Saliman felt very old as he watched Hem sleep near the fire of their campsite near Sjug'hakar Im. It was a cold night made colder by grief but Hem smiled in his sleep, a gesture that warmed Saliman almost as much as the fire. "Is this how Nelac feels," he wondered. The elder Bard was centuries old and a very skilled Bard, one of Saliman's own teachers.

Saliman had seen the siege and fall of Turbansk. He'd loved and felt the loss of many dear friends, the most recent of those losses still moving through his mind and heart like some strange poison. He'd seen glimpses of the generation that would replace his own and was doing his part to nurture it. These were events that might easily fill a lifetime and which had actually taken place in less than a year. Now, as he watched Hem sleep, he gave in to the emotions that he'd pushed back in order to function and to be strong for Hem.

Cadvan of Lirigon was dead. Saliman could only scarcely believe it. Surely, he thought, this was a rather tasteless joke of Cadvan's, or perhaps a grave error on Maerad's part. A small part of him hoped that Cadvan had only been separated from her; hoped that she'd presumed him dead when she had not been able to find him, and that he might find his friend as they searched for Maerad in Annar. That hope had comforted him in the past days as he'd awaited Hem's return, but hopes born of grief only rarely take shape in reality. He would have to face the fact that his friend, his brother, was lost to him. Saliman remembered their time together as students under Nelac as they learned the Arts of Reading alongside Dernhil. He remembered evenings filled with music, poetry, lore and laughter. The days when he and Cadvan had playfully mocked their friend for choosing poetry and words over adventure and the more dangerous paths that they had chosen, never knowing how dangerous Dernhil's own path would prove. He remembered Cadvan's mistakes, the death of Ceredin, and his subsequent and unfailing devotion to the Light.

Saliman looked up as Hem shifted in his sleep, watching the boy for any sign of the nightmares that he'd feared might plague the boy after his recent ventures into the heart the dark forces. Seeing the soft smile still in place on the sleeping face, he wondered if Hem might be dreaming of Zelika. His own grief for the girl was qualitatively quite different from Hem's. Where Hem had cried and grieved for lost love and the loss of a hope that had moved him to feats unimaginable, Saliman mourned the possibilities that had died with her almost as much has he did her courage and her spirit. She'd have been able to go toe to toe with any Bard; would have silenced all doubts as to women's worthiness to be trained in the Arts, because who could deny a woman with the gift education when a girl like Zelika could rise to greatness without it. Her sons and daughters would have made the world better if only by preserving some of her passion for future generations. A skilled fighter and a fast learner with such passion and fire, Zelika represented much of what he loved about Suderain and Turbansk . Her death made him wonder if any part of Suderain would remain at war's end.

There was hope though, in the form of two siblings and a song. Saliman nearly laughed at this. Music was such a part of Bardic life and culture, was it any wonder that a song, The Treesong, would be the thing to save them all? He thought of his time with Hem and his more brief experiences with Maerad. Could fate have chosen a more unlikely pair of heroes? One was a studious young girl who wanted only what she had left of her family and the chance to study like the other young Bards. She was brave and responsible but, since Cadvan's death, lacking guidance. The other, her brother, the stubborn young man with every ounce of his sister's courage touched by unmatched loyalty but nearly unable to accept that he might share also in his sister's grand destiny.

Smiling at the sleeping figure on the ground beside him, Saliman knew with a certainty that surpassed all Knowing that if Maerad were anything like her brother, the Light had nothing to fear. These two strong young Bards, perhaps some of the greatest of the generation that would in time eclipse and replace his own, could not fail.

It was this knowledge that let him smile, despite grief that bore down on him like the midday heat of the sun over Turbansk. It was this knowledge that allowed his heart to embrace Hem, though doing so was a risk incalculable, and let him let him move through each day with all the calming assurance and enduring strength of a star. The dark would be defeated and his loved ones avenged in its defeat. This hope pushed back some of Saliman's weariness and after taking a moment to hold on to the sight of Hem's smiling and peaceful expression, and asking Irc to stand watch over them, he closed his eyes and slept. His dreams were of Turbansk and of the day he knew would come, when the cities bells would ring out once more.

Thanks for reading this and thanks to everyone who reviewed my other story. This was my attempt at capturing some of the things I think Saliman considers or broods about when he's not being a leader or a mentor or any other of his amazing roles.

Let me know what you think.

** I've been thinking about doing a multi-chapter fic, probably focusing on characters other than Maerad and Cadvan, though I've also been tossing around ideas for more one-shots,( maybe one about Nyanar). Tell me what you'd want to read and I'll consider all suggestions ( repeat CONSIDER so don't send hulls after me if I don't use your suggestion. If I get fifty billion suggestions, not likely but still, I might have to skip or combine some ) review or email me to submit suggestions. This note will also appear on my profile.