NB: This was written entirely on a whim and ended up as quite a nice piece, I think. I don't own any of the characters. I would like to own some reviews…(hint hint)
A NEW ESCAPE
The hall of Norloch was an eruption of pure carnival. The Dark had been defeated only a week earlier and the festival had already been going for several days, but every Bard still had probable years of celebration left in them and they were showing it as loudly and joyfully as they could.
The city had never seen such elation, not since the days before the newly fallen Enkir. The buildings, instead of being collections of sombre white blocks, now glowed with an inner ochre sunlight and seemed to sing along with the Bards, various notes and melodies bouncing from wall to wall, echoing along the streets in invisible streams which nevertheless buoyed every heart with delight upon contact. Every tree had been strung with magelights and glittered eternally like sunlit snow. The streets sparkled, clothes blazed with vivid colour, faces shone. Everything was bright with the free and never-ending Light, and even though it was only Maerad who could hear murmur of the Treesong in everything she looked upon, everything she touched, it did not stop every human from feeling it on a purely unconscious level. They would be feeling it for years. For eternity, perhaps. And Maerad would always hear it.
And yet she was standing in darkness at the moment, behind a pair of velvet curtains that separated the raised dais from the sight of the rest of the hall, which was filled with dancing and the joyful chatter of people who were both lucky and happy to be alive. It was going to be the first time that the public saw the Great Maerad, the Deliverer of the Song; she had been laid up with exhaustion for the entire week, sleeping and eating in her rooms and gradually regaining her strength. Even now she felt a little weak, but it was better than the deep exhaustion that had stolen her briefly immediately after the playing of the Song and the falling of Sharma. But now here she was, in a dress that had been specially made for her, a dress made of a silvery-gold fabric that Silvia told her made her look 'like the embodiment of the Fire Lily itself', a dress that out-sparkled everything else in the city, merely because it was she that wore it. She knew her body glowed with a silvery light as bright as the gown – she always would, it was a side effect of playing the Song, just as hearing it in every object created was.
She was the vividest creature that existed on the earth. But right now, at this moment, she chose to cower in the dark than walk out into that light beyond the barrier of curtains.
She was afraid, that was the simplest explanation. Afraid that as soon as she walked out into that hall, into that world, all the tiny hopes and dreams she had cherished of a normal life after her strife would extinguish like a candle before a thrilling yet cold winter breeze. She would never be normal; she never had been. It had been foolish to think that she ever could be, to hope for a time when she could be. She would never be left alone again, not for a second. There would always be someone around, thanking her, staring at her, watching her. She would never be able to disappear into a crowd. It was the strangest thing to mourn, but she mourned it nonetheless.
Still, what could she do about it now?
Well, she could linger in the gloom a second longer. She could hover a second longer. She could be normal for a second longer. But only for a second.
She took in a deep breath and raised her hand to pull back the curtain and dismally enter the world of light and joy and popularity.
"You look dazzling," a voice said, breaking through her thoughts and causing her hand to stop. She turned away from the curtain and saw Cadvan standing in the doorway through which she had come, dressed in his usual formal attire and leaning against the doorframe in apparent casualness…though his eyes told a different story. They shone with gravity and just a touch of his deeper, inextinguishable darkness.
She smiled to hide her sadness and gestured down to her gown.
"It's not as if I can help it!"
"True," he admitted, then added, with a wink, "Still, I imagine that if you were dressed in rags you would still out-dazzle the richest queen."
Maerad felt herself blush and could think of no response. Cadvan pushed himself off the doorframe with his shoulder and walked towards her, enclosing her glowing hands within his own, fleshy, human ones.
"So what is a goddess like you," he said, more seriously now, "Doing hesitating in this darkness, instead of being in the brightness beyond it?"
Maerad glanced fleetingly at him, then away.
"I was just about to go out there."
"Liar," he retorted smoothly. "You've been standing here for over fifteen minutes now, taking one step forward and one step back and quite wearing out the carpet. I've been watching."
Still Maerad tried to hide her gloom with a jest.
"Cadvan, you should be ashamed! Surely a gentleman such as yourself knows how rude it is to spy on a fair maiden?"
His eyes were dark with solemnity now; he was not to be dissuaded.
Maerad looked up uncomfortably, and they stared at each other for a moment. Then she pulled her hands out of his and moved to the outside balcony through the doorway in an unconscious trail of silver. It was still bright despite the darkness; each building blazed with candlelight, each tree glittered teasingly, the moon swayed full and bright in her cradle of black velvet and even the stars seemed to burn with a new strength. Maerad could just see Ilion on the horizon, as bright and beautiful as a diamond pushed into the thick fabric of the sky. She stood and watched it for a while, before saying, in a slightly rough voice,
"I was hiding."
"From what?" Cadvan had not moved from the position where she had left him.
"Life," she said, and flashed him a whitely ironic smile over her shoulder. "The end of…the end of things."
"The end of normality."
He had always known her thoughts. She glanced back at the glowing city, her hair fluttering slightly in her silver breeze.
"Yes. The end of normality. Or at least the end of a hope for normality." She swallowed and looked down at her hands on the stone balcony, glowing with a steady brightness, and it all poured out of her in a great rush. "I had hoped, I had always wished – just a tiny thought I suppose – that at the end of all the struggle, there would be a life waiting for me, a normal life, a life in which I could do what I truly, truly wanted, without any ridiculous prophecies or fears of being hunted by the Dark. But now it seems that I can never have that, even afterwards. That my hope was just a hope, and will never be a reality. That I was fated never to be another face in a crowd. If I go through that curtain – " Her voice broke and she took in a quick gasp before continuing. "If I go through that curtain, I truly become Elednor, the Deliverer of the Song, the Destroyer of the Dark. And I will be that for the rest of my life, I will never be just Maerad, not to the world. Wherever I go, I will be greeted with wide eyes, treated with awe, stared at. I will never be left alone. I will have to play the role until my death. So I was hesitating to…to have a few seconds of normality to myself before it begins, I suppose." She tried to make her voice a little lighter at this last sentence, but it failed into a tentative wobble.
There was a deep silence behind her; she made a last attempt to sound offhand.
"But that is my fate, I suppose! And no one can deny their fate, try as they might."
She bit her lip and busied herself with staring at the swaying moon. There was a thoughtful silence, and then Cadvan's voice said,
"You can still be normal. If that is what you want."
She glanced behind her again, flashing him her bitter smile, and saw that his face was dark with thought.
"How?" she laughed, a little cynically. "As long as I stay here – "
"So don't stay here," he said.
Maerad, cut off with her mouth open, frowned at him, then closed it hesitantly. Cadvan took a few steps towards her, a yard away from the doorway, then waved back at the curtain and the sound of a celebrating humanity behind it.
"Don't go through the curtain," he said. "Don't become that legend. You don't have to if you don't want to."
Maerad stared at him.
"But I have no choice!"
He actually smiled; one of his rare, brilliant smiles.
"Haven't you learnt yet, dearest? There is always a choice."
"But as long as I – as long as I am here – "
"Like I said before." He took another step forward. "Don't stay here."
There was a deep silence. Maerad frowned at him, unsure of what to think.
"I don't think I understand you, Cadvan."
Cadvan stepped so close to the doorway that he would be crossing it in his next step. His smile was solid on his face and his eyes burned with dark thought.
"We could leave," he said. "Tonight. Just saddle up and leave."
Maerad laughed once, shortly, feeling a smile stretch on her face at the simpleness of the thought despite her misery.
"But where would we go?"
"Somewhere far away," he said. "Somewhere where no one has looked upon your living face, where the Great Maerad is just some faraway legend, where Cadvan of Lirigon is a complete unknown. There are places still like it, rare but they exist. Hovering on the edges of the world. Peaceful places. Normal places."
Maerad stared at him, scanning his face for joviality, but saw only a deep sombreness in his eyes.
"You're serious about this, aren't you?"
"As serious as I have ever been about anything of true importance," he responded calmly. "As serious as I have ever been about anything to do with you."
"But we can't," she blurted out.
An eyebrow raised.
"Because – because – " She spluttered for a moment, then pulled herself together. "I glow. I hear the Song in my head, all the time, I always will. I am noticeable."
"Only if you choose to be," he answered. "You can stifle that glow. You can lessen the sound of the Song. It's all in here." He tapped the side of his head. "If you believe you are truly normal, Maerad, you will become so. Inside and out. And that normality will start as soon as you step out of this city."
She leapt to another question.
"But what about Hem? And Saliman, and all our friends?"
"We can send letters. Private letters, as soon as we are away from here. We can meet them, in secret places, make proper plans together. They can come with us, or not. Whatever they choose. Whatever we choose. We can still meet. It can be done easily, Maerad, you know that."
"And them?" She gestured at the curtain, at the people beyond the curtain, waiting to see the legend herself, the saviour of them all. "They want to see their legend."
Cadvan glanced at the curtain and was silent for a moment, then gazed back at her.
"Maybe legends should just stay as legends," he murmured, half to himself. "Maybe figures of myth should stay only in the mind, in the pages in books. Maybe it would be damaging to reveal a human in the form of the great Elednor; it would be like showing a goddess, an illusion, as a mortal. It would not hurt if they never looked on your actual face, as long as they always remember what you have done. Fame is only for fame's sake. If the legend does not desire to exist in the form of the legend, would it really change the lives of anyone but themselves? And anyway – " Here he smiled. "I think you've done enough for the world already, don't you?"
Maerad opened her mouth to protest some more, but could think of nothing that he couldn't argue against. She could say that her presence of Elednor would help the world remember to keep Balance, but she knew they would remember anyway. The feel of the Treesong blazing through the world, free and wild and joyful, would ensure that they would always remember. They would be unable to forget.
And she would be…normal. Normal, just as she had always wished to be.
She glanced at Cadvan, who was watching her silently.
"And you would come with me?" she whispered. "Come with me and be normal? Be dull and boring and normal, just like me?"
He flashed her a half smile.
"I'm a little sick of the small fame I have myself. But I won't go without you. I'd rather be trapped with you than escape without you."
She was unsure of his own desire for a normal life. He had been famous for longer than her, it would be harder for him…
"Maerad," he interrupted. "I want to be free as much as you, can you see that? I'm so tired – so very tired – of all of this. I want to escape as badly as you do. But I will never leave you."
Maerad bit her lip, tempted more than she could say, doubtful more than she could explain.
"I don't know," she said.
He held her wavering gaze with his own piercing one.
"It's your choice," he said. "You could step across this threshold – " he motioned to the doorframe only a step away. "And go through that curtain and into the light and the dance, and become Elednor, the legend made real, and save the world again and again simply by existing. Or I could step across the threshold and take your hand, and we could go down to the stables and saddle up the horses and leave, into the night, to some inn, to some town where we have never been heard of, and stay there forever, for the rest of our lives, with responsibilities and studies and jobs and people who either hate or love us for who were are, and the world could continue without us. But it is your choice."
Maerad swallowed and looked away, back over the beaming city, at the dancing moon, at the blazing stars. Ilion winked at her cheerfully as if hinting to her. She could feel the Song in the stone under her fingers, she could hear its mournful, joyful melody in the excitable breeze playing with her hair. She could hear the murmur of the city over the top of it all, the murmur of normality; laughter, crying, boredom. It was a song deeper than the Treesong, striking cavernous chords within her, luring her.
She could do so much good with the fame she had. She could help the world in general. Or…she could be normal. And she could help herself. It was selfish, but perhaps, in the long run, it would do the world more good anyway. To have a legend walk the earth…it was like having a goddess dancing before you as you prayed. It messed up people. It frightened people. It created problems which otherwise would not exist. Not if the legend simply vanished, went away, never turned up again. Not if the legend became a true legend, remembered only in books.
And she could have a normal life, a care-free life. She could at least try.
There is always a choice, said Ilion in the sky.
And she would still have Cadvan. Which was worth a lot, in the end.
She turned on her heel, back to Cadvan, a smile more joyful than she had ever showed before spreading over her face. He looked at her inquisitively, his hands behind his back and a twinkle in his eye. She realised he would not cross the threshold unless invited.
She held out her hand to him, glowing silver in the darkness.
"Will you escape with me?"
And he returned that full, bright smile of the completely and utterly free, and unlinked his hands and crossed the threshold of the doorway and took her hand.
"Let's vanish," he said, and he led her to the staircase, to the street, to the stables, to the city gates, to the world outside, the free world, the normal world – to the world into which they would both disappear and live.
And the city celebrated around them.
Hooray! :) If this gave you warm fuzzies, please review!