Author note: There is additional information about this story in my profile that will answer questions that I couldn't fit into the summary. Please check there if you wish for more details. Also, thanks to my many beta readers who helped me edit this story, and to all my reviewers. Your support has helped me tremendously. The following poem was written by an Irish Poet named Eavan Boland; I added a bit of a Pellinor touch to it, but the rights for the main idea belong with her.

After the wolves and before the elms
the order of Sharma has ended in our land.

Only a few remain to continue
the dead art in a dying land.

Reader of poems, lover of poetry—
in case you thought this was a gentle art
follow this woman, our hero on a moonless night
to the wretched bed she will have to make.

The Bardic world stretches out under the hawthorn tree
and burns in the rain. This is its home,
its last frail shelter. All of it—
Norloch, the Wild Geese and what went before—
falters into cadence before she sleeps:
She shuts her eyes; darkness has fallen on the land.

Darkness has fallen again.

~Excerpt from 'The Journey of the Maid of Innail'

Cadvan peered out one of the frosted windows of Malgorn and Silvia's home, desperate for a glimpse of Maerad. It had been over a fortnight since her departure to Nenn, a small village a few leagues outside the School, and Cadvan wanted nothing more than to see her again. He opened the shutters over the window, to see firsthand how terrible the blizzard was. As he freed the outer blinds, they tore from his hands and banged against the wall in a blast of freezing cold wind. Cadvan glimpsed the swirling whiteness: the desolate landscape appeared more akin to the moon in its hospitality, and it seemed that any noise, no matter how loud or small, would be swallowed by the howling wind and snow. A shiver ran down his spine as he wrestled the shutters back and bolted them closed again. He hadn't realized how bitterly cold it was - the walls were quite thick. If Maerad is out in the open, he thought, she will freeze to death.

"You shouldn't be so anxious, Cadvan." Silvia sighed, leaning into a high-backed wooden chair. The kind, gentle-faced woman smiled warmly upon seeing his expression. "I'm sure she's waiting the storm out safely inside a warm inn, just like you told her to."

Cadvan crossed his arms, and glanced at Malgorn, who winked at Silvia's remark. He didn't have the heart to argue and her reasoning did seem logical. Maerad was not a fool, and she knew better than to go riding in inclement weather. Silvia was right - whether he wanted to admit it or not.

"I suppose," he replied. He found a seat and stretched his legs out. "I wonder how she enjoyed her time away."

"I'm sure she loved it," Malgorn replied. A slight frown formed along the corners of his thin mouth. "More than I love playing cards, that much is certain."

Cadvan grinned, watching the fair-haired man collect the cards before him into a disorganized pile. "I admire the fact that despite everyone's urgings to quit before you made a fool out of yourself, you still play," Cadvan joked.

Malgorn didn't bother looking up, but Cadvan could see the glimmer of amusement in his friend's dark eyes."Yes, I am a bit stubborn," Malgorn answered in play. "But I only inherited that trait when I befriended you."

"To answer you properly, Cadvan, Maerad always wanted to travel the world. This journey to Nenn was the beginning of her dream becoming reality," said Silvia. "She'll be home soon enough to listen to both of you rambling on about who inherited what from the other."

Smirking, Cadvan grabbed for his glass of wine, savoring its crisp taste as he looked out the window once more. The snow hadn't let up for days, thwarting his attempts to keep himself occupied. He had planned to arrange Maerad's lessons, but he wasn't about to trudge through the billowing blizzard outside to do so. His experience in the Gwalhain Pass had taught him to avoid winter weather if possible, for both he and Maerad had almost lost their lives to its icy wrath. Such planning would have to wait until the skies cleared, and he could move about the School without worry. He spent his time instead with Silvia and Malgorn, telling them of his and Maerad's quest to destroy Sharma. He enjoyed their company, a warmth filling his heart from being with his friends, but he still felt caged. It was part of his nature to enjoy travelling; he'd never felt comfortable staying in any one place too long. He was constantly fidgeting without something to do, without someone to talk to. Without Maerad.

Maerad doesn't know I love her, Cadvan ruminated, still watching the everchanging scenery outside. I never explained that I needed her - I didn't even know how much she meant to me until she left...

He had come to realize how lonely he'd become without her companionship. He missed the days of wandering through the wilderness, just the two of them, laughing over trivial things, singing songs. He did his best to forget the burdens of their pasts, the many times they had argued, the times they had doubted each other. Cadvan guessed that Silvia knew his feelings towards Maerad, but she had never spoken to him about it. He had come to the conclusion after the first week that he had to tell Maerad exactly how he felt. He couldn't let her leave again without her understanding that she meant everything to him. I'll tell her that I want to be wherever it is she goes - I want to protect and guide her. Malgorn strummed a chord on his lyre, breaking Cadvan's train of thought.

"Shall we play a tune?" Malgorn asked. "Might pass the time a bit faster."

Cadvan nodded absent mindedly, grabbing his instrument from his leather pack near the fireplace. He played with his friend, but his thoughts continued to stray to Maerad.

Snow and ice pelted Maerad like thousands of sharp stones beating down upon her from the heavens, scolding her for being so careless. She was blasted with squalls of hail, rocking her back and forth in the saddle. Nothing could be heard over the wind that tore her fur-lined hood back and exposed her long dark hair to the swirling currents. She knew the weather wished to claim her for its own purposes, to wrap her in snow and top her with an icy ribbon. It was a wish she was not ready to grant, and she continued to fight against it. She dug her uninjured heel into Imi's side, urging the animal to move faster. Everything inside her screamed to find safety.

Please let us be close. Her mind was racing.

Maerad's relief upon seeing the faint outline of the School was short lived, for the burning in her arm worsened with the jarring, fluctuating speed of her mount.

"I cannot travel in this weather," Imi snorted and shied against the raging wind. "It is too difficult."

"Please, Imi. I have to make it to the School," Maerad begged.Imi ignored her plea and came to a halt, continuing her labored breathing. Tremors of cold and fear shook the animal's body.

"I cannot walk," she stroked the hair on Imi's neck. "Please-"

"I am sorry, Maerad," Imi apologized. The small horse shifted its weight to relieve its damaged fetlocks. "I can't carry you any further."

Maerad wrapped her uninjured arm around Imi's withers and sobbed. She peered out from beneath her blue cloak, and saw Imi's damaged legs. The layers of ice are like razors; of course she is injured, she scorned herself. The flesh above her hooves was swollen and marred, the grey hair stained with crimson blood. Maeard felt instant remorse wash across her innards. In her vain attempt to escape the village, Maerad had ignored the animal's health, and now she would pay for it, possibly with her own life. If Imi cannot carry me, then I must crawl. I cannot give up now.

Maerad bit her lip against resurfacing anger. She was the Fire Lily, the savior of Edil-Amarandh, Elednor. If she could defeat The Nameless One, then surely she could survive a storm. The unwillingness to accept a humiliating defeat caused her to dismount carelessly into the deep snow, taking no time to consider her injuries. She cried out in pain as its crusty surface raked over her fractured ankle. Her scream went unheard, lost in the dark, barren landscape around her. It was the cold, empty silence that caused foul memories to rise.

"Ah, Maerad. So nice of you to join my company this evening."

Maerad turned to find Adian standing near the door.

She had taken Cadvan's advice and stopped at the Running Wolf Inn when she encountered the outer edge of a snowstorm. The rates were cheap and the owner was Cadvan's distant cousin, Cyril. She was displeased when she learned that Cyril was in Desor and had left this Adian in charge, but by then the storm had grown fierce, so she took a room. The decision would not have troubled her at all, if not for the fact that she was the Inn's sole guest.

"I was just coming downstairs to find a glass of water; my throat is parched," she said, and attempted to slip by him. His hand shot out and landed on her shoulder, preventing her from escaping.

"Well since you are already down here, perhaps we can spend some time together before you leave?" The man's words were provocative.

A raging dread rose within her as she pushed him away. "I'm just getting water, thank you," she said, her voice much sterner than usual.

"You have a lover, is that it?" he inquired, not backing down. His spidery fingers and greasy skin made his words even more revolting, as they came from a man who contained no visible dignity. Maerad assumed he hadn't bathed in some time and it made her wonder why Cyril would've chosen such a man to guard his business.


"Did you forget?"

"No, I didn't," she said defensively. She made to brush past him, and he grabbed her throat. She was pinned against the high wall of the lounge.

"Perhaps you should have brought him along! This would have been dangerously fun then!" he said.

"Get off me!" she demanded, calling for her Magery before he brought his hand hard across her face.

"Your Magery won't work here, witch!" he cursed and threw her to the ground. She felt something snap.

Maerad forgot the accumulating snow surrounding her in a frosty tomb. In that moment, she welcomed death. If I die now, I will not have to deal with this suffering, she told herself. Her body was slowly freezing, despite the shield Imi provided against the storm's full strength. Her bloodied lips were turning purple, as were her hands and feet. Hypothermia was sinking its fangs into her, and there was nothing Maerad could do to prevent it.

"You have to get up, Little One." Imi nosed her. "They are expecting us home."

"Home." The cold made her voice tremble as she repeated the word. Her home had been destroyed when she was only a child, but Innail sufficed. It was the place she had come into the world of Barding after Cadvan had found her in Gilman's Cot. She had met Silvia there, her newfound mother, and learned of her destiny as the Chosen One. Innail was the last hope left in her failing vision, for it represented everything she needed. Warmth. Food. Safety. She just had to find a way to get there.

Crawling and pulling her limp body with one arm over the snowdrifts, she threw away her desire to flee, to die there in the wilderness outside of Innail. It was no use trying to escape reality. Her only comfort came from Imi, who had not fled. "Please don't leave me." Her tear stained eyelashes were frozen.

"I won't leave you," Imi responded.

Getting to the city's gates became a gradual and uncomfortable process. The fresh cuts on her legs left a trail of dark blood with each forward movement. The pain in her arm screamed for her to rest, as did her numb digits. She wondered what would happen if she did stop. I would lose what fingers I have left. It would be just like Zmarkan, and then I would truly be useless. The morbid thought spurred her onward; she couldn't afford to lose another part of herself.

Through the blizzard, Maerad could see the peaks of Osidh Annova rearing up like huge shadows to her left, blades of darkness cutting into the sky. The outline of Innail appeared with its noble towers thrusting gracefully upward, behind a wall of white stone that blended in with the whitewashed air. She arrived at the gates of thick oak stoutly barred with black steel. The School showed no signs of life, save the faint glow of the fireplace lighting the residence of Silvia and Malgorn. It was late and most of the Bards were already asleep in their warm beds, oblivious to the plight of their heroine outside.

Maerad winced and continued forward until she reached the main courtyard. In the center stood the same familiar fountain, its water source cut off for the winter. The garden beds had disappeared for the season, though the huge smooth flags of Innail still waved in the wind. She would have to cut through curving streets of graceful buildings and across more courtyards to reach the refuge of the First Bard's great stone house, an impossible feat; she was completely drained of energy. Even if she did make it, the doors were so large and heavy that she wouldn't have the strength to knock, let alone open them. She fell to her knees and sobbed, grateful that she was at least under the school's aura of safety.

"Cadvan," she managed, shielding her eyes from the bitter cold.

Maerad could barely hear the sound of a beautiful song, one that seemed so close and yet so far away. She imagined she felt the tingling warmth of the great fireplace as she listened to it, the taste of the beef stew that would be hanging over the fireplace lingering in her dry mouth. She wrapped her cloak tighter and shuddered. Minutes turned into eternity as she waited for someone to find her. She wished more than anything that she had just given in when she wasn't so cold, alone, and in torment. To have come so far only to die within sight of where I want to be...

She believed Cadvan to be an illusion when he came into view, a mere figure of her hopes and desires. His shoulder length hair danced wildly about his face in the gusts of wind, his shadowy figure blurred against the white glaze that painted the air. He ran forward, scooping her up from the ground. "This isn't real," she told herself, bracing for the darkness that would soon follow.

"Hold on Maerad," she faintly heard him say through mindspeech. He carried her towards Silvia's in a hurry, the heat from his body snaking its way through her cloak and dress. It stung her skin, but she welcomed the feeling- it gave her faith that life would not end so miserably. With one last glance up at Cadvan, she let herself fall into unconsciousness.