They are gone. It is all gone. Only she remains. I know it in sleeping and yet the knowledge strikes me upon waking like the mace that struck my husband's head and took him from me. They are gone. My husband, my son, my School, my home have all been burned to ashes. Maerad lives, but she has been robbed of everything that Dorn and I wanted for her. I watch her sleep on the thin straw pallet and I mourn my inability to offer her the warm bed and sheets of our home. I give her what I can while I still can.
I am dying here. I know it. My son is dead or worse. I saw the one love of my life die defending me. The School that I swore to protect with my life is now a ruin, the first casualty of the Dark as it begins to take shape.
Maerad lives. She smiles when I play songs for her or when I kiss her forehead. She wrinkles her nose and moves when she ought to be still and widens her eyes at the sight of shooting stars. She lives as much as anyone can in this place. She is so much stronger than me.
I gave them my son. I told Enkir where he was, where he should have taken if all had gone according to plan. I looked at my daughter, the blade cutting into her throat as her voice rang in my ears and I chose her life over his. I can rationalize it in any number of ways. Maybe he would escape. Maybe Branar and Cai hadn't arrived at the caves yet. His fate was so much more uncertain than that of my baby girl, who was screaming for me to make everything right. She was screaming for me to stop this man from hurting her. She was screaming for me to be the mother that she'd always known me to be, but how could I? Dorn was dead and my School was in flames and the air smelled of scorching blood and flesh rent from bones and she was crying for me to stop this man who was going to kill her slowly. I gave them my son.
How can I live now? How can I smile as I play for her and kiss her forehead? How can I playfully tap her nose or tickle belly while giving her the stern eyes to stop her squirming. How can I share her wonder at those shooting stars? It's hard to look at her sometimes. I chose her.
I know, somewhere in my mind, that it was out of my hands. He scried me. He forced his way into my mind. The Dark chose my son, they wanted him and that they were willing to kill Maerad to get to her brother was not my fault. Somewhere in me in me I know that, but then I remember the words coming out of my mouth and I feel that desperation again. I see my home become a battlefield and I watch my husband die again.
Then I look at Maerad. I see the welts and the bruises from her beatings. They beat her, after I gave her brother's life in exchange for hers. I know that I am going to die here. Seeing them hurt her will kill me.
She lives and she hopes and she has a gift like none I've ever seen. That gift protects her even untrained because it lets people think her a witch, and makes them fear her. I won't ever tell her the truth behind her gift. Why should I? What sort of Bard could she hope to become here? Why should I burden her with tales of her stolen birthright?
It's getting late, so I close my eyes and move closer to Maerad on the small pallet. I dream of Pellinor when it shown with life and beauty. I feel Dorn's rough hand brushing hair out of my face or and warming my own hands as we walk in the snow. I feel Cai's soft skin and hair as he babbles and laughs in my arms. I am playing my lyre before a crowd of Bards as Maerad hides in my skirts. I am bathing in warm water with scented oils and sleeping in the softest bed that my mind can dream up.
In the morning I will rise and the pain will come again. Nearly everything that I love will still be gone. I will braid my daughter's hair before sending her off to her duties for the day. I will play songs for her on the lyre handed down to me from my mother. I will give her what I can for as long as I can. My baby girl, my world, will have all that is left in my power to give her, because only she remains of all that that I have loved in this life.
Hey people, I wrote this because there aren't a lot of fics that center on Milana and she deserves some attention. I drew a lot from pgs 419-424 of the paperback edition of The Naming. The fic takes place about a year after the sacking of Pellinor around a year before Milana's death. She took such a fall in life, from First Bard to slave and she was still someone that Maerad could remember fondly, for that she deserves some respect.
If you're curious this isn't in the Before The War collection because Milana had already entered the war by this point.
Thanks eternal and heartfelt to my reviewers become one of them because they are the cool people and not the creepy mutant robot cool people who really ought to be sent in for moral training and psychiatric evaluations, the real cool people.