MAJOR SINGING SPOILERS...AND ALL THAT JAZZ.
I assume I don't have to go over it again?
This chappie is from Hem's POV. Or most of it, anyway...
Disclaimer lives on from last chapter.
And the Song never stopped: released at last into its own music, it played on through all the depths and heights and breadths of the wide and vivid world, following its own desires beyond the reaches of the human heart, forever wild, forever whole, forever free.
-- The Singing, page 419, by Alison Croggon
Hem ran to Maerad, tears streaming down his face. Her limp body lay upon the stones, and the scream she had uttered was horrible, terrifying; an exclamation of the deepest agony and loss. But Hem felt no loss in the restoring of the Treesong, and her sudden scream made him think twice about what they had done. But he still felt nothing, only joy at having his work finally complete. But then Maerad had gone still, so still, and he had run to her. But she did not stir, no matter how hard he shook her.
He grasped her shoulders again, shaking her almost violently, sobbing in passionate grief. She was dead. He knew it to be horribly, agonizingly true. He flung his arms about her, shoulders trembling as he uttered wordless cries of agony. She was gone. Maerad, the only light in his world, the one he had longed to see again for an entire year, and perhaps all the long years before that. Gone. Forever. It didn't seem possible.
His tears flew onto her cheeks with frightening rapidity, and he felt that surely he would cry a river if he didn't stop, but he didn't feel he could. He loved her. Loved her more than he believed was possible to love someone. Just like Zelika. And just like Zelika, she was gone. Dead. Dead.
He let his grief consume him as if it were a hungry beast, and he had no other feelings except sadness to the very marrow of his bones.
But suddenly, something happened, something changed. It was like she was...breathing. And as soon as he acknowledged this change, she simply sat up.
So very, wonderfully alive.
And then she put her arms around him, and it was the best feeling he had ever known, to simply sit there and feel her holding him again. He smiled through the tears as they held each other close, and he realized that they were the only things that mattered now. There was only each other.
When he finally let her go, she smiled at him, and he grinned back. "You did it," he sniffled, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
"No," Maerad said, and Hem saw her brilliant blue eyes flash giddily, "We did it. All of us. Together."
His smile widened, and he stood up, extending a hand to help her up as well, but then her face went blank, and he stopped in concern only to realize she was speaking with someone in her mind. But it was a very brief look, and she then turned her attention to the man who was running up behind her: Cadvan.
And suddenly all the pieces fell into place as Hem watched Cadvan swoop her up into his arms, picking her up while she laughed delightedly, and he saw that she looked happier than she had ever been. And in her eyes was a tender emotion, so sweet he almost choked. It was a look that made him think of Zelika, and as something finally clicked in his brain, he realized that Cadvan was not simply a mentor to Maerad, nor even a friend. Well, yes, he was a friend, but he was something more to his sister, and that was proven as he watched, slightly green in the face, Cadvan lean down and begin smothering her in kisses.
He stumbled back, a little unprepared. Surely he had noticed it, like on the ride to Afinil, when she had held onto him tightly and closed her eyes in bliss. And when she had fallen from Keru, and she had looked at him so desperately. And the way he sometimes watched her, his face indefinably sad. But he was still taken by surprise, and he felt Saliman's warm hand on his shoulders, comforting in such a time. And then with a thrill he realized Saliman was still alive, too, and he turned around, and saw his warm, charcoal eyes looking down at him.
"A bit surprised, my friend?" asked Saliman, eyebrows raised in amusement.
"Just a bit," Hem replied, before he embraced Saliman, who was now not much taller than he. Saliman welcomed him warmly, and then stood him back, eyes serious.
"You cannot tell me you didn't see it coming though?" asked Hekibel from behind Saliman, pushing her golden locks behind her shoulder.
"Well, not...really," he mumbled, still a bit confused by the Ways of the Heart. "But I'm okay with it," he assured them, and looked back to Maerad and Cadvan before his eyes quickly darted away. I think. He smiled hugely though. "I'm just glad we're all alive."
Saliman and Hekibel beamed. "Us too," they said as one, and they all laughed, which startled Maerad and Cadvan, who quickly broke apart, a little flushed as they rejoined their audience. Hem raised his eyebrows at Maerad, and she only winked and hugged him tightly, and then hugged each one of them in turn as well, so glad that she was still able to be with them. She embraced Hekibel last of all, who hugged her tightly and then whispered in her ear, "I told you so."
Maerad laughed, and then looked back to her brother, who looked entirely clueless, and laughed again.
"Well, what about you?" Maerad asked, an eyebrow raised, and Hem saw Hekibel flush slightly, and then quickly look at Saliman.
"We'll see," she said slowly, brushing some invisible pieces of dirt from her skirts, and Saliman took her hand, and she looked up into his eyes and gulped.
"We'll see about what? This?" he asked, before kissing her gently.
Hem gasped and rolled his eyes, comically throwing his head back. "Oh no, not you, too!" he cried, before turning and marching to the horses.
The group laughed, and followed his example, quiet as they pondered their own thoughts.
But Hem, for all his acting, inside was thrilled, and let a small smile flit across his facade. Everything had ended so perfectly. He missed Irc, but he had a feeling he would return. And then, then he would truly rejoice.
But for now, he too, was happier than ever before.
Even with all that gooey love stuff.