Cadvan stared into the fire, his eyes dark. He held a small dish of stew in his hands, but he had taken no more than a few scant mouthfuls, and hadn't tasted the flavor at all. He didn't notice Saliman and Hekibel exchange glances, seeming to communicate without words despite her lack of ability to mind-touch, and he was deaf to the quiet muttering taking place between Hem and Irc no more than a few feet from him. His mind wandered feverishly between memories and anxieties, flickering from image to image with dizzying speed, but always centering around one person: Maerad of Pellinor. Despite his terrified preoccupation, some part of him was still intensely attuned to her every move, and he unconsciously snapped his head up as she straightened from her position on the other side of her brother and walked slowly to the edge of their meager camp, leaving her food untouched, as she had for the past two days. She stopped just inside the faint circle of shivering firelight, and Cadvan stared at her unreadably, watching her hair, as black as his own, shimmer slightly as it reflected the magery still coursing through her veins. Her skin glowed a thousand shades of gold, and then palest blue darkening to sapphire, and Cadvan watched in silence as it seemed to move through the entire spectrum of colors, shifting wildly and unpredictably. If he stared hard enough, and concentrated long enough, he could just make out the true color of her skin under the weird lights, and the startling paleness of it frightened him. Unknowingly, his mouth tightened, and he leaned forward slightly, his hand twitching, as if he longed to reach out to her.
Indeed, something in his face caused Saliman to sigh very quietly to himself, and he whispered something softly in Hekibel's ear. She nodded, touching his hand briefly, then stood up and padded over to Hem, brushing his shoulder with her fingers very lightly and saying something. Hem looked up, then glanced from Saliman quickly to Cadvan, and nodded, standing as well. Noiselessly, the two walked a few spans away and began to prepare for the long night ahead, repacking the food supplies and spreading their thin blankets on the hard, cold ground.
Cadvan noticed none of this. His eyes remained trained on Maerad, and his thoughts continued to skitter worriedly from her increasing thinness and refusal to eat to her confession regarding the voices of the dead, and eventually coming to rest on the inevitable Singing. He knew it was very possible that she would die during the release of the Song, and the thought filled him with cold dread. He briefly had to struggle to breathe, dragging the air raggedly through his constricted lungs, and a sudden hand on his shoulder made him start in alarm. He jerked away, reaching automatically for his sword, and then blinked, Saliman's face finally registering in his mind. His hand dropped nervelessly to his side once more and his gaze flickered again to Maerad, and he worried about her inhuman stillness even as he noticed that Saliman had sat down beside him, taking the cold stew from his hand and placing on the ground. The Turbanskian cleared his throat gently.
He turned his head slowly. "Yes, my friend?" His voice was listless and dead sounding, and he knew that Saliman noticed, but he couldn't really find it in himself to care. There were far more important things to think about.
"Cadvan," the soft voice repeated. "Listen to me."
"I am listening," he replied, slightly nonplussed.
"You are not hearing my words. Your mind is drifting far from here."
Cadvan realized that he was right, and after glancing once more at the solitary figure by the edge of camp, her face now upturned toward the night sky, he trained his attention on the dark man at his side. "Forgive me," he said.
Saliman surveyed him seriously, and then said, very gently, "We have only a few days left, if that, until the end arrives. You know this. It may be for good or for ill, but we have precious little time left to us, and I can not help wonder why you do not speak to her. I worry for you, Cadvan."
Cadvan froze. There was no doubt whatsoever in his mind whom Saliman was referring to, and what he meant by it. "I speak to her every day," he said, not meeting Saliman's eyes. "I speak to her always."
"Of trivial matters."
"No," Cadvan disagreed, watching the fire again as he avoided his friend's face. "We have spoken at length of the possibilities presented by releasing the Song. She knows- she knows the risks, and she knows her strengths... she is beginning to understand what her own nature is, I think."
The fire crackled, and there was a light shower of sparks against the inky velvet of the sky as a branch collapsed, spewing blood-red flickers of fire into the air. He could hear Hem and Hekibel talking a short distance away, and, farther, an owl hooting as it hunted some night creature in the darkness. The moon was beginning to rise, and he saw that it was almost full.
"And what of matters of the heart, Cadvan?"
He closed his eyes. Was he really that transparent?
"She isn't certain of anything concerning love," he whispered through numb lips, knowing that his last, desperate avoidance of Saliman's true question was futile. "She fears closeness."
There was a very brief pause, and then the inevitable question: "And what of your own heart?" Saliman's voice was at least very soft, and kind, and Cadvan knew that his friend already knew the truth, had perhaps known it since the first day they reunited and he saw them together.
Cadvan considered telling him that it was none of his business, and to leave him well alone. That would certainly be the easiest way, he thought. However, his friend continued to watch him gently, understandingly, and he didn't want to create a breach between them, no matter how slight, in these last days. It would put a strain on everybody, and he knew that Saliman was really only concerned about him and trying to help, anyway.
Still, he did not speak, and he knew that Saliman would take his silence as confirmation.
"I worry for you, Cadvan," Saliman said. "Do you truly not wish her to know? I find that difficult to believe, especially considering how little you are hiding it."
"She doesn't see. She doesn't want to see, and she is preoccupied, regardless. And I do try to hide it." His voice was slightly irritated as he spoke the last sentence.
Saliman eyed him skeptically. "Truly, Cadvan? I have known you to hide your feelings very carefully, and very successfully." Cadvan didn't speak, and he continued, "You are not trying now. You look at nothing, see nothing, but her, my friend, and so I ask again: Why do you not speak to her?"
A very long moment passed, and when Cadvan finally opened his mouth, his voice wasn't clear. "Of this?" he said hoarsely. "Speak to her of this, Saliman? Look at her!" They both glanced at Maerad's slight form, standing motionless at the edge of the camp as the fey wisps of light continued to flicker beneath her skin. There was something profoundly desolate in the picture. Cadvan continued in the same hoarse voice. "How could I tell her that I- that I, Saliman, her teacher, her guide, her only real friend- that I am completely and utterly in love with her?"
Saliman smiled slightly to hear the words finally spoken out loud, but Cadvan grasped at his hair, looking slightly mad. "She- she could very likely die in less than a few days! She sees- she sees the dead haunting her, and she feels the deaths of everyone who has ever lived here, and she doesn't- she doesn't want that, Saliman. And she has enough problems without me going and telling her all... all of this, and- and I'm not going to- I'm not going to add to them. And, Saliman-" He opened his eyes very wide, and Saliman could clearly read the despair in them. "Saliman," he whispered. "I can't lose her now."
Saliman was startled by the raw, all-consuming desperation in his friend's voice, and he understood that Cadvan had less hope left than he showed, and considerably more fear. He sat silently for a few moments, watching Cadvan continue to twist his hair as his eyes flickered continuously to Maerad, unable to tear themselves away, it seemed, with so little time left that they might see her.
"I do not think she would find the truth unwelcome," he said at last.
"Perhaps not," Cadvan said, without looking up. "But more likely she would, and I refuse to take the risk. And, as I said, the burden of knowledge, no matter what she thinks of it, should not be added to her at this time."
Saliman considered how to best phrase what he wanted to say. "No," he began carefully. "But, consider, Cadvan, that- and I don't know how to say this, but- you might not... have... so much time left, if you ever do want her to know, before-"
The unspoken words hung before them like a poison: before she dies.
Cadvan flinched, and his eyes clouded with pain. "I know," he said. "I know. And I do wish her to know someday, but not like this." And then he looked away, and Saliman understood that he would speak no more of the subject, and stood up.
"All right, my friend. It is your decision, after all, but I hope, for you and for her, that she does find out someday."
Cadvan nodded absentmindedly, his mind already beginning to wander once more. "Someday."