked up at Saliman and was unnerved to find that her vision was blurred.
"What – " she managed. "What - ?"
"Sword through the chest," Saliman told her grimly. "He's lost a lot of blood, so he is weak, and we think the blade was poisoned, so he will have a fever later tonight, but luckily the strike missed the main arteries. If he survives through the night, he'll be all right. But he needs to get through the night first."
Maerad stared down silently at the pale, grim face, relaxed now in sleep.
Hem squeezed her shoulder.
"He'll be all right," he said softly. "You know how strong he is. But there are those who are not as strong, and they need your help now, sister."
"Hem's right," agreed Saliman. "You have work to do. I'll watch over him for now, you can do so later."
Maerad felt herself nod, and allowed herself to be towed away by Hem, back to her station, her eyes glassy with tears.
She shook herself out of the memory and carried the bowl of fresh water back to the bed. He was still mumbling in his sleep, more coherently now. She caught the odd words such as 'sorry' and 'protect', and wondered who he was talking to.
She wet the cloth again with water and laid it over his sweat-drenched head, shushing him as she did so.
"It's all right," she murmured, hardly aware of what she was saying. "It's all right, just rest. Everything's fine."
She wondered if the muttering was a sign that the fever had worsened. Should she get Hem or Saliman? If only she was a better healer!
She drew the cloth over his forehead again, then flinched in a shock of delight when his eyelids fluttered open and he stared blankly up at the ceiling.
"Hot," he murmured in a croak. "'m so hot."
Maerad dropped the cloth in the bowl and grabbed his hand.
"Cadvan?" she whispered.
He didn't seem to hear her, he was muttering to himself.
"Hot. The Hells. I must be in the Hells."
"No," Maerad objected faintly, unsure of what to say. "No, it's fine."
He blinked, as if he had heard her for the first time, then twisted his head around to stare at her. His eyes were clouded, unfocused – he seemed confused. He stared at her for an uncountable amount of time, then suddenly squeezed her fingers tightly together.
Maerad felt a cold shiver tingle down her spine, and her heart swelled with sudden pity.
"No," she said, half wishing that she didn't have to break his illusion. "No, it's Maerad."
Again, he didn't seem to hear her. He struggled to sit up, still grasping her hand, his face painfully hopeful, his eyes delusional.
"Ceredin," he murmured. "Ceredin, I never though – I – "
"Cadvan, it's Maerad, it's me," she urged, shaking with sadness and pain and pity and fear.
He ignored this; his eyes were both shining with emotion and cloudy with fear. His grip on her was painful now.
"What are you doing in the Hells?" he whispered. "You shouldn't be here, I should be here, Ceredin – "
"You're not in the Hells, Cadvan, you're in the Healing Houses. In Til Amon, You got stabbed, you're ill, don't you remember?" She ahd fought tears until now, but seeing Cadvan like this was bringing them on more strongly than ever. She blinked fiercely. Cadvan sank back into the bed in exhaustion, his eyelids falling and opening repeatedly.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "Ceredin, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for what I did to you. I will never forgive myself, I will never stop hating myself – what I did – so wrong, so dark – "
Maerad watched him, biting her lip in indecision. She was not getting through to him as Maerad. He would not hear that she was Maerad. And this was the only other way she could think of…
I have to be Ceredin.
"It's all right," she murmured, trying to sound comforting, how she thought Ceredin would sound. "It's all right, Cadvan, it was a mistake. I forgive you."
"You do?" His voice was barely a whisper now.
"Yes, I did all along. You just need to forgive yourself now. Let it go. Let me go."
"I'll never be able to let you go."
The flat statement pierced Maerad harder than anything else he had said had, and the tears finally flowed for a nerve-wrenching moment. Furious, she dashed them away, and squeezed Cadvan's hand, watching his eyelids flutter as he looked at her with an oddly hungry expression on his face.
"You must, Cadvan," she said softly. "I can't stay here. I must go now."
He let out a little sigh and closed his eyes, and for a brief moment she wondered if it was over, before he said suddenly, without opening his eyes,
"And I'm sorry. About her."
Maerad – momentarily confused – forgot to be Ceredin.
"Maerad," he mumbled. "I'm sorry, Ceredin."
"Why are you sorry?" Her heart was pounding painfully in her chest.
"I love her," he whispered. "I love Maerad. I'm sorry."
Maerad stared for half a second in mind-numbed shock, then remembered that she had to be Ceredin – that she had to say something, even though she didn't have a clue what to say.
"It's fine," she heard herself say. "I'm glad. I'm glad you love her."
She wasn't sure if that was Ceredin saying it or Maerad saying it.
He was still frowning quietly, still agitated. She acted on a whim, doing the only thing she could think of to soothe him. She leaned forward and pressed her lips briefly to his. His lips were burning hot and moved under hers with a quiet sadness, but she still felt a shiver – not entirely unpleasant – spark through her anyway.
He is not kissing you, she thought angrily to herself. He is kissing Ceredin.
But we seem to be the same person at the moment. To him, to the world. His illusion has taken over everything.
She drew away slowly.
"Sleep now," she said softly. "I want you to sleep. And let me go."
"I love you," he mumbled, his voice slurred by oncoming sleep.
"I love you too," she said. But he had already fallen back into unconsciousness.
A moment passed. Then she took up the cloth again and wrung it out, laying it on his burning forehead. After a while she had to sit back; her tears were falling on his face.
The night crawled on into further blackness.
End of this chapter! There will probably be a second chapter coming up, so keep those eyes peeled. I hope you liked it, if you did please review! Sorry if Cadvan was OOC, but then he was feverish! (grins)
Every time you review, a Cadvan somewhere is saved from death! (grins again) Save the Cadvan!